Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, has defended his decision to veto a state law banning gender-confirming treatments for transgender youth – a veto the state legislature immediately overturned.
“It’s a conservative position to say that’s not the role of government,” Hutchinson told CNN’s State of the Union. “It is compassionate to say we care for all our young people, whether they’re trans youth or otherwise, we care for them and that’s the message of compassion and conservatism that we need to have as a party.”
But Hutchinson also defended his decision to sign other bills targeting trans rights, one banning trans children from participating in girls’ and women’s sports, even though there are no such cases in Arkansas.
“Anytime you are passing laws to address a problem that currently doesn’t exist but you worry about in the future you have a potential of getting it wrong,” he said. “But in this case I did sign the protection for girls in sports which says biological males cannot compete on a girls team. To me that’s a fundamental mount way of making sure girls sports can prosper.”
Hutchinson also spoke to NBC’s Meet the Press. “I signed two [bills] that I thought made sense,” he said. “… The other one was supporting medical conscience, that doctors can claim a conscience reason if they want to deny a particular procedure but they have to do emergency care. And so those are two bills that I signed.
“The third one was not well done. It did not protect the youth. It interfered with the government getting into the lives of transgender youth, as well as their parents and the decisions that doctors make.”
Regardless, the law could take effect by July. Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said: “This is a sad day for Arkansas but this fight is not over – and we’re in it for the long haul.”
Hutchinson told CNN: “These are tough areas. And … we can debate them on conservative principles but let’s show compassion and tolerance and understanding as we do that and that’s the simple message that I think is important for our party.”
Former president Donald Trump did not show compassion or tolerance towards Hutchinson over his veto, dismissing him as a “lightweight Rino”, or “Republican in name only” and saying: “Bye-bye Asa, that’s the end of him.”
Trump addressed Republican donors on Saturday night. He reportedly abused party leaders and received applause when he repeated his lie that his election defeat was the result of electoral fraud.
Many observers see a party in the grip of Trump’s brutal politics, determined to fight the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential race over “culture wars” issues such as the debate over trans rights.
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, told the Associated Press “frustration with an inability to move policy at a federal level” – where Democrats hold the White House, Senate and House – “trickles down to more action in the states.
“I think a lot of these state legislatures are responding to the demands of the conservative base, which sees the culture wars headed in the wrong direction.”
During debate on one transgender measure in Arkansas, one Republican cited a Bible verse that called people who wear another gender’s clothes an “abomination”. Another compared parental acceptance of transgender youth to allowing a child to decide to become a cow.
Hutchinson told NBC that among Republican voters, “the fear is about the future, and the fear is also that we’re losing our culture … and so, again, there’s too much. As a Republican party, it’s the principles of limited government and it’s pushing freedom and choice in the free market. That’s what the party is about. We’ve got to apply those principles, even when it comes to the social war.”
Hutchinson is a former congressman who sees himself in the mould of Ronald Reagan. He told CNN: “Are we going to be a narrow party that expresses ourself in intolerant ways, are we going to be a broad-based party that shows conservative principles but also compassion and dealing with some of the most difficult issues that parents face that individuals face?
“… Sure, I signed pro-life [anti-abortion] bills and I know that there’s a role for government even in the social issues. But we have to fundamentally ask ourselves, do we need to do this, is there a better way?”
He would not be drawn on whether he plans to run for the presidential nomination in 2024. Tom Cotton, a senator from Arkansas and a hardline conservative, is among prominent figures jostling to attract donor support.