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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Arkansas Exaggerations

Candidates in the Arkansas governor’s race are exaggerating their differences in misleading TV ads:

  • Republican Asa Hutchinson accuses his Democratic opponent Mike Ross of “supporting the bill that led to Obamacare,” when in fact Ross voted against the Affordable Care Act, and later voted for repeal.
  • Ross claims Hutchinson voted “to make it easier to ship our jobs to China.” Actually, Hutchinson supported Democratic President Bill Clinton’s normalization of trade relations back in 2000.


Ross and Hutchinson — both former House members — won their respective party primaries on May 20 and immediately started hammering each other with exaggerated claims. This Hutchinson attack ad claims Ross was a “loyalist” to the current House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and “even supported the bill that led to Obamacare.”

Actually, Ross was one of only 34 House Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act in its final form. He also was one of only three Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to repeal it in 2011, which was the first chance he got.

The ad is referring to a deal made in 2009 by Ross and other members of the Blue Dog Coalition of self-described “fiscally conservative” Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That deal allowed the committee to vote on its version of the bill, which passed 31-28 on July 31, 2009, with the support of Ross. Not mentioned in the ad is that Ross agreed to allow a vote only after extracting concessions — including a cut in the projected cost of $100 billion over 10 years and an expanded exemption for more small-business owners from a mandate that they provide coverage to employees or pay a penalty.

Pelosi Loyalist?

As for being “a Nancy Pelosi loyalist,” the fact is that Ross’ party loyalty varied during his six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and he was at times a thorn in Pelosi’s side. During his last term — which ended in January 2013 — he voted with fellow Democrats only 58 percent of the time, according to the Washington Post‘s U.S. Congress Votes database. That made him one of the least loyal House Democrats; only three others had lower party-voting records during that time.

In previous terms, Ross voted with his party more often: 94 percent of the time in both the 111th and 110th Congresses (when Democrats held the majority and Pelosi was speaker); 86 percent in the 109th and 89 percent in the 108th   (when Republicans were in the majority and Pelosi was minority leader); and 87 percent as a freshman representative in the 107th (when Pelosi was minority whip).

The Hutchinson ad says Ross voted with Pelosi 82 percent of the time “on the issues that matter most.” The source of that number turns out to be an old report from the strongly conservative Club for Growth that counts 62 House votes taken during 2009 and 2010. And although the Club said these were votes on “economic issues,” they included a number that were not — such as the election of Pelosi as speaker, a routine and mostly party-line vote to adopt the rules for the new Congress, and a measure to require periodic committee hearings on waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement, which passed 423 to 0.

‘Obama’s’ Bailout?

The ad accuses Ross of voting for “Obama’s big-government agenda” starting with “bailouts.” But the bailout bill cited by the ad is the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program measure requested by President George W. Bush, supported by nearly half the Republicans in Congress, and signed into law by Bush.

Obama, who had not yet been elected president, voted for it in the Senate, but so did his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain.

Jobs to China

Ross strains the facts as well, in an ad that started running May 21, the day after the primary.

In this opening salvo, Ross’ ad states: “In Congress, Asa Hutchinson voted to make it easier to ship our jobs to China.” Hutchinson says this is false, and we agree that, at best, it is misleading.

What Hutchinson actually voted for — back in 2000 when he was still a member of the House — was H.R. 4444, a bill requested by President Bill Clinton to bring about permanent normal trade relations with China, clearing the way for China to enter the World Trade Organization. The measure passed with the support of all four Arkansas House members, Republican Reps. Hutchinson and Jay Dickey, and Democratic Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder.

Since then trade with China has boomed, benefiting both countries.

Census figures show U.S. imports from China went from less than $82 billion in 1999 to more than $440 billion in 2013. Some of those goods and services might well have been produced in the U.S. had the U.S. continued to discriminate against Chinese imports, as it did before. But there have been benefits to U.S. workers, not only in the form of lower-cost goods available in stores, but in jobs as well. U.S. exports to China also rose, from just over $13 billion in 1999 to $122 billion last year.

Judging from these two ads, the Ross-Hutchinson race will be hard fought. We’ll keep watching.

— Brooks Jackson