Just moments after promising to do so in her inaugural address at the Arkansas State Capitol on Jan.10, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed seven executive orders targeting a wide range of policy concerns.
The first order institutes “an immediate hiring and promotion freeze” with the aim of reducing government waste and eliminating unnecessary spending. This repeals a 2015 order from former Governor Asa Hutchinson, Executive Order No. 15-01, while recycling portions of its language.
The order directs state agencies to terminate any ongoing hiring processes unless a formal offer of employment has already been made. State entities are also disallowed from backfilling vacancies resulting from resignations, promotions, terminations or similar circumstances. Exceptions for “a legitimate business need” that requires filling the position are allowed, according to the order.
As with EO 15-01, the freeze does not apply to positions authorized by federally-funded public employment efforts, or to a number of legislative, judicial and government agency positions listed in the order. Notably, Gov. Huckabee Sanders’ order also makes exceptions for positions authorized for the Arkansas Departments of Corrections and Public Safety.
The second order targets “unnecessary or overburdensome regulatory requirements” placed on businesses. Again, it repeals and expands on an earlier order. Except in the case of exemptions or specific provisions of state law, any new rules from state departments, agencies and offices must be viewed and approved by the governor before they can appear before legislative committees. Additionally, those entities must submit two rules to be repealed for every one rule presented.
A third order directs the Arkansas Inspector General to conduct a “complete and exhaustive review” of all previous executive orders since the formation of the state in 1836. The goal of this review is to make clear which executive orders are currently in effect and to ensure they comply with state law. The order calls out executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic specifically and calls for a summary of “the purpose and directive” of each order, as well as their impacts on businesses and industries in the state. The report is to be submitted within 90 days and will include recommendations for resolving any inconsistencies.
Gov. Huckabee Sanders recently announced Allison Bragg, a prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas, as her pick for the position of Inspector General.
Another executive order directs the Secretary of the Department of Commerce to enhance the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program. This is to be done through a number of verification and cross-checking measures, as well as giving the secretary the discretion to use additional measures as they deem necessary. The order cites a statistic from the United States Department of Labor that the state spent “more than $53 million on improper unemployment benefits to ineligible applicants over the course of three years.”
In December, Gov. Huckabee Sanders announced her intent to nominate former Entergy Arkansas CEO Hugh T. McDonald to the Department of Commerce position.
In keeping with Gov. Huckabee Sanders’ vague campaign promises to prevent the “indoctrination” of schoolchildren, her next executive order targets the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and instructs the Secretary of the Department of Education to identify and remove any materials found to encourage the teaching of CRT.
The order characterizes CRT as “antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality and fairness,” as it “emphasizes skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject.”
Critical Race Theory is an academic and legal framework acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and making connections between harmful government policies and the rampant societal issues faced by the Black community. CRT is generally not a part of K-12 curriculums, but the term has been co-opted in recent years by Gov. Huckabee Sanders and other prominent conservatives to condemn any education related to systemic racism, diversity and inclusion efforts and the history of the United States.
In December, Gov. Huckabee Sanders announced Jacob Oliva, an education official from the Florida Department of Education, as her nomination to replace Johnny Key as the Arkansas Secretary of Education.
Similar to a bill passed in December of 2022 by the United States Senate, Gov. Huckabee Sanders’ next executive order prohibits the installation of, connection to or use of TikTok on any state network or state-issued technology. The order highlights the “economic, political and military competition” between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, as well as the perceived risk posed by the app, given its ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance LTD.
Finally, in an order meant to “respect the Latino community by eliminating culturally insensitive words” from official government use, Gov. Huckabee Sanders has directed all state offices, departments and agencies to review official documents for the use of the term “Latinx” and replace any usage with terms such as “Hispanic,” “Latino” or “Latina.”
“Latinx” is a gender-neutral neologism meant to be more inclusive than the masculine and feminine -o and -a endings found in Spanish and other romance languages. The term is not widely used, with only three percent of American Latinos preferring it in a recent Pew Research study. Though widely debated, the term is not generally understood as pejorative or insensitive, although there currently is no strong consensus. The Real Academia Española rejects the -x ending, while some groups in the U.S. and Latin America have adopted it. Others prefer the use of “Latine,” since an -e ending more closely follows Spanish pronunciation conventions.