‘All politics is local,” the late U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, but that was the 1970s and ’80s. Were he alive today, he’d probably have to concede it’s now, “All politics is cultural.”
We’ve seen that reality in national elections, particularly the two most recent presidential races.
Here in Arkansas, state legislators are doing noncontroversial work like passing a balanced budget, which will happen in the coming weeks.
But that’s not what’s gaining the most attention. Instead, the Legislature has made news, both state and national, because of cultural issues.
Earlier in this year’s session, lawmakers voted to ban almost all abortions in Arkansas except when the mother’s life is in danger. The bill’s purpose is to try to set up a court case that could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortions nationwide. Lawmakers believe a Supreme Court with three nominees by President Trump may be more open to making that change than past courts have been.
Other pro-life bills have either made it through the Legislature or are advancing, and many likely will pass. A law signed by the governor requires the state to offer alternative assistance to women before they receive an abortion. Senate Bill 85 requires abortionists to first perform an ultrasound and describe to the woman what it is depicting. The woman is not required to look.
The governor, who is pro-life, signed the abortion ban, though he had misgivings because it did not include exceptions for rape and incest and because he questions the strategy.
A National Right to Life attorney, speaking for himself, advised him it could backfire and lead to the Supreme Court reaffirming Roe v. Wade. Arkansas Right to Life supported the bill. Senate Bill 85, which passed overwhelmingly, has been sitting on his desk for a week as I write this.
Overshadowing even abortion have been several bills related to transgender students. The one that gained the most attention was Act 461 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, which is meant to ensure that only non-transgender girls compete in girls’ sports. The governor has signed that bill into law. Lawmakers on Tuesday sent him a bill banning gender transition medical treatment for minors. He was reviewing that legislation.
Hutchinson has also signed into law Act 462 by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, stating that medical providers have a right not to provide services that violate their conscience.
These bills have drawn the praise of social conservatives and the ire of progressives. They’re getting a lot more attention than a balanced budget ever will.
But they’re not occurring in a vacuum. Obviously, the debate over abortion has long been with us. Massive social changes are occurring regarding gender identity and sexuality.
In Connecticut and Texas, transgender high school student athletes have competed against and beaten non-transgender girls. President Joe Biden on Jan. 20 issued an executive order saying, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” although it doesn’t specifically create rules to that effect.
The state’s surgeon general, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, testified before legislators that he had opposed a freedom of conscience bill in 2017, but since then, health care has become more politicized, and he believes medical providers could be coerced into performing procedures they believe are morally wrong.
The governor didn’t bring these kinds of bills up when he was at the height of his powers two years ago, when his focus was government transformation, tax cuts and his highway plan. He hasn’t particularly wanted to sign some of them.
But he’s a lifelong Republican from Arkansas who doesn’t want to get caught on the wrong side of those issues politically. Also, here, a veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate, so it must be used sparingly.
What makes this challenging for him is that a big part of his job is trying to attract out-of-state employers to Arkansas, and some of them don’t like this type of legislation.
I’m not saying their views should determine state policy. I’m just saying it’s a reality the governor has to deal with. It’s not just all politics that’s cultural these days. A lot of business is, too.