Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge talks re-election, Trump and medical marijuana ahead of award dinner
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is this year’s recipient of the Sandra Wilson Cherry Award. The award will be presented by the Gaines House, of Little Rock, next month.
The award is named after the late Sandra Cherry, an Arkansas lawyer who served as assistant U.S. attorney and president of the Arkansas Bar Association from 2001 to 2002. Presented by the Gaines House, the award is given each year to a woman who has proven to be a role model through professional success and community contributions.
Rutledge recently sat down with Arkansas Money & Politics to discuss the honor, her re-election bid and a number of events dominating the news cycle.
According to the state’s first female attorney general, Cherry was a shining example for strong female leaders and humanitarians in Arkansas.
“Sandra had such an incredible servant’s heart,” Rutledge said from her 11th-floor office in the Tower Building. “That was with all the things she was involved in, and not just as an assistant U.S. Attorney, but also her work with the Bar Association. For the Gaines House to recognize Sandra, to have this sort of legacy, it’s an incredible honor for me to receive it.
“I hope that,” she added, “through my receiving this award, we can help others out there who need to be made aware of the great services of the Gaines House, and to continue that good work.”
The Gaines House, established in 1967, provides transitional housing to homeless women who have been treated for a mental, physical or emotional disability. According to Rutledge, the nonprofit organization provides hope and opportunity to the women who live there, giving them the chance to regain their independence. Cherry, she said, knew the importance of giving back to organizations like the Gaines House.
“I think Sandra grew up in an era, as many of us did, where giving back was natural and expected,” Rutledge said. “Taking care of your community like family was very important. And it should still be important. We should be an example of leadership, whether it’s something as small as opening the door for someone or putting your cart back at the grocery store. Volunteering your time, whether it’s reading to someone who can’t, working with a child in a mentoring program, or helping folks in a place like the Gaines House, that’s what America is based on.”
Making Arkansas a Better Place for Women
The Arkansas Attorney General’s office, too, has worked hard on behalf of women, Rutledge said. The office routinely distributes Laura’s Cards – a calling card named after Laura Webb, an Arkansas domestic violence survivor, with valuable information for victims of domestic violence.
“We’ve distributed over 75,000 Laura’s Cards to every law enforcement agency in the state,” Rutledge said. “We work with domestic violence shelters to make sure victims are aware of their rights, that God has a better plan for them; there’s something out there. They can get out of these abusive relationships and there are resources out there, to help lift them up out of it.”
But Rutledge said her efforts in the state have not only sought to protect women, but every Arkansan.
“We go after bad guys on a daily basis,” she said. “We’re going after individuals and making sure they remain locked up for those who commit crimes against Arkansans. We hold them accountable.
“We also hold folks accountable for taking advantage of the system,” she added. “Because when someone takes advantage of the system, they hurt each and every one of us… We’re doing a number of things, and it’s not just limited to women.”
Re-Election and 2018 Priorities
Rutledge, the state’s first female, as well as first Republican, attorney general, will seek a second term this fall. She announced her re-election bid back in 2016, and to date, no other candidate has filed to challenge her.
In 2018, Rutledge said she will continue to hold roundtable events in each of the state’s 75 counties. The face-to-face interaction with her constituents, she said, has been instrumental to her success in office.
“I want to end my term just as hard as we began it, working just as hard on behalf of Arkansans,” said Rutledge. “This is the fourth year in a row we will have gone to every county in the state, because I’m a big believer in face-to-face interactions.
“In today’s world,” she added, “it seems like we have a real lack of civil discourse, perhaps because people feel very comfortable sitting anonymously behind their computers, commenting on social media. I think the more people can sit down and reason together, the more likely we are to get to solutions on behalf of Arkansans.”
She continued, “We plan to increase our enforcement of Medicaid fraud, cybercrimes… We want to keep doing that. We’ll continue the lawsuits filed against the federal government, and see those out. Just because the court granted a stay in something in 2015 or 2016, doesn’t mean it’s over with. We want to work with this administration to roll back some of the negative requirements and unnecessary regulations that were put on the American people during the last presidency, and the various agencies.”
Support for President Trump
Rutledge drew criticism on the national stage in 2016 for her outspoken support of then-candidate Trump. She was vindicated by his victory, though, and continues to offer support of the president and his administration. A picture of Rutledge and Trump hangs inside her office, along with a plaque featuring a U.S. map, highlighting all of the counties won by Trump.
“In terms of rolling back regulations and helping job creators, they have done a fantastic job,” Rutledge said of the Trump administration. “The president’s goal was: for every new regulation he would take two out. And I think the numbers have turned out to be for every one in, 22 have been taken out.
“Already, for job creators, that has turned into an enormous difference,” she added. “Already, they’re starting to feel confidence in being able to have a five-year plan, ten-year plan, maintain what they have without spending so much money. With the tax package that was signed in, we’re seeing those large companies give the benefit right back to the people who are working for them. When the American people see their own tax returns start changing, the public is going to have a much greater confidence in this administration. I think that’s why the American people elected the president.”
Medical Marijuana in Arkansas
Earlier this month, it was reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would rescind an Obama-era policy that allowed legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country. The move will allow federal prosecutors to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana laws.
With medical marijuana finally on the horizon in Arkansas, Rutledge said supporters of medicinal pot have nothing to fear.
“I don’t think it will have any impact on medical marijuana,” said Rutledge, adding that she would have to defer to the state’s federal prosecutors Dak Kees (Western District) and Cody Hiland (Eastern District). “It would primarily impact recreational use, which is still illegal in the state. It’s important for people to understand that difference. Yes, there are some states where recreational use is allowed, but in Arkansas it isn’t.”
Rutledge said she expects medical marijuana to be available to Arkansans by mid-to-late 2018 – more than a year after the constitutional amendment was approved by a majority of voters.
“We still do not 100 percent have medical marijuana available,” she said. “It should be this summer or later this year, but it’s still not available. I fully anticipate [the decision] will not impact medical marijuana, but they will go after drug dealers who are making recreational marijuana available.”
Following her powerful speech on sexual assault at the Golden Globes last week, social media buzzed with suggestions of an Oprah Winfrey bid for the presidency in 2020. And the talk show host hasn’t dismissed the idea. But Rutledge said she’s not jumping on the President Oprah bandwagon anytime soon.
“I’m very pleased with our president right now,” Rutledge said of Oprah’s potential presidential bid. “I think Oprah gave a great speech, and I thought it was very interesting. I think, for too long, people have ignored when victims of assault or unwanted advances have come forward.”
Rutledge, too, mentioned failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the sexual assault allegations that have long surrounded her husband, President Bill Clinton.
“You have the former Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton], who was a presidential candidate, who was absolutely the world’s worst at shaming those women who came and spoke out against her husband’s advances,” Rutledge said. “It’s time we look at our own surroundings and encourage people to come forward if they’ve been wronged. We don’t want anyone to be harassed or discriminated against.”
Sandra Wilson Cherry Award Dinner
The Sandra Wilson Cherry Award Dinner, hosted by the Gaines House, will be held on Feb. 8, beginning at 6 p.m. For more information about the event, contact the Gaines House at [email protected].