Tolbert: 3 Republicans, 1 Democrat Seek Arkansas House Speaker’s Chair

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 50 views 

A memo from Speaker Davy Carter today lays out the process next week for selecting the Speaker Designate.  The election will take place next Wednesday, March 19 when the state legislature meets for “sine die” adjournment.

The Speaker Designate is usually the Speaker of the House in the following legislative term.  However, last year Democratic Rep. Darrin Williams was elected by the outgoing Democratic majority of the House and the incoming Republican majority of the House selected Republican Rep. Davy Carter instead.  With a 51 to 48/49 party makeup, a similar result is possible if the Democrats were to re-take the majority.

For now, the Speaker Designate election is set unless a majority of the House votes to postpone it, which seems unlikely.  Although plans could change over the next week, 4 House members currently plan to seek the Speaker Designate position – one Democratic member and 3 Republicans.

Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) has been an announced candidate since April of last year telling his local paper the Daily Citizen of his plans.

“Looking at the makeup of our chamber now, I feel I have the skill set and temperament necessary to be the one to lead the 90th General Assembly,” Gillam tells The Daily Citizen. “In my time here, I feel I have built a good track record of consensus building and working across the aisle. With the balance of power in the House, it’s important to reach across the aisle and govern in a responsible fashion.”

Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) has also been in the race for awhile announcing last May on his Facebook page.

“It’s a good opportunity. A good crossroads to finish my third term in the House and to go for the Speaker’s role,” Hammer told Saline 247 last December.

The Tolbert Report also confirmed today that Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R- El Dorado) will seek the position as well.  Shepherd has been mentioned as a potential Speaker’s candidate for awhile as well as a possible candidate for Congress in the Fourth District and for Attorney General.  He chose to stay put in the Arkansas House and is looking to seek the leadership post.

Democratic Rep. Fred Love of Little Rock is the sole Democrat seeking the post, although it would be impossible for him to win without all of his party’s support and some crossover votes from Republicans.  With that scenario, his winning is unlikely, but still possible.

If all four members officially become candidates next Wednesday, each will be given 15 minutes to address the House.  Following the speeches, voting will take place via a secret ballot.  If any of the candidates receives 51 votes, then he will be the new Speaker Designate.  If not, then the House will choose between the top two vote-getters.

Obviously, some interesting strategy and behind-the-scenes dealmaking is certain in advance of the vote.  It appears at this point that the Republican caucus does not plan to vote as a bloc, at least on the first round of voting.  Since their votes will be split 3 ways – assuming each candidate at least votes for themselves – then a runoff is almost a certainty.

It will be interesting to see what the Democratic members do during the first ballot.  If they all vote for Rep. Love – their only announced candidate, then he will be in the runoff with whichever Republican gets the most votes from their own caucus.  However, if the runoff is between a Republican and a Democrat, conventional wisdom will tell you the Republican will win.

Because of this, it is likely the Democratic members will select the Republican candidate with which they would most like to work.  This was the case with the current Speaker, Davy Carter, who was elected based largely on the support of the Democratic caucus with a handful of Republicans.  This seemed to work out well for them with a Speaker that appointed committee chairs on largely a bipartisan basis and worked for bipartisan solutions on legislation, including the private option/Medicaid expansion.

All 3 Republican candidates could make a case for crossover support.  Rep. Shepherd is part of a group of attorneys in the House from both parties that are close friends and who have worked together on legislation, such as the back-to-school tax cut.  Rep. Gillam is close with Democratic Rep. Tommy Wren of Melbourne, who some believe may have a deal with Gillam for support in the case Democrats re-take the majority. Rep. Hammer also has close ties with some of the conservative Democratic members and may have won over some with his vote for the funding of the private option near the end of the fiscal session.  His vote – along with Reps. Slinkard and Carnine – put the number needed over the top.

The four-way race will likely create some drama, so tune in next Wednesday afternoon to the House live stream to watch the action.