"We're blessed to have our senior citizens," he said to a crowd of 25 to 30. "It is important for our seniors to have dignity and independence as long as they can."
Arkansas has the sixth highest elderly population in the nation, he said. The number of seniors in the nation is expected to double in next few years as baby boomers retire, he said.
His own parents valued their independent living and local senior center as they got older, he said. To help others do the same, he said, there are some things that need to be done.
If elected, Hutchinson said, he would appoint an advisor dedicated to senior policy issues in the governor's office. The advisor would handle all policy issues concerning seniors, serve as a liaison to seniors' advocacy groups, handle constituent requests and serve as a liaison to the Arkansas Healthy Aging Coalition and the Governor's Advisory Committee on Aging.
He said he would also host a governor's summit on aging issues next year to begin long-term planning to support seniors in Arkansas. The summit would bring together leaders from the senior communities, elected officials, health care experts and representatives from the private and non-profit sectors to anticipate and prepare for new challenges presented as the senior population expands.
He said he would also allow seniors more options and flexibility to receive home and community based care. He said one way to do so would be to expand services under the EldersChoice program, Arkansas' Medicaid home and community based waiver program that allows the elderly to live at home or with family as long as possible by providing adult day cares, housekeeping services and meal delivery. Expanding those services would save the state money by delaying admission to nursing homes, which cost substantially more, he said.
"It costs an average of $1,000 a month for a senior on Medicaid to receive in-home care," he said. "If they go in the nursing home it costs an average of $3,000 a month."
He said it is also important to increase financial support of the state's eight Area Agencies on Aging which provide senior centers and an array of services to seniors but face funding challenges due to the growth of the senior population, increased transportation costs and increased wages for employees.
He also said the state needs to give its residents more tax relief. Of the $300 plus million state surplus a substantial part should be returned to state taxpayers, he said.
"We have this surplus right now because our economy is growing and more taxpayers are making more money and bringing in more money to the state," he said.
He said he would also support a measure to remove taxes from groceries to help not only seniors but all residents of the state.
"Yes, I think we need to reduce and work toward removing that tax from food and groceries," he said.
He said it is also important to work to offer incentives to large car manufacturing companies to bring more jobs to Arkansas, but it isn't a guarantee that the companies will locate here. Other states will compete by increasing their incentives, he said.
To prepare more quality workers for businesses and industry in the state, he said, he would like to invest more in two-year colleges for work force training.
Hutchinson said the country needs to protect its borders and have a legal path for immigration.
"We are a great country," he said. "We need to do all we can to stop the illegal flow of immigrants into this country."
Hutchinson said if elected he would continue to work to reduce the use of methamphetamine in the state. He said crimes against seniors directly correlates with the number of meth users.
Hutchinson served on Western Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and was a delegate to White House Conference on Aging.
He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas in 1982. He later served Arkansas in Congress and served on the House Judiciary Committee.
In 2001 he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bush later appointed him as undersecretary of Homeland Security. He also served as vice chairman of the President's Board to Protect American Civil Liberties.
He was born the youngest of six children on a small farm near Gravette. He and his wife Susan have four children, who now have children of their own.
Hutchinson will face Attorney General Mike Beebe, Democratic candidate, in November's general election.