- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - For the first time since their takeover of Arkansas’ statewide and federal offices, the state’s Republicans will also see their party in control of the White House and Congress next year. They’re hoping that translates into new clout for the state, and possibly some representation in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Trump’s surprise win in the presidential election this month means the state’s top Republicans may finally get their way - or at least a more receptive ear - on key issues like health care and carbon emissions than they had under a Democratic president who they successfully used as a foil over the past eight years. It’s prompting speculation that some of the top GOP figures in the state may join the Trump administration.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Sen. Tom Cotton and former Gov. Mike Huckabee have been in the parade of potential cabinet picks seen meeting with the incoming president’s transition team at Trump Tower in New York. So far, none of them have been publicly tapped for any position. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he’s not interested in serving in the Trump administration.

“I think it’s a great opportunity we have for Arkansas going into the Trump administration to impact the policies across the board, whether they are environmental regulations, tax regulations, or national security,” said Rutledge, who’s been floated as a potential pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. “Certainly Arkansas has made great strides and has great connections, but the leadership in the state and former leadership in the state … is recognized and I think the Trump administration has been reaching out and will continue reaching out to leaders in and from Arkansas.”

The possibility of an Arkansan in the cabinet comes as the state’s top Republicans are looking optimistically at an administration and a Congress that will align with some of their top issues, including abortion rights and fighting regulations. Arkansas turned into a reliably red state over the past several years after the GOP began linking Democrats to President Barack Obama.

But there could still be a divide between a Trump White House and the state’s GOP officials on a handful of issues, including trade policy. And there’s still uncertainty about what Trump’s win will mean for Arkansas and other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The area where Arkansas could have the most clout is also the one that faces the most uncertainty after Trump’s victory. Hutchinson and top lawmakers are trying to balance optimism about having a GOP-controlled Washington with their questions about what it’ll mean for the state’s needs. Nowhere does that loom larger than health care.

Trump ran partly on a vow to repeal the federal health care overhaul that he and other Republicans have derided as “Obamacare.” What remains unclear is what would replace the law and how a new plan might affect the more than 300,000 people covered by the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion. Hutchinson and other top Republicans have said they hope this means the federal government will move toward a block grant system that would allow the state to spend the federal Medicaid funds as it sees fit.

The Trump administration offers Hutchinson hope that the state may be able to pursue restrictions that weren’t allowed under the Obama administration, including work requirements and asset tests.

“This election means we’re going to have an administration that wants to give more flexibility to the states,” Hutchinson told reporters this month. “So this is good news in our ability to get waivers to implement the reform we want in terms of work requirements, in terms of cost-sharing, in terms of other elements of reform that encourages employer-based insurance. So that’s the immediate impact. We think there will be a lot more positive reaction to the reforms we need here in Arkansas.”


Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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