Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, pulled off an upset against Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, to capture the post of Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives.
Those who will be House members in the 2013 General Assembly voted 52-45 for Carter, making him the first Republican House Speaker since Reconstruction. Following the Nov. 6 election, the GOP captured 51 seats in the 100-member House.
As first reported by Talk Business two days ago, Republicans have been roiled this week by the last-minute entry of Carter as a choice for House Speaker over presumptive nominee Rice.
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.
House Republicans and Democrats caucused separately Thursday morning (Nov. 15) 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 (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.
‘MORE THAN A PARTY LABEL’
The noon session of the House began Thursday with Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, who was in line to become the first African-American Speaker of the House, 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, Carter and Rice were declared the new candidates for Speaker of the House.
CARTER, RICE MESSAGES
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.”
Rice re-delivered the highlights of his original speech to the chamber back in March in his address to the House.
He thanked 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 ballots, Carter was declared the victor by a 52-45 margin.