TEXARKANA — Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr. and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have slightly different impressions of what the governor said about the senator.
According to Hickey, Hutchinson, at a fundraiser in Texarkana for his 2018 gubernatorial reelection campaign, said he and the senator sometimes “butt heads.”
“I gave him my amen across the room. We all laughed about it,” Hickey said in a recent interview in his home in Texarkana.
Hutchinson said he praised Hickey at the fundraiser in Hickey’s “territory.” He said Hickey “can be hard-headed” at times, which people who work with him know.
Hickey — a retired 54-year-old banker who is in the residential rental business — will become the Senate’s leader for the next two years starting Jan. 11, the first day of the regular legislative session.
The Texarkana Republican will succeed Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, as the Senate president pro tempore. Hutchinson is Hendren’s uncle.
Hickey has served in the Senate since 2013, representing District 11. The district includes Lafayette, Little River and Miller counties and parts of Hempstead and Sevier counties.
He described himself as honest, straightforward and detailed, and he acknowledged he has to work to be patient.
Hickey said his wife, Denise, tells him that he can be stubborn at times.
Gallery: Jimmy Hickey’s years in state government
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“I don’t know if I consider that a weakness,” he said. “I consider that … I am working toward doing what’s right; if that’s what I believe is right, then I am going to hold to it. That doesn’t mean I won’t bend. I did learn a long time ago that if you are not willing to bend, then you will break. I will have to admit you need to come up with some reasons that we need to bend.”
Hickey said the governor “wants sometimes just to push some things through, and I want us to have more oversight.”
“Gov. Hutchinson, he’s my governor,” he said. “He is all of our governor. Sometimes, I don’t agree with him, and sometimes he doesn’t agree with me.”
Hickey said his working relationship with the governor “will work just fine.”
He said he and the governor are always respectful and that it is the key to getting things done.
“However, it really isn’t about our relationship as much as it is the Senate as a whole. The members want the Senate to be part of the working relationship as a co-equal branch of government. The governor will have to make that step while at the same time I will have to remember that he has a duty to follow within the executive branch.”
Hutchinson said he has had numerous meetings with Hickey in preparation for the session and that Hickey clearly wants to improve the state with good measures. The governor said he expects to have a good partnership with Hickey in a successful session.
The governor said he respects Hickey. He added that the senator has strong convictions and is very detail-oriented.
Asked about that relationship, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said good communication will be important in making sure there is a good relationship between the Legislature and the governor.
“At the end of the day, communication is going to be key,” said Dismang, who served as Senate president pro tempore from 2014 to 2019.
Departing Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, said, “I think when it gets down to it, they are going to want to try to get something accomplished.
“I think Sen. Hickey will try his best to work with the governor. There will be places that they disagree, but it will be done in the right kind of way.”
Hickey previously ran unsuccessfully for Senate president pro tempore. He lost his bids for the post to Dismang in 2016 and to Hendren in 2018.
Last year’s election for Senate leader deeply divided Republican senators.
In April, Hickey was elected by fellow senators as president pro tempore-designate over the Senate Republican nominee for the post, Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs, in a secret-ballot vote.
The election result surprised Hester, as a group of Senate Republicans apparently joined forces with Senate Democrats to select Hickey.
In another vote after the Nov. 3 general election, Senate Republicans nominated Hickey for the leadership role over Sen. Blake Johnson of Corning. Senators then confirmed Hickey to be president pro tempore for the 93rd General Assembly.
Asked about the GOP divisions in the Senate, Hickey said, “I don’t worry about that.
“Those colleagues down there and I do understand that I serve at their pleasure and their discretion,” he said. “They are a salty little group. That is for sure.
“The thing is, I do respect all of them and do kind of feel that they are a family,” Hickey said. “Each and every one of them knows they can pick up the phone today and call me and we’ll talk just like nothing has ever happened. It’s just the way I am.”
Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who counted votes for Hickey, said, “While there is always factions, I think that the Senate is unified in wanting to be an equal branch” of state government with the executive branch.
“We want a conservative government. We want an efficient government and realizing in a pandemic we want to have a voice in the process,” he said.
Rice said he doesn’t expect much internal fighting in the 35-member Senate in the regular session.
Hendren said the Senate has been split outside the Senate leadership race.
“There has been division that really goes clear back to the Medicaid expansion debate, so I don’t think anybody can fib themselves and say all those differences are going to disappear,” Hendren said, referring to the program that allows low-income people to have health insurance funded with Medicaid dollars.
“Our party is large enough now where we have a diverse group of opinions and we have people with strong feelings on both sides, so we’ll still have divisions,” he said. “We have 28 Republicans out of 35. You would expect that kind of division in a group that size.”
Hickey, the eldest of three brothers, was raised on a farm in Texarkana that had cattle and chickens. His father is Miller County Justice of the Peace Jimmy Hickey Sr., a retired farmer and one-time Democrat who is now a Republican.
Sen. Hickey graduated from Texarkana High School in Arkansas and was a defensive end on the football team.
He attended Texarkana College for two years before spending a year at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
He said he initially planned to get his bachelor’s degree at UA and then attend law school.
But financial considerations derailed that plan and led him to return home to work full time at Commercial National Bank.
Hickey attended night school to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Texas State University in Texarkana, Texas, which is now part of the Texas A&M System.
Hickey started in the mail room at Commercial National Bank when he was 18. He later worked on collections; consumer loans and mortgages; and, 25 years later, he retired as senior vice president in about 2010.
He served on the Texarkana School Board from 2004-10. He said he felt an obligation to serve on the board with his son attending school there.
His son, Sawyer Hickey, is now studying to be a doctor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
SEEKING THE SEAT
Sen. Hickey credited God with his decision to run for the District 11 seat in 2012.
“This is the truth right here,” he said. “After I retired out of the bank, what my intentions were is that I was going to just manage all of our rental properties and I was going to have my construction business where I was going to build single-family houses from the early spring all the way until the late summer,” he said. “I was going to make sure that I was done by sometime in September because I love to hunt duck and deer. That’s my hobby right there.”
Hickey said he had never been to the state Capitol and didn’t know how long a legislative session lasted. He also thought it was a voluntary position.
“I was on the deer stand and it just got laid on me that I was supposed to run for the Arkansas Senate, and I did not want to do it,” he said. “Every part of me thought, why in the world do I want to do this? I have gotten a rental business. I am retired from the bank. I am building these houses, just making a living, and, matter of fact, I usually tell my wife most everything and I didn’t even tell her. Well, this went on for probably about a week to the point of where I couldn’t even stay in my deer stand. Sweat would break out on my head, thinking about, I was supposed to run?”
Hickey said he eventually told his wife, “I am supposed to run for the Arkansas Senate.”
He called then-Rep. Prissy Hickerson, R-Texarkana, and reached out to then-Arkansas Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb of Benton.
Former Senate Republican leader Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot said Hickey showed up at the state Republican Party headquarters and indicated he wanted to run for the Senate against Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana.
“We have become the best of friends” and hunted together, Williams said.
Hickey said he doesn’t have a political mentor, “absolutely none, zero.”
“In my whole life, I just always have been about trying to be fiscally responsible and working to build my businesses or whatever,” he said. “I have no political aspirations whatsoever and I still don’t, which really is what makes it easier for me.
“I try to do what my heart leads me to do. Of course, I try to follow what my constituents want to me do as long as I think it is what’s correct. I like that part about where I am at.”
From 2015-17, Hickey served as co-chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
“Being in banking and everything, I don’t like all of the corruption stuff,” he said.
Hickey said he has tapped retired Deputy Legislative Auditor Jon Moore to be his aide.
Hickey said his goal as the Senate’s leader is to make the other 34 senators successful as much as he can.
“It is not about me,” he said. “As far as any agendas, other than doing things the correct way, all these members in the House and Senate, believe me, they have got plenty of legislation to carry. “
Hickey said he wants to make sure good policy is enacted for the state of Arkansas.
“I respect the executive branch, but my thing is that I do want that Senate to be an independent body,” he said. “I want them to be more of a deliberative body.
“One of the things that drives me crazy is that saying that I hear so much down there, ‘Well, if we don’t get it right this time, we can always fix it next time.’ That is true, but I just subscribe to the fact that I would rather have the thing more than perfect the first time. There is no reason that we shouldn’t,” Hickey said.
He said he would prefer lawmakers to slow down in considering bills.
“I prefer having things correct over moving along fast,” Hickey said. “I do understand there are times that you have to move fast and there are times when you have to be more diligent and move slowly. I do understand that. Getting things done right the first time is what it is important to me.”
He said he started preparing in August for a session held in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.
“We have got a good set of procedures,” Hickey said. “I think it is going to be a more structured session than what we have seen, but that’s what we are going to have to do to keep everybody safe.”
That could make for a longer-than-usual regular session, he said.
In the regular session, lawmakers will consider enacting a state general revenue budget and weigh measures that would give the Legislature more authority in emergencies declared by the governor, ban most abortions and implement a “stand-your-ground” self-defense law.
They’re also expected to consider changing Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion, called Arkansas Works, as well as overhauling the state’s tort laws, redrawing the state’s congressional district boundaries and increasing penalties for hate crimes.
HATE CRIMES BILL
Hutchinson, Hendren and others have signaled that they plan to push for enacting a hate crimes law. Arkansas is one of three states without such a law.
Hendren’s Senate Bill 3 would create a sentence enhancement for offenses committed because of a victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability or service in the U.S. armed forces.
Hickey said in a recent interview that he hadn’t read Hendren’s bill.
“I have got tons of other stuff,” he said.
“As I have heard it is written, I don’t think there is a chance in the world that it is going to make it through the Legislature,” Hickey said. “If something’s presented like that, then I’ll start reading it. I’ll start looking at it.
“But from the comments I have heard, there is not a way in the world that that’s going to go through,” Hickey said. “I don’t know that any of them will or should. I am not just sure yet.”
Asked if he has strong feelings about the hate crimes issue, he said, “I don’t understand it, and I have talked directly even with some of our minority members because they know I will be straight up with them.
“I truly don’t understand it because it seems like to me, especially from some of those members, that their whole life they have fought any type of standards that we were not equal or something that was discriminatory toward one group or the other,” Hickey said. “That’s the part that I truly don’t understand. Why would we do that? If we are going to work toward and continue to work toward so that we don’t have that within our society … I don’t understand why we wouldn’t keep them equal. That’s the kind of way I see it and feel in my heart.”
State Sen. Jimmy Hickey stands outside his home in Texarkana. Hickey, who will succeed Jim Hendren as Senate president pro tempore when the state Legislature convenes this month, said he doesn’t worry about GOP divisions in the state Senate, but adds: “They are a salty little group. That is for sure.” More photos at arkansasonline.com/13jhickey/.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Mike Wickline)