One of the storylines from the 88th General Assembly’s fiscal session centers on the selection of the next assembly’s Speaker of the House. The 100 members of the House will vote for a new leader at the end of the fiscal session later this month.
Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) and Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) are the only two announced candidates for the top House post, and one of them will make history.
If Rice wins, he will be the first GOP Speaker in the modern political era. Williams, who is African-American, would become the first black Speaker if elected.
With a close political party line margin in the House of Representatives — Democrats hold a slim 54-46 advantage over Republicans — there is a fierce battle to preserve and sway party line votes.
Back in October 2011, we reported on a letter sent by Rep. Rice, in which he asked for votes across party lines.
Williams has sent a letter to GOP representatives in the last week seeking Republican support, according to a letter obtained by Talk Business.
In the letter, Williams acknowledges that party affiliation is driving some decision-making. But he asks Republicans to consider his service in the legislature and his background in making their choice.
An excerpt from the letter reads:
If your vote for Speaker is based solely on party affiliation, then I respect your decision. If, however, your decision will be based on other qualities such as proven leadership skills, the ability to work in a bi-partisan manner, a successful legislative track record, relevant work experiences, a strong educational background and the ability to work well with all members of the House, then I humbly ask that you consider my qualifications for Speaker.
I believe the strongest indication of what I can do as Speaker is demonstrated by what I have done as a legislator. I am proud to have a strong record of working with both Republicans and Democrats ever since my first term.
As a freshman legislator, I secured the support of over two-thirds of the House, including 20 of the 28 Republican members, to co-sponsor a bill to significantly strengthen laws to deter scrap metal theft. Similarly, I have secured bi-partisan support for other significant pieces of legislation as is reflected on my resume.
I neither believe nor act as if one party has a monopoly on good ideas; and as a result, I have sought help from and offered assistance to my colleagues regardless of party affiliation.
After laying out his resume and work skills, Williams ends his letter with another bi-partisan message:
If elected as Speaker, I will continue to work in a bi-partisan fashion for the benefit of Arkansas. Everyone is fed up with the political polarization being displayed in Washington, D.C. Arkansans expect and deserve a legislature that puts civility and the people’s business above partisan politics. While I support and strongly believe that healthy debate can lead to better policies, I also believe that political gamesmanship should be left on the campaign trail.
Williams is a two-term Democratic representative from Little Rock, who also served as chief of staff for then-Attorney General Mark Pryor (D). He is an attorney in private practice.
There is much speculation that whichever party wins control of the House in November 2012 could overturn the election if a member of the other party wins the Speaker’s race.