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OPINION: Has Hutchinson 'changed' on virus battle in our state?

by Maylon Rice | September 22, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Arkansans mired in this terrible covid-19 variant have a right to ask: Has our governor, Asa Hutchinson, "changed" his view and his fight against the virus?

I can tell you I see fatigue in his face and in his message amid this groundswell of the "personal freedom" onslaught from the conservative far right which seeks to undermine public health and safety protocols.

When our state ranks No. 5 in a listing of the worst states for the covid-19 virus, I draw in a sharp breath and wonder why? Tennessee is No. 1 on that bad list, followed by Florida with its crackpot governor at No. 2, then North Dakota is No. 3, followed by Mississippi at No. 4.

The state is firmly entrenched as the Delta variant of the covid-19 virus is killing more Arkansans per day than ever -- 33 a week ago last Thursday, for example. While the number of cases may be going down, a minuscule statistic, the number of those on a ventilator and those who are dying is up -- way up.

More than 7,000 Arkansans have died from the virus and that number will reach 8,000 by Halloween if it does not exceed that ghoulish total.

Has our governor, who has been out front with this issue and has to his credit made over 200 press appearances and traveled the state quite frequently (mostly to captive and private audiences) grown tired of this battle? Does he feel all alone?

Are we as a state tired of seeing the same group of experts? Are we not really "hearing" the urgency because of the same old litany of numbers and statistical information each day? How do we watch the evening television -- when the No. 1 or certainly no lower than No. 2 or No. 3 top stories is the bland recitation of the daily statistics from Little Rock?

The daily recitations of these numbers are about as interesting a Carter's Little Liver Pills commercial. How do we dress that up and make people sit up and listen? I do not know? I am sure half or more of the readers of this piece have already turned out at the buzzwords "covid," "governor" and "variant." But we plod on.

I asked a local state representative if he (or she) thought the governor was "soft-peddling" the covid message to curry favor with the far-right legislators to give him the last state income tax cut he has asked for?

"If so, I'd be surprised, as that's not typically his style. He believes this to be consistent with his previous stance: The government (state or national) should not prohibit private businesses from making decisions regarding protecting the health of their employees," the answer came back.

"He's more of a 'hands off' on private business, pretty much laissez-faire," wrote the legislator.

That got me thinking.

Has the political groundswell of groups fighting school mask mandates, hospitals urging their employees to become vaccinated and all the incentive programs some larger Arkansas businesses are offering their employees working?

I know that one thing Gov. Hutchinson truly regrets is his misjudgment of that anti-mandate bill early on in the recent legislative session.

It was not a miscalculation of the numbers or the virus but of those legislators who, without a rallying cry from last November's election, made fighting all local control of this outbreak their mantra.

Do the members of the legislature think Gov. Hutchinson has "changed?"

"I don't think he truly changed. When he signed that bill, he truly thought it was innocuous as our covid numbers were way down and we appeared to be heading out of the crisis," one member wrote.

"He's since said it was a mistake to sign it, and the decision should be left up to individual school boards. I know I sound like I'm defending him, but I do believe he's stayed pretty consistent regarding local control and staying out of private business decisions."

Not a bad explanation.

We are all weary of this virus.

--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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