Mitt Romney endorses Hutchinson in Arkansas gubernatorial race

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee paid a visit to Northeast Arkansas, endorsing fellow Republican Asa Hutchinson in this year’s gubernatorial election.

During an afternoon press conference at the Arkansas State University Fowler Center in Jonesboro, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney stood at the podium with Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, a former congressman and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, will face former Congressman Mike Ross, D-Prescott, Libertarian candidate Frank Gilbert of Tull and Green party candidate Josh Drake of Hot Springs on Nov. 4.

Romney said the decision to endorse Hutchinson was not just a decision by party but also policy.

“Governors, they make a difference in people’s lives,” Romney said. “There is lower taxes, computer science, better technology and a higher minimum wage.”

Romney said Hutchinson supported him early in the 2012 presidential race, leading to the endorsement. Hutchinson said he was proud to get the endorsement and used the visit to showcase Northeast Arkansas as well as ASU.

“I was honored to have supported him,” Hutchinson said of the 2012 race, which Romney lost to President Obama. “I join the majority of Arkansans, nearly 60 percent, to support him. In Craighead County, the vote was 64 percent. So, Governor Romney, welcome home.”

Hutchinson also touched on a policy plan to teach computer programming and code to high school students around the state. He said the program would offer creative skills to high school seniors in an increasingly difficult job market.

Hutchinson and Romney were asked about the importance of Arkansas and in particular, Northeast Arkansas, in this year’s election. Romney, whose father, George, was Michigan governor and helped run American Motors in the 1960s, said there is a possibility of history this year.

“Arkansas has the potential to elect a Republican governor and I hope that I will make a difference,” Romney said.

Hutchinson was asked about the importance of Northeast Arkansas with voters this year.

“Every area is critical, especially when it comes to getting more votes than your opponent,” Hutchinson said. “Northeast Arkansas has been a Democratic bastion (for many years) and it has benefitted from the leadership of Rep. (Rick) Crawford.”

Romney said he faced many issues as Massachusetts governor and was able to work on issues across party lines.

“I think folks are less and less concerned with party label – Republican, Democratic or Independent. And they are more concerned with policy,” Romney said.

On policy, Hutchinson said during the press conference that he supports funding higher education and making sure the system breeds innovation. He also said he supports raising the state minimum wage, at least to the level of the federal wage. He also said he supports having the state legislature decide the issue. A proposal for voters to decide raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017 will likely be on the November ballot.

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Ross campaign spokesman Brad Howard declined to comment about the Romney visit, referring reporters to a statement made by state Democratic Party chairman Vincent Insalaco.

In the statement, Insalaco questioned financial issues involving both Romney and Hutchinson.

“Mitt Romney and Congressman Hutchinson are two sides of the same coin when it comes to taxes,” Insalaco said. “Mitt Romney stashed millions in overseas bank accounts to avoid paying taxes and Congressman Hutchinson illegally took homestead tax credits on both of his homes. Arkansans just can’t trust a Washington, D.C. insider and former lobbyist like Congressman Hutchinson.”

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