With his usual soft-shoe, Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks as if it’s not that big a deal that he’s sending 40 members of the Arkansas National Guard to Texas for 90 days to help deal with border insecurity.
It’ll work largely as a regular training exercise, he says. The Arkansas troops will assume maintenance-related supportive duties under the operational command of the Texas Guard, though he could recall them at any time for any reason.
He points out that he’s done this kind of thing before–during and for the last presidential administration–in Arizona.
For that matter, the federal Homeland Security Department, at then-President George W. Bush’s direction, ran Operation Jump Start from 2006 to 2008 that engaged state guard troops to help police the border.
But that was a coordinated federal program, not a red-state-for-a-red-state thing. And it was the president, Donald Trump, who asked for state guard support when Arkansas obliged in Arizona a few years ago.
These 40 troops, combined with additional deployments from other states (all Republican-led) might help keep the border less insecure, Hutchinson says, and thus spare a threat to Arkansas like illegal-drug importation.
He told me in a brief phone visit Thursday that Texas actually made a routine state-to-state request of Arkansas and other jurisdictions for police help, which he turned down. He said he then took the initiative to have his Guard leadership inquire of Texas whether the state might help through troop support. He said Texas replied that, yes, Arkansas troop help in border observation would be welcomed. Hutchinson said he turned that down, too, not wanting Arkansas troops in a direct enforcement or arrest position.
Only after that, he said, did his administration and Texas officials agree on a maintenance-support mission.
He said that’s not conceptually different from states sending National Guard units to other states facing natural disasters.
So, you see, he’s saying it’s just a regular thing and no call for all this liberal gnashing of teeth.
But the low-key modesty of the deployment as Hutchinson describes it–I suspect accurately–advances the appearance that it’s less meaningful tactically than valuable as a political stunt by red-state governors to exploit the border situation to humiliate the Biden administration.
You’d almost think Asa had reconsidered Trump, for whom he otherwise professes little use, considering that he announced the Texas deployment hours before the mad megalomaniac went to the border to make a puppet of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and brag about passing a cognition test when he was president.
Hutchinson told me he did not coordinate his action with any other state governor. And I didn’t ask, but will safely assume, that he did not coordinate it with Big Don or Big Don’s local outpost commander, Sarah Sanders.
Most likely, Hutchinson merely saw an opportunity for a measured action having nothing to do in his mind with Trump, but reminding conservatives that he is conservative, too.
He no doubt would say that I should consider that he’s simply doing what he thinks is right. I inserted the preceding sentence to cover that possibility.
Those of us sensing raw partisan politics in this deployment risk standing accused of showing disrespect for our soldiers. We reply that it’s less disrespectful by us toward soldiers to say they’re being used as pawns than it is disrespectful by partisan Republicans who are moving them as pawns.
The damning indication is the cast of characters. States in addition to Arkansas from which governors are sending troops or police personnel–South Dakota, Florida, South Carolina, Iowa, Idaho, Nebraska and Georgia–are led by Republican governors who tend, Hutchinson notably excepted, to be of the arch-conservative Trumpian variety.
The classic case is South Dakota, where the shamelessly Trump-devoted governor, Kristi Noem, is sending 50 guard personnel. More than that, she boasts that she’s saving the state money by letting a Trumpian auto-salvage and auto-auction billionaire from Franklin, Tenn., use his foundation to pay a million bucks on the cost.
That’s literally a case of mobilizing your state guard as a private army for an insurrectionist.
A legitimate public purpose must be financed by public funds, and at least Hutchinson is letting Arkansas taxpayers push out these pawns.
He, of course, would insist there is nothing remotely political about it and that corrosive cynicism is tragic.
Actually, I asked him about that, and he responded a bit more open-mindedly. He said that, considering appearances, “your skepticism here is more reasonable than perhaps in other cases.”
Wrong, for sure, but not as crazy as usual. That’s what he’s saying.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.