Multiple sources confirm to Talk Business that Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) could emerge as a Republican alternative to Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) as a candidate for House Speaker if members choose on Thursday to change their designated leader from Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock).
This past Tuesday, Republicans gained control of the Arkansas House with 51 seats, assuming a recount election in House District 52 remains with GOP nominee John Hutchison, who won the seat by 44-votes over Democrat L.J. Bryant. Hutchison appears poised to hang on to the seat giving Republicans a majority for the first time since Reconstruction.
On Thursday (Nov. 15), House members will meet to consider an effort to change leaders from their pre-selected Speaker-designate Rep. Williams.
Conventional wisdom has been that Williams’ previous challenger Rep. Rice would assume the speakership if House control shifted to Republicans. On Tuesday (Nov. 13), Talk Business learned that Carter is considering a challenge to Rice and Williams for the Speaker's seat. Carter, Rice and Williams have not returned phone calls or messages for comments on the developments.
In the past week, a fracture has emerged among Republican leaders in part over an aggressive plan to overhaul House rules and staff that some felt would be too far-reaching, too fast and in part due to dissatisfaction with potential leadership assignments within a GOP-led House.
Additionally, last week's committee assignments led to Democrats controlling the Joint Budget Committee by a 14-10 margin. The powerful committee debates and controls finances for the state's $4.8 billion general revenue budget and its overall $24 billion budget.
The eventual House Speaker controls 4 additional appointments to Joint Budget, but they are for ex-officio positions, which are usually non-voting.
With control of the committee, Democratic members would dictate the selection of the influential chairmanship and this added a new riff in GOP ranks as the party campaigned on smaller government and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.
A House Democratic co-chairman of Joint Budget combined with former President Pro-tempore-elect Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville) — who was named Senate Joint Budget Co-chair last week after Republicans gained control of the State Senate — presents a practical and symbolic problem for Republicans to fully push that agenda and to control the committee's direction.
Democratic control of the Joint Budget Committee also presents a bargaining chip for Democrats in the Speaker's race on Thursday.
And despite being in the minority, House Democrats managed to gain 11-9 majorities on the Public Health committee and Insurance and Commerce committee, two panels that will deal with major aspects of a potential Medicaid expansion. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are split on Public Health 4-4, while Republicans hold a 5-3 advantage on Insurance and Commerce.
Some Republicans are declaring this split a “mutiny” and claiming that the splintering is a betrayal of a previous agreement to install Rice as Speaker under GOP rule.
More developments are expected on Wednesday and Thursday's vote to retain or reject Rep. Williams as Speaker-designate could be filled with even more drama.
- The House will convene at noon and vote on Williams' Speakership. Williams could be retained or he could be ousted.
- If he does not keep the position, a 15-minute recess will occur and candidates for House Speaker will submit their names to current Speaker Robert Moore (D-Arkansas City).
- A 3-way race could result in a run-off with the top 2 vote-getters squaring off. Rice vs. Williams, Carter vs. Rice, or Williams vs. Carter all have their own dynamics.
- Only new House members to be seated in the 89th General Assembly will be allowed to vote.