Arkansas Health Secretary To Remain In Position After Fierce Legislative Debate
The Arkansas Senate narrowly voted Thursday to keep state Health Secretary Dr. José Romero in his position, despite criticism from some senators over his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The debate also included an ongoing theme of some senators accusing the executive branch of wielding too much power during the health emergency. Romero was appointed to the position by Gov. Asa Hutchinson last May, and continues to have the governor’s support.
"It really, really bothers me that you can have somebody making decisions like this that were unnecessary, that were overburdensome and we not hold them accountable whatsoever," said Republican Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway.
He accused Romero and others at the state Department of Health of taking steps that disproportionately hurt small businesses.
"You can go to Walmart, you can go to Lowe’s and you can rub up against one another and you can be there all day long and they never wanted to shut their doors, but think about all those mom and pops and those restaurants," Rapert said.
He and Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, also criticized Romero for not being present at Thursday’s hearing. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said he had not been invited.
But other Senators, like Democrat Senator Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff, said given the uncertainty, Romero did the best job he could.
"The things that I have heard that people put up as objectionable are specific to things that the whole world has experienced in this last year with this pandemic," Flowers said. "We didn’t have a road map to deal with this. It hadn’t occurred in a hundred years."
A two-thirds vote was needed for Romero’s confirmation, with 25 senators – one more than needed – giving Romero their support.