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George H.W. Bush: “the most humble spirit … a gracious common touch”

Press Shop | 02.08.2019

Governor Asa Hutchinson has met every president since Ronald Reagan, and he has the pictures to prove it.

He has stood for photographs with Presidents Trump and Obama. In one framed photo on the west end of his office, Governor Hutchinson and Bill Clinton are shaking hands, and former Goverrnor Mike Huckabee is standing behind them.         

The fireplace mantel holds a photograph of the governor walking and chatting with Ronald Reagan down the West Colonnade at the White House. President Reagan appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. Another photo shows Governor Hutchinson in the Oval Office with President George W. Bush, who appointed him administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and, after the 9/11 attacks, named him undersecretary of Homeland Security.

But one photograph has a place all its own. It hangs on the south wall of the office, to the left of the governor’s desk. The picture shows the governor, who was running against Dale Bumpers for a seat in the U.S. Senate at the time, shaking hands with George H.W. Bush, who was then President Reagan’s vice president.

That was one of many of Governor Hutchinson’s encounters with Mr. Bush, who passed away on November 30, 2018. The governor’s relationship with the late president dates back nearly 40 years.

The Hutchinsons, who attended President Bush’s funeral in Washington at the Bush family’s invitation, first met Mr. Bush in 1980 at a small gathering of Republicans in Bentonville. Mr. Bush was competing with Ronald Reagan to become president.

“By that time, he had been he had been in Congress, director of the CIA, and ambassador to the United Nations and China,” Governor Hutchinson recalls. “But he came in there with the most humble spirit … a gracious common touch.”

As President Reagan’s vice president, Mr. Bush led the United States’ war on drugs, which was a significant part of the governor’s job as a U.S. attorney, and he frequently consulted with Mr. Bush. Twenty years later, as director of the DEA, Mr. Hutchinson found the former president's experience helpful.

Mr. Hutchinson attended the Republican National Convention in 1980, when Mr. Bush’s made one of his more famous statements, the governor recalled with a laugh. That was the time when Mr. Bush famously promised: “Read my lips: No new taxes.”

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The photograph of candidate Asa Hutchinson shaking hands with Vice President Bush was made in 1986. The vice president traveled to Arkansas to campaign with Mr. Hutchinson in his unsuccessful effort to dislodge incumbent Mr. Bumpers from the senate.

In the frame beneath the picture is a note to Mr. Hutchinson in the hand of George H.W. Bush, dated July 1, 1986. “Dear Asa and Susan,” Mr. Bush wrote, “There was something special in the air tonight – the scent of victory, perchance. I loved being at your side. Best of luck. George Bush.”

The note is quintessential George H.W. Bush, the governor said. “As soon as he got back on Air Force 2, he writes me a note. He’s a kind and generous and thoughtful person. … But not much of a prophet.” Although Mr. Bush’s visit of support to Arkansas didn’t propel the governor into the Senate, a gesture by the future governor of Arkansas may have helped put Mr. Bush in the White House.

During that visit in 1986, Candidate Hutchinson offered a Hogs hat to the vice president, something he did frequently with out-of-state visitors. His guests didn’t always fully embrace the Hog Hat opportunity, but the vice president went whole hog.

“George Herbert Walker Bush put it all the way down on his head,” Governor Hutchinson said. “The picture went nationwide. And he became president.”

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