By Lizette Alvarez
Source: New York Times
It was an invitation that Asa Hutchinson could not refuse: "I want you to go to a rave with me, Dad." Mr. Hutchinson's initial reaction was no surprise for a congressman who had just been nominated to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"It's a bad idea," he told Seth, his 18- year-old son, to go to a rave, a huge, all-night party fueled by earsplitting, hard techno music and, often, club drugs like Ecstasy and methamphetamines.
But Seth persisted, arguing that not all ravegoers are drug users, and Mr. Hutchinson, sensing a father-son moment and an interesting learning experience, relented.
"It's a parent-son thing for me at this point," said Mr. Hutchinson, 50, whose vibe is more — way more — crisp and clean-cut than grunge and hipster-cool.
Before long, his son had posted his father's appearance on the rave's Web site, and the rave's promoter had asked to meet the congressman. Hours before he was set to go, the drug agency got wind of it, tracked him down and waved him off.
"Not a good idea," Mr. Hutchinson said he was told. "The promoter was going to get arrested that night for distributing 1,000 pills of Ecstasy."
Talk about an auspicious start at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As its new director, Mr. Hutchinson hopes to make the fight against club drugs one of his priorities. Club drugs, he said, are more difficult to intercept than some other drugs because they come in pill form and are easier to conceal.
It was just three months ago that the former Arkansas congressman, who is respected and lauded by both Republicans and Democrats, got a call from the White House, asking if he was interested in the job. A former United States attorney in Arkansas who had developed some expertise on drug issues, Mr. Hutchinson said the thought had not crossed his mind, and while he believed in the mission, he was not sure he wanted to give up his House seat.
"I need a call from the president," he told the White House adviser. When it came, he said yes to President Bush on the phone. "I'm old- fashioned that way," Mr. Hutchinson added. "I don't believe you turn the president down."
Born in Bentonville, Ark., Mr. Hutchinson grew up on a farm, one of six siblings. His father and mother started a local Christian radio station and the Benton County Christian School, and Mr. Hutchinson attended Bob Jones University. Mr. Hutchinson, who is easygoing and unshakable, also graduated from the University of Arkansas Law School. He is married to Susan Burrell and has four children and one grandchild, Asa IV.
Mr. Hutchinson made his most notable mark in the House as one of the impeachment managers who prosecuted President Bill Clinton in his 1999 Senate trial. His performance was viewed by lawmakers in both parties as thorough and deliberative without seeming overly partisan. The former president was not the first Clinton Mr. Hutchinson had prosecuted. In 1984, he sent Mr. Clinton's half-brother, Roger Clinton, to prison on cocaine charges.
Mr. Hutchinson glided through his Senate confirmation hearing. His brother, Senator Tim Hutchinson, introduced him and said kind things, as expected. But his foe during the impeachment proceedings, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, one of Mr. Clinton's chief defenders, also showed up to praise him. And Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Mr. Hutchinson a man of "integrity and intelligence."
"It was one of the most gratifying things that happened to me in Congress," Mr. Hutchinson said of the cascade of compliments.
But his new job ranks high in the thankless and difficult category. It might remind some of the portrayal in the movie "Traffic" of a tormented, but fictional, White House drug adviser.
(Mr. Hutchinson's job is part of the Justice Department.)
What Mr. Hutchinson hopes to bring to the job, which he started this month, is a sense that drug trafficking and drug use are about real people and complex, everyday situations, he said. He knows this firsthand. A nephew committed suicide at 16 after being addicted to drugs. His parents had sent him to rehabilitation several times, but the problems persisted.
"It's extraordinary the battles people face when it comes to substance abuse and addiction," Mr. Hutchinson said.
Although he does not play down the law enforcement side of his job, which he calls essential in deterring drug dealing and drug use, he is just as quick to underscore the need for drug education and rehabilitation, especially for nonviolent offenders. "You're not going to arrest your way out of this problem," he said. "The risk itself is not enough."
And it is especially important in this job, he said, "to see the human side of it and for the public to understand that you see the human side of it."
As for the drug agency's international presence, Mr. Hutchinson said that fighting drugs abroad, in places like Colombia, Mexico and the Netherlands, was a crucial piece of the puzzle.
While the drug agency often gets a bad rap, Mr. Hutchinson said his predecessors and their drug policies had not failed. Drug use is down, despite a recent upward spike.
"It's difficult because we have changing leaders, and they change focus," he acknowledged. "Consistency is lacking. That's the biggest thing — to keep America engaged."
Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Lizette Alvarez
Published: September 3, 2001
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
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An Enforcer Who Sees The Human Side of Drug Battle
Posted 04 September 2001 - 03:09 AM
I saw and heard him on a TV Interview. The impression I got ,from the questions asked and not or only partially answered,that he was waiting for the Bush administration to tell him how he felt about the "WOD".
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