Whatever you might say about Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, you cannot say she’s not trying.
Rutledge faces a high hurdle in her attempt to become Arkansas’ first female governor – Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who seeks that same place in history.
Sanders is one of former President Donald Trump’s favorite people, which is a big deal when seeking the Republican Party’s nomination, especially in Arkansas.
Helped greatly by that association, Sanders raised $1 million in four days after announcing her candidacy, which is the same amount Rutledge raised in six months of campaigning (which was an impressive haul, actually). Trump endorsed Sanders and then, according to one of Sanders’ recent tweets, made a “surprise appearance at one of my events.”
She didn’t say where it was. It wasn’t in Arkansas, but in today’s political climate, it doesn’t have to be anymore.
When Sanders announces her first quarter campaign fundraising totals in a few weeks, it will be jaw-dropping. So apparently were the private poll numbers that preceded Lt. Governor Tim Griffin’s withdrawal from the governor’s race to instead run for attorney general.
Unlike Griffin, Rutledge is still in the race – and apparently she intends to remain there. In an interview with Talk Business & Politics’ Roby Brock, she contrasted her experience with Sanders’, saying, “This race is not about expensive parties and eating escargot. This race is about taking care of Arkansans and who has the experience to lead this state. When you’re flying on a plane, do you want the pilot or the flight attendant to land the plane? You want the pilot to land the plane. And I am the only one in this race who has the experience making decisions on behalf of three-plus million Arkansans every single day.”
No offense to flight attendants, but that’s an aggressive campaign statement. Escargot is a snail dish, by the way. I looked it up.
If anyone were to release a poll right now, it would show Sanders with a big lead. Rutledge cannot hope to compete in the fundraising department, either. The type of people who donate to campaigns tend to bet on the horse that’s ahead.
What she does have is an office that can keep her in the public eye, which she is taking advantage of. You’ve probably heard one of her “Rutledge Report” radio spots, and she’s filed or participated in many lawsuits. Those include a Texas-led suit to end the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that is occurring while Gov. Asa Hutchinson is using that same law to provide health insurance to 300,000 Arkansans. She also joined a lawsuit seeking to nullify the election results in four states won by President Biden.
Rutledge has turned it up a notch lately. Last week, she filed a major lawsuit against Walgreens claiming the drug retailer fueled the opioid epidemic by failing to report suspicious drug purchases and to limit purchases it should have known would send pills to the black market. That same week, she joined 20 other states in suing Biden’s administration for revoking the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit. Earlier this month, she joined a 12-state coalition suing Biden over his executive order expanding federal greenhouse gas regulatory powers.
She has also proposed state legislation letting her office bring a cause of action if transgender students participate in female school sports. Then on Monday, flanked by Republican legislators on the Capitol steps, she proposed bills requiring public schools to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events, and requiring a moment of silence after the Pledge of Allegiance is recited.
How much of this is Rutledge doing her job versus positioning herself for next May’s Republican Party gubernatorial primary? Obviously, it’s both. With public officials, focus more on interpreting actions, which we can know, than intentions, which we can assume will be mixed. We all have multiple and complex reasons for doing what we do.
Meanwhile, it appears Rutledge’s intention is to stay in the governor’s race. If she does, we can say Arkansas’ next governor probably will be a woman, and it probably will be Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
But we can’t say either with certainty until we have an election.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.