One thing can be said about Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders: She’s hit the ground running.
On Tuesday, she issued seven executive orders after her swearing in and inaugural address.
Two involved instituting a hiring and promotion freeze and requiring state agencies to submit proposed rules to her before appearing before a legislative committee. Those are similar to the first orders issued by her predecessor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, eight years earlier.
Sanders also ordered the state inspector general to review previously issued executive orders by other governors and told the Department of Commerce to review the state’s unemployment insurance program for waste, fraud and abuse.
Her other three orders were more attention-getting, which does not mean they were more important. One, among other provisions, banned the use of the Chinese-owned TikTok social media site on state equipment. Another banned the use of “Latinx” in state documents. That’s a gender-neutral term that the order said is culturally insensitive.
Finally, Sanders signed an order to “prohibit indoctrination and critical race theory in schools.” Critical race theory is an academic model asserting that racial bias is embedded in the United States’ legal systems and institutions. The order says it’s discriminatory and that students should not be indoctrinated with it. Detractors of the order would say CRT is not being taught in Arkansas schools. The order says it doesn’t prohibit the free discussion of history and ideas. But critics would say it very well could.
Sanders issued an eighth order the next day that was more substantial and would start putting into place the major education reforms she has been promising, or at least hinting at.
Those include elements related to her push for improved early childhood reading achievement. Among other provisions, it would require the secretaries of education and human services to prioritize funding for quality early-childhood education for at-risk children. It also would require students to be taught and teachers to be trained according to the science of reading method.
She also ordered the Department of Education to make it easer to start and expand charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run. She also told the department to analyze and address the teacher shortage, ordered an analysis of the state’s workforce training programs, called for more support for broadband access, and ordered the department to review how schools are implementing the state’s school safety laws.
Sanders’ education policies will be further fleshed out in a single, big education bill she wants to pass soon. We haven’t seen it, but we know it would expand school choice opportunities (in other words, give parents state support for private and other non-public education) and raise teacher salaries. Some lawmakers will support the latter but not the former. It will pass in whatever form it ends up taking.
Sanders’ first days in office contrasted with Hutchinson’s first days in 2015. He was 24 years older and saw his role as a little more managerial and incremental, and a little less transformational. When he was inaugurated, he said his top priority was a $100 million income tax cut, which passed and was followed by other tax cuts. Sanders, on the other hand, said she wants to phase out the income tax completely. Hutchinson was preparing to deliver an address the following week about the state’s Medicaid expansion program, then known as the private option. Up to that point, he had declined to express his views, but it turned out he continued it. On his first day in office, he contacted six CEOs asking them to bring jobs to Arkansas. One did – SIG Sauer, which now operates an ammunition manufacturing facility in Jacksonville employing hundreds.
Hutchinson was a business-minded, budget balancing chief executive. Sanders – the nation’s youngest governor – said in her inaugural address on the Capitol steps that she will be a “bold conservative reformer.”
They both hit the ground running, but in different ways and arguably at different paces. It looks like the 40-year-old new governor is running more of a sprint.
One is not better than the other. It’s just the race has changed, and so has the runner.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.