Obviously, State Senate President Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) and House Speaker Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) will be front-and-center in this year’s legislative session.
The two history-making Republicans will have the bully pulpit of their positions to steer the legislative agenda.
Carter, Lamoureux, and state lawmakers will be consumed with budget issues, tax reform, public education and the granddaddy of them all – the Medicaid debate. Here is why these 10 legislators will be worth watching in the 89th General Assembly.
TOP 10 LEGISLATORS TO WATCH
Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) – In her second term in the Senate, Bledsoe chairs the Senate Public Health Committee, which will play a pivotal role in dealing with the biggest topics of the session – Medicaid and health care reform. Unlike the House committee counterpart – which is controlled by Democrats – the Senate committee is evenly split. As chair, Bledsoe will play a key role in shaping any sort of bi-partisan reform to the $350 million deficit in Medicaid and the decision of whether or not to expand the program as part of the federal health care reform package.
Rep. Duncan Baird (R-Lowell) – As a close confidant of Speaker Carter, Baird is certain to play a key role in the upcoming session. Many consider him a likely candidate to serve as the House co-chair to the all-important Joint Budget Committee. Baird could also be influential in the passage of any ethics legislation as he has led by example self-imposing the so-called “Walmart Rule” on himself during his time in office. In addition, he returns for his final term with a top ranking in House seniority.
Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) – A short time ago, it was expected that Rice would be the Speaker of the House. With events not unfolding as planned, it will be interesting to watch what role Rice plays in the upcoming session. During the 2012 campaign, he certainly earned the respect and support of many of the Republican House members as he worked to see many of them elected. He could help unite the Republican caucus. In addition, he chose to serve on the House Public Transportation Committee and has shown interest in focusing on highway issues.
Rep. James McLean (D-Batesville) – As a Democratic member who has shown a remarkable ability to work across the aisle, McLean will be key to building bi-partisan support for decisions in a narrowly-split House. He will serve on the House Education Committee, which will consider a variety of educational reform measures pushed by conservative groups. As a conservative-leaning Democrat, McLean could be key to these measures’ passage and will certainly feel pressure from a variety of directions.
Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) – Williams was elected Speaker-designate at the end of the 2012 fiscal session, but when the GOP took the majority in November’s elections, the House selected its new Republican Speaker. Williams will be a leader within the robust minority party. An attorney, he serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which he chaired in the previous legislative session. He’s likely to be a negotiator on Medicaid, tax reform and the budget.
Sen. Johnny Key (R- Mountain Home) – Key was first elected to the Senate in 2008 after being term-limited in the House and has become one of the veteran leaders within the Republican caucus. Key will chair the Senate Education Committee, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. He also serves on the Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee, where he previously served as chairman. He will be central to any lottery-related issues and has proposed changing the formula for awarding lottery scholarships to a tiered system to deal with the decline in lottery revenues.
Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville) – Much like Rep. Williams, Teague was in line to be the next Senate leader before Republicans took the majority in that chamber, too. Teague will instead serve as the co-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, which is arguably the most powerful of all state legislative committees as it is where all appropriation bills originate. In addition, Teague is on the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, where he will serve as vice-chair after serving as chairman in the previous legislative session. With budget and tax issues, Teague will be an important influence.
Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) – Leding will have the distinction as serving as the first Democrat in modern history to be the minority leader. However, with 48 members, he will have strong influence. His ability to whip the votes of his caucus will determine how strong the minority party will be. With progressive views, particularly on many social and environmental issues, it will be interesting to watch how he fills this role with a diverse Democratic base. He may also be a frequent spokesman for the Democrats’ position, a duty that will garner him significant media exposure.
Sen. Jake Files (R-Fort Smith) – Although not an outspoken legislator, Files was heavily involved behind the scenes in many of the issues in the previous session. This term he will chair the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee which is one of the majority Republican committees. As such, Files is likely help decide which tax cut and other tax reforms are passed. In previous legislatures, this Senate committee often served as the gatekeeper for tax cut measures passed by the House. It will be interesting to see if this dynamic continues and what role Files plays in letting these bills out of committee.
Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) – Last session, Bookout served as the Senate President Pro Temp and did so in a way that earned considerable respect from members of both parties. There is no doubt Senators will lean on his experience in the upcoming session. Bookout will serve as vice-chair of the Senate Public Health Committee, where a Medicaid solution may be fashioned. As an administrator of a hospital in Jonesboro, his views on Medicaid and health care reform will be influential.