Seth Hutchinson surged into the spotlight Wednesday when his father, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, announced his son had signed a petition urging him to veto a measure that proponents have labeled a religious-freedom bill.
The details have started to fade, but Seth Hutchinson, a son of Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, remembers the arrest in the 1990s of an art teacher who was gay.
“He was not out,” Seth Hutchinson recounted Wednesday. “And he was arrested in a park — I think the official charge was attempting to loiter — and it was obvious he was there because he couldn’t be out and keep his job.”
The teacher soon left Northside High School in Fort Smith, Ark., but Hutchinson said the episode was a formative experience in the political journey that has frequently pitted him against his father.
Arkansas delay: A day after Arkansas lawmakers defied criticism to pass a religious-objections bill, Gov. Asa Hutchinson held off on signing the measure, saying it needed changes before he could make the proposal into law. Wednesday night, the Senate had approved a new version of the bill by a 26-6 vote. The bill now heads to the House for a vote. The governor has five days to take action before the bill becomes law without his signature. Hutchinson also faced pressure from the state’s top employers, including Wal-Mart, which has asked for the bill to be vetoed.
Indiana deliberates: Republican legislative leaders met Wednesday with Gov. Mike Pence as they worked to clarify Indiana’s law. A draft of the proposed language obtained by The Indianapolis Star reported that it would specify that the law cannot be used as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods or accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation.
Pizzeria policy: Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza says Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law supports the restaurant’s right to deny service to any same-sex couples who might ask them to cater their wedding. Her business would serve a gay couple or a non-Christian couple at its restaurant in Walkerton, which is about 20 miles southwest of South Bend. But O’Connor told a TV station that the restaurant would say no if a gay couple asked it to provide pizzas for their wedding.
The younger Hutchinson surged into the spotlight Wednesday when Asa Hutchinson said during a nationally televised news conference that his son had signed a petition urging him to veto a measure that proponents have labeled a religious-freedom bill. Critics say the measure could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.
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Seth Hutchinson, 31, a union organizer in Austin, Texas, has long differed with his father, a onetime Republican congressman who was elected governor last fall. Among Asa Hutchinson’s four children, Seth is a self-described political outcast.
“I love my dad, and we have a good, close relationship,” Hutchinson said. “But we disagree a lot on political issues. This is just another one, but a lot of families disagree politically. But we stay close.”
It was not always that way, he said.
“I kind of grew up on the campaign trail,” Hutchinson said. “Having a political opinion just came naturally to me. At first, I pretty much followed the values that my family and my parents laid out for me.”
But starting when he was about 15 and working as a dishwasher at a diner in northwest Arkansas, Hutchinson’s views began to change as he shuffled through odd jobs, including stints at Chuck E. Cheese’s and Sears. He grew frustrated when he saw older workers enduring financial hardships while they worked long hours at low-paying jobs.
“It just showed me that there’s something wrong,” he said, adding that he became interested in gay rights about the same time, when friends began discussing their sexual orientations.
He spent a year at Georgetown University in Washington before returning to a public university in Arkansas, where he joined liberal student groups and rallied for gay rights during the tenure of another Republican governor, Mike Huckabee.
Hutchinson has not campaigned for his father, whose election-night party he attended last year, since he was a child.
The men communicate regularly, he said, by email and telephone, and he returns to Arkansas at least once or twice a year.
“We’re always very respectful,” he said. “My dad is very good at debate. He’s debated a lot of experts over the years in politics. It’s always a lively and engaging conversation, and they’re my family. I like seeing them. But it does mean I’ve got to be prepared for some political disagreements.”
On Saturday night, as state lawmakers prepared to vote on the measure that would soon place Arkansas into the middle of a political firestorm, Hutchinson sent his father an email.
He wrote about the damage the law could do to Arkansas’ reputation, and he warned about the economic consequences. He appealed to his father’s legal education, arguing that the measure was too vague.
“He sent back a very thoughtful response,” Hutchinson said. “He took his time reading it and replying to it, and said he was going to think about it all.”
On Wednesday, the governor said he would ask lawmakers to either recall or rewrite portions of the bill. His son, though, refused to take credit.
“I did not sway my dad,” he said. “I think my dad is rethinking this because of the pressure that’s coming at him from all sides.”