Newly named Arkansas House Minority Leader, Rep. David Whitaker of Fayetteville, says he won’t wake up every morning looking to be an obstructionist. He’ll fight when necessary and work across the aisle when possible.
“I think it’s very important to always pick battles. Number one, you don’t go in looking for trouble. It’s not my style. I go in looking for answers,” Whitaker said of his leadership style in the latest edition of Talk Business & Politics Daily. “If somebody wants to get in the way or wants to throw an opposition that I don’t feel is reasonable, then you may see combative. I don’t believe that we can achieve much by starting everyday yelling at the opponent in its face. It’s not how we do things anyway and it’s not my nature.”
Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, succeeds Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, in the top post for the House’s 24 Democrats. Gray was recently elected as chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
While Democrats in Arkansas range from liberal to moderate to conservative, Whitaker says the shrinking of their ranks in recent elections has led to a more progressive Democrat in the state Legislature.
“Democrats, like it or not, as we’ve lost members, we obtained a lot of these members in conservative areas. So in a strange sense, it has made the Democratic caucus more progressive merely by attrition. I don’t know that the people that are progressives are more progressive than they ever were, but just seemed to be in comparison,” he said.
Of Republicans, Whitaker sees more homogeny in their political and governing philosophies.
“With the continuing rightward direction of the Republican Party, it’s hard to find a moderate. And what I would say is you’re gonna find people who are probably quite conservative, but it really comes down more to a question of reasonableness of someone who will listen to you and be willing to work with you and not worry that they get crossed off the Christmas list if they’re seen talking to you. Ideology wise, they’re fairly uniform. It’s just their approach on what level of ideological purity they’re into,” he said.
The Fayetteville Democrat said he hopes his fellow lawmakers let the legal process play out when it comes to impeachment proceedings against Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen. Whitaker, an attorney, said the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission should complete its investigation before other steps are taken.
“Right now, we have a process. The [Judicial] Discipline and Disability Commission has an open investigation. Many of us, particularly the attorneys among us, are like, ‘Let that process work because it can,’ and it needs to have the opportunity,” said Whitaker.
“The other thing is echoing Senator Dismang’s concerns, particularly the senators really must step back because if we do, they’re going to have to be 35 impartial judges or jurors sitting in judgment of whoever. I hope they don’t do it. I think there could be a lot more harm to the state than good,” Whitaker added.
Watch more of Whitaker’s interview from Thursday’s edition of Talk Business & Politics Daily in the video below, including his comments on how Democrats will proceed with budget battles, Medicaid expansion and his thoughts on a policy agenda.