Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on COVID response, global trade, and the elections

On  October 27, the Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement hosted Insights@Meridian program with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. In conversation with Ambassador Stuart Holliday, the Republican Governor discussed the state response to the pandemic, mail-in voting, and foreign investment.

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation:  

The Meridian 5: Insights@Meridian with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson 

  1. “THIS VIRUS WILL TAKE ANY COCKINESS OUT OF ANY LEADER.” Arkansas declared a state of emergency on March 11th after its first confirmed COVID-19 case, allowing the state to quickly mobilize its public health facilities. This decision also enhanced hospital cooperation as the state worked to develop infrastructure promoting robust testing and contract-tracing services. While the state initially had trouble expanding its testing capacity, Arkansas is currently testing at record numbers as it prioritizes mitigating the risk of overwhelming hospital capacities.
  2. IMPLEMENTING A STATE-WIDE MASK MANDATE. In July, Governor Hutchinson, a Republican, issued a state-wide mask mandate that required a mask to be worn in all indoor and outdoor settings where an individual could come into contact with someone outside of their own household. Notably, this action was not followed by a shelter-in-place decision, a move which most other states did implement. As the U.S. currently undergoes its third wave of increased COVID-19 cases, Arkansas is uniquely placed ideologically with its rhetoric on the importance and practicality of mask-wearing combined with its emphasis on keeping the economy open.
  3. A TOP TEN STATE FOR FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT. Two-thirds of the U.S. market can be easily traced to the state of Arkansas, mostly due to its major interstates and transportation industry. Home to the international headquarters of Walmart, the state houses a strong manufacturing workforce and global supply chain management system, while still excelling at agriculture by producing more than 50% of the nation’s rice supply. The state continues to expand investment opportunities which are expected to grow with the hopeful passage of Issue 1 on Arkansas’s November ballot concerning the extension of an existing sales tax that could generate $300 million annually for state transportation infrastructure. Governor Hutchinson has used Arkansas’s balanced budget to expand Arkansas’s appeal globally and develop valuable trade relationships, pursuing 1-2 economic trips overseas annually towards this goal.
  4. “IN A DEMOCRACY, WE WANT PEOPLE TO VOTE.” While Arkansas does not send ballots out to each registered voter, Governor Hutchinson used his executive powers to allow citizens the choice to vote using absentee ballots for a COVID-19 related reason. To expand this option safely, there have been security measures set in place to mitigate the potential of fraud, including a required verification of signatures. However, the state has continued to keep voting accessible for citizens, recently introducing a drive-through ballot drop-off for early voters, and safe for poll workers by providing them with appropriate PPE equipment and rapid testing options.
  5. LOWERING TRADE BARRIERS AND PROMOTING A “LONG-TERM SENSE OF FAIRNESS.” While tariffs on Chinese goods have particularly hurt farmers in Arkansas, Governor Hutchinson believes that a short-term economic hit is necessary to create a long-term sense of fairness in trade negotiations. He hopes that decreasing U.S. foreign dependency on China could open up new partnerships and extend relationships particularly between Arkansas and countries in Europe and South America that previously went unpursued. As a proponent of free trade, Governor Hutchinson believes pushing for enforcement mechanisms that better organize the global marketplace will protect intellectual property and create a global environment where businesses will be able to do more rather than less.


Meridian International Center is a non-partisan diplomacy center that strengthens U.S. engagement with the world and accelerates collaboration through the exchange of people, culture and ideas.The Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagementhosts the regular series of Insights@Meridian  to provide ambassadors and other senior diplomats with an intimate opportunity to hear directly from Administration leaders, members of Congress, policymakers and business visionaries on vital policy issues of the day.  

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