LITTLE ROCK — On the opening day of last week’s special session, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others in a news conference on the Capitol steps and spoke enthusiastically about a new type of military vehicle that Lockheed Martin hopes to assemble in South Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK — On the opening day of last week’s special session, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others in a news conference on the Capitol steps and spoke enthusiastically about a new type of military vehicle that Lockheed Martin hopes to assemble in South Arkansas.


Hutchinson called the session mainly to ask legislators to approve an $87.1 million bond issue to help the company compete for a Defense Department contract to assemble 55,000 joint light tactical vehicles, or JLTVs, at its facility near Camden. A Cotton spokeswoman later clarified that Cotton’s participation in the news conference was not meant as an endorsement of the governor’s plan.


Cotton, an Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the JLTV will make American soldiers more safe.


"It’s going to provide survivability for our troops from small arms fire, machine gun fire, from explosions of roadside bombs; mobility, whether they’re in city streets, in the sands of deserts around the world, mountains or fields; (and) reliability, so they’re not always constrained with their vehicles in the motor pool," he said during the Tuesday news conference.


The House and Senate approved the proposal with overwhelming support, and Hutchinson signed it into law Friday.


Cotton’s former campaign spokesman, David Ray, opposed the governor’s plan.


"It’s our position that Arkansas taxpayers shouldn’t be fronting the money for one of the largest and most successful companies in the world, and that the best way to create jobs is to focus our energy on creating a business climate through lower taxes and streamlining regulations that will benefit all business, not just one hand-picked company," Ray said in an interview Friday.


In a statement issued during the three-day special session, Ray said, "Prosperity doesn’t come from government handouts, or by picking winners and losers — it comes from pro-growth policies that create a level playing field that enables everyone to succeed."


Cotton has often expressed similar views, advocating for minimal government interference in the free market. A line he has often repeated is, "We don’t want the government to be picking winners and losers, because they keep picking losers."


Ray declined to comment on Cotton’s participation in Hutchinson’s news conference last week.


A request Friday for an interview with Cotton was denied, but Cotton spokesman Caroline Rabbitt said Cotton participated in the news conference "to support the JLTV."


"Tom supports the JLTV project because this vehicle can and will save thousands of lives," she said in an email. "As a solider in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tom saw soldiers lose their lives who could have survived had they had this vehicle. And he would be proud to have this vehicle made in Arkansas.


"Arkansans are some of the hardest working, patriotic people around, and the pride they will put into building these vehicles will be without equal. Ultimately, it’s up to Gov. Hutchinson and the Legislature to decide the best way to make Arkansas an attractive, pro-business environment. All groups or individuals in the state are welcome to support or disagree with their decisions."


Cotton has connections to a former senior official at Lockheed Martin. Doug Coutts, a longtime friend of Cotton who served with him in the Army infantry, has been his campaign manager and is now his chief of staff, is the son of Robert Coutts, who was an executive vice president at Lockheed Martin from 1999 until his retirement in 2008.


A sales tax permit that the state of Arkansas issued to Lockheed Martin in 2006 listed Robert Coutts as an "owner" of the company’s missile and fire control facility in the Highland Industrial Park near Camden, which is also where the company wants to assemble JLTVs.


Robert Coutts and his wife, Ingrid, also contributed thousands of dollars to Cotton’s Senate campaign in 2013 and 2014, according to OpenSecrets.org.


Cotton also has personal experience with military vehicles. He was in a Humvee, the predecessor of the JLTV, when a bomb in a Baghdad roadway exploded in August 2006 and totaled the vehicle, although everyone in it survived.


Cotton now serves on the Airland Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing on the JLTV last month.


The Humvee is "an old and venerable vehicle, but never one that was designed to be a tactical vehicle that could protect our troops. That’s why the joint light tactical vehicle project is so critical," Cotton said Tuesday in Little Rock.


Lockheed Martin is one of three companies competing for the contract, which is expected to be awarded this summer.