Five of the 10 “Legislators to Watch” hail from the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith areas.
The list is compiled by veteran political reporter Roby Brock, and was first posted to his Talk Business website. Talk Business is a content partner with The City Wire.
Brock noted that 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.
“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,” Brock noted.
Following are Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith area legislators who made the top 10 list.
• 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. 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 legislators, Files was heavily involved behind the scenes in many of the issues in the previous session. his 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.
The other five members of the top 10 are Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville; Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock; Sen. Johnny Key, R- Mountain Home; Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville; and Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro. Link here to read why Brock included them in the list.