Republicans firmly won the Arkansas State Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, but control of the Arkansas House is still an undecided matter.
With expectations for huge gains in both chambers of the General Assembly, the GOP delivered in the Senate picking up 21 seats to the Democrats 13. One seat in southeast Arkansas saw a Democrat leading, but two ballot boxes remaining to be counted. Needing only 18 seats to win, Republicans will control the capitol’s upper chamber with a clear majority.
However, the fate of the House is unclear.
With designs on picking up 60 or more seats, Republicans sprinted to early leads only to see Democrats make up ground as final races were decided. In the end, the Republicans held 50 seats to the Democrats 48. One Green Party candidate, former Democrat Fred Smith, ran unopposed in an east Arkansas House race after the Democrat, Hudson Hallum, resigned in a voter fraud scandal earlier this year.
House District 52, which pitted Republican John Hutchison against Democrat L.J. Bryant, ended late Tuesday night with Hutchison holding a 45-vote lead. However, 200 provisional ballots remained to be counted, which could sway the outcome of the election and the balance of the House.
If Republicans eventually win the majority in the House, they are expected to oust Speaker-designate Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock), the first potential African-American Speaker of the House, and replace him with Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron). The election would mark the first time the GOP held the speakership since Reconstruction in the late 1800’s.
Rep.-elect Fred Smith has indicated a willingness to caucus with the Democrats, but he could be persuaded to side with Republicans in theory, which could alter the final party tally in the House.
A tie poses even more intrigue. According to the House rules, the membership of the chamber decides who will serve as Speaker. Williams won the Speaker-designate title in a party-line vote of 53-47 earlier this year.
If there is a tie, House members could broker a deal that finds the votes for one party’s designate to serve as Speaker or it could do as North Carolina did in the early 2000’s and enter into a power-sharing arrangement where the different parties trade control of the chamber, committee assignments and the Speaker’s seat.
Also of interest, three controversial Republican candidates – two incumbents – lost their bids to serve. Rep. Jon Hubbard (R-Jonesboro), who wrote that slavery was “a blessing in disguise” for blacks was defeated by Democrat Harold Copenhaver. Rep. Loy Mauch (R-Bismarck), who had also written that slavery was not discouraged in the Bible, lost to Democrat David Kizzia. GOP candidate Charles Fuqua, who had advocated for a law to allow the execution of children and deportation of all Muslims from the U.S., lost his race to incumbent Rep. James McLean (D-Batesville).
A Republican-controlled Senate, and possibly the House, is certain to provide contrasts and conflicts with Gov. Mike Beebe (D). The popular Governor injected himself in many legislative races this year and the balance of his campaign funds from 2010 provided plenty of ammunition for Democrats to remain competitive in statehouse races this cycle.
Beebe has governed from the center-right, but will be challenged by new conservative Republican strength on issues ranging from tax reform to education to health care expansion. Beebe will hold a press conference on Wednesday morning to discuss the night’s results.
You can view the final tally of the statehouse races at this link.