With the election for the Arkansas Speaker of the House a full week behind us, we are now starting to get into the details of the inside baseball over what happens next.
One of the first tasks for the new Speaker will be decisions regarding House staff – who to keep and who to hire.
With the last minute candidacy and somewhat surprise election of Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot), this is more of a mystery than it otherwise would have been. And as with all mysteries, the rumors are flying. Some of them are quite interesting.
It was understood by most that the plan if Republican Rep. Terry Rice had been elected was to replace the current House Chief of Staff Bill Stovall (see update) with former GOP Rep. Roy Ragland. It appears that this is still the plan of incoming Speaker Carter, although it is not altogether clear what Ragland's title will actually be. Ragland served in the House from 2005 until he was term limited in 2010. In his final term, he served as Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore to Democratic Speaker Robbie Wills. Ragland currently works in government relations for the Secretary of State's office, Republican Mark Martin.
It also appears that Carter may hire Rett Hatcher from the Secretary of State's office as well in some capacity.
One of the more interesting rumors is who Carter might bring on as his right-hand man – Gabe Holmstrom, a close friend of Carter's from Cabot.
Holmstrom currently works in public affairs for advertising/PR firm Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods (CJRW) where he has been for the past couple years. He has a strong background in Democratic politics that will likely trouble some Republicans. Prior to CJRW, Holmstrom worked as the senior strategist for the campaign for Democratic congressional candidate Chad Causey, as a spokesman for Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for 3 years, the executive director for the Democratic Party of Arkansas in 2005 and 2006, and as a legislative assistant to Democratic Congressman Marion Berry for 4 years.
Nevertheless, his close ties to Carter have many believing that Carter will tap him for a top position, perhaps similar to Jamie Gates' position for former Speaker Robbie Wills when he was assistant to the speaker several years ago. Although nothing is official at this point, several sources consider this hire to be highly likely as Holmstrom has the confidence of Carter as a long-time friend and loyal supporter of Carter.
It is also worth noting that although Holmstrom's Democratic ties are deep, he has been viewed as a centrist. Could this be the beginning of “conservative Democrats” moving to the Republican Party as has happened in other southern states after Republicans begin to win a majority? Possibly, but it remains to be seen.
It is also believed that Carter will retain several current House staff members – such as Buddy Johnson who serves as Coordinator of Legislative Services and House Parliamentarian – who can help make sure that nothing gets missed during the transition and all the trains still run on time.
Official confirmation is not likely to come for several days, so everything could change. However, these rumors are floating pretty thick around the state capitol over the last couple of days.
UPDATE (12/3/12) – I am now also hearing that current House Chief of Staff Bill Stovall will stay on in some sort of capacity as well.
UPDATE (12/4/12) – Official press release from the House confirms what I had heard – Holmstrom as chief of staff, Stovall as chief operations officer, and Ragland as house director. Press release below…
Arkansas House Speaker-elect Davy Carter introduced Gabe Holmstrom as the next Chief of Staff to members of the 89th General Assembly in the House Chamber Monday afternoon.
“Gabe is committed to working with all 100 members during this upcoming session,” said Carter. “His experience in state and federal government and the private sector will serve as a tremendous asset to the challenges that lie ahead for this General Assembly.”
Holmstrom previously worked as a public affairs specialist for Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods.
Current Chief of Staff Bill Stovall will now serve as Chief Operations Officer of the Arkansas House.
Speaker-elect Carter has also announced that Roy Ragland will join the staff as House Director. Ragland served as a member in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2004-2010. During the 87th General Assembly, Ragland served as Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore.