Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) was elected Speaker-designate today by the outgoing House of Representatives over Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) on what is most certainly a straight party line vote. The secret ballot vote of 54 for Williams and 46 for Rice mirrors the party numbers in the House.
The question remains as to whether Williams actually will become the House Speaker. Under the rules, the outgoing House votes for a Speaker-designate, but the actual Speaker election is on the first day of the new session.
“At the beginning of each session, the members of the House of Representatives shall choose from its own membership a presiding officer designated as the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” states Rule 10(b).
That means the actual election will take place with a new House made up of at least 36 new members and in all likelihood many more than that. In all probability, the Republicans will take a majority, although Democrats would of course disagree.
Not surprising, Williams advocated against this happening.
“I can say unequivocally that the 88th General Assembly following the rules of our House said that I would be Speaker-designate and it has never happened before that that has been changed. I am looking forward to moving forward and doing the people’s business. We can’t wait and worry about elections,” said Williams.
When pressed if that means he is not certain whether he will be the Speaker, Willams said, “That’s up to the voters – my colleagues – and we are going to continue to work. We are going to pull that 54 together and that 46 together.”
When asked if the voters in November have a say in who the next Speaker is, Williams said, “Not according to our rules. Our rules say that the members elect the Speaker-designate and Speaker. And so we are making a lot of assumptions here that the vote 54 and 46 was down party lines, although it very well may have been. But with the secret ballot, we don’t know that, so I don’t want to make those assumptions. I want to be the Speaker of the House not the majority or minority leader.”
Both in his press conference and during his speech, Williams contrasted quite a bit with Rice who laid out a series of specific policy goals he wants to work toward, such as reducing Arkansas’ income tax rates to compete with surrounding states that have a lower rate or no income tax at all.
On the other hand, Williams stuck to broad concepts such as creating jobs and instead focused on a handful of bills that he was able to achieve bipartisan support for, such as a scrap metal bill that he introduced and passed during the previous session.
He pledged to continue to work in the same bipartisan manner as he feels he is already been doing including, he said, appointments to leadership positions.
This one will be interesting to see play out during and following the elections, but I don’t see any way a new Republican majority would elect Rep. Williams to the Speaker’s chair as their first order of business.
The only way it could get interesting is what happens if the Republicans only pick up 4 seats and the new House is split evenly with 50 members each.