Editor's Note: See updates at the end of this post.
On Thursday (Nov. 15), the House membership of the upcoming 89th General Assembly will make history by selecting its next Speaker-designate.
Current Speaker-designate Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock), who would have been the first African-American to hold the post, is expected to be voted out of the position as Republicans unofficially won control of the House with 51 seats in the 100-member body.
At noon, the House will convene for an “affirmation vote” on Williams' Speakership and it is expected that a majority will result in his recall.
That will set in motion a series of events to open nominations up for a new House Speaker.
As first reported by Talk Business two days ago, Republicans have been roiled this week by the last-minute entry of Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) as a choice for House Speaker over presumptive nominee Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron).
Carter, a third-term Republican representative, has formed a coalition of support among younger GOP members and Democrats, who control 48 seats.
For two days, the Carter coalition and Rice supporters have been in discussions with each other and House members to broker a deal that might result in the exit of one of the two Republicans from the race.
Talk Business has learned that Carter appears to have a majority of the votes and it is uncertain if Rice will go forward with his nomination or step aside.
Regardless, the election of either Republican will also be history-making for the modern political era as a Republican has never held the House Speaker's seat under 138 years of Democratic control.
House Republicans and Democrats are caucusing separately Thursday morning to form their strategies for the day.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs), who is expected to serve as House Majority Leader, implored in an email on Wednesday (Wednesday, Nov. 14) for unity.
“As all of you are aware, the speaker-elect election has taken a turn and it is my goal to speak to each of you individually about that today,” Westerman said.
“As you prepare to attend the caucus meeting tomorrow and decide how you will vote in the Speaker-elect election, I ask you to prayerfully consider the choices you have before you and search your hearts and minds to decide what the best choice is for Arkansas, our party, and our ability to function in a capacity that we can effectively pass good legislation and block bad legislation. The purpose of the General Assembly is to make law. At the end of the day our success will not be measured on how well we were structured, how good everyone felt about everyone else, how well we got along with each other or the other party, who served as speaker, or who chaired a committee. The only assessment that will matter in the end is did we make, change, or block laws that made Arkansas better. As Republicans, we will be judged on our ability to make the law more in line with Republican ideals and principles. This is important, and I trust and pray that all of us involved will make our first votes as a Republican majority the right votes. We simply cannot afford to fail at this!” Westerman added.
Democratic sources tell Talk Business that a huge majority — if not all — of their votes are committed to either retaining Williams as Speaker or supporting Carter.
Aspects of any deal-making are not being discussed.
At noon, House proceedings will occur. Talk Business will be live with updates on this blog. Stay tuned.
The noon session of the House started with Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock), who was in line to become the first African-American Speaker of the House. He made a passionate plea to hold onto his post.
Williams said that his “leadership, work ethic, and ability to work across party lines” made him the right choice to keep the position.
“I am much more than a party label,” Williams said. “I hope each of us will rise above our party labels.”
Injecting his personal background as an adopted child, Williams said he had worked hard and in a non-partisan fashion to prepare the House for the upcoming session.
After his speech and a secret ballot vote, House members did not affirm Williams' speakership by a 48-49 margin. Fifty-one votes were needed to retain the Speaker's post.
With a vacancy in the Speaker's post declared, the House recessed for 30 minutes to accept nominations for new candidates.
After the recess, Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) and Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) emerged as the new candidates for Speaker of the House.
In an emotional plea, Carter told members that they wouldn't always agree on solutions.
“We have challenges to face that honestly none of us have the answers to, but we're going to solve these problems,” Carter said. “I promise you that no matter what situation we're in, I'll give my all to the best of my ability. That's all I can give.”
Carter also preached inclusion and bipartisanship.
“Everyone's going to be involved,” he said. “If I'm honored enough for you to select me today, I'm confident that we'll make the state proud and be a road map for the rest of country.”
Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) re-delivered the highlights of his original speech to the chamber back in March in his address to the House.
He thanked Rep. Williams for his exemplary service since his election as Speaker-elect after the budget session that ended earlier this year.
Rice also stressed that he would operate the House in a bipartisan fashion.
“If I'm elected speaker, I want you to understand this, I will select leadership based on abilities, not party labels,” Rice said. “This is about fairness and I'm a fair man. And that's the only way I'll serve this body.”
Rice discussed several policy goals he hoped to pursue, including reducing the state's income tax, loosening regulations, and improving education.
“It is time for both parties to work together and legislate as they've never done before,” Rice concluded.
After counting the ballots, Carter was declared the victor by a 52-45 margin.