GOP challenge in Legislature is to ‘govern as statesmen’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 117 views 

With a sweep of all federal offices, statewide offices including the governor's office and a larger majority in the General Assembly going into the 90th legislative session, Wednesday (Nov. 5) is truly a new and historic day for Republicans. But with Republicans not reaching critical thresholds in the House and Senate, key pieces of legislation will still require the support of at least some Democrats.

Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, said with the growth to 64 Republicans in the House (out of 100) and 24 seats in the Senate (out of 35) along with each constitutional office was a "clear message" from voters.

"It was obviously a huge day and night for Republicans in Arkansas," he said. "I think the citizens and voters sent a clear message that they were interested in us leading. Now the impetus is on us to govern. There's a difference between campaign and governing. My hope is that we govern as statesmen, not Republican or Democrat."

Already Gov.-Elect Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., has announced that Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, would serve as his chief-of-staff and the director of transition. The Pro Tem of the State Senate, he served in the House from 2003-2009 and has been in the Senate since that time.

"Not only does Michael bring an ample amount of institutional knowledge of the state’s legislature, having served in both chambers in leadership positions, but he is well respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Hutchinson said. "My six-point plan to grow our economy and create jobs in our state starts by lowering taxes for Arkansas’ middle class, and I believe Michael has the qualities and experience to help accomplish my goals as Governor.”

Files said Lamoureux's appointment to the governor-elect's staff was a way of ensuring that the governor's proposals from the nearly year long campaign become law.

"We'll start seeing things come together, but there'll be no mad rush to pass legislation in a quick manner. This will mean more coordination between the governor's office and the House and Senate leadership to get things done," he said, adding that it would be hard to determine how quickly Lamoureux could whip votes for the governor-elect's legislative priorities.

Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, noted that while the Republicans will have a majority, it'll still be short of the three-fourths majority needed to pass appropriations and short of the two-thirds majority needed for other parliamentary actions.

Even so, Lindsey said Lamoureux's appointment could be a way to bridge the gap between parties as he is well respected on both sides of the aisle.

"He will do a great job to serve Asa as chief of staff. He did a great job as President Pro Tem in the 89th (Legislative Session). Quite frankly, I'm a little sad to lose him as a colleague in the Senate but he will serve the governor well. He has built and continues to build trust with all members of the Senate and if you trust somebody and value their judgment and word, that's always a valuable asset no matter where you are in life and what you do. Michael takes that attribute and that criteria to the corner office," Lindsey said.

The one hiccup that could arise in General Assembly, according to Democratic Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville, is what he asserted at two factions of the Republican Party.

"I think obviously the Republican legislators will find more opportunities to partner with a Republican executive branch, but I don't think the Republican caucus is unified. I think you see three parties in the legislature. I think they're evenly split at the house level — Democratic Party, Republican Party and the far-right party," Leding, the former House Minority Leader, said.

"Obviously, most of the time Republicans might manage to come together, but I don't think they'll always manage to be on the same page."

Rep. Justin Harris, a West Fork Republican whose sprawling district stretches through much of rural Crawford and Washington Counties, disagrees with Leding's analysis and said Hutchinson is likely to see a unified front even on issues like the Private Option that have been contentious between conservative Republicans and the party's more moderate leadership from the last legislative session.

"I think (Leding is) wrong, I really do. I think he's dead wrong," he said, adding that he believed dissatisfaction with the way national politics are run in Washington trickled into the overwhelming wins by Republicans on Tuesday (Nov. 4).

But he said issues like the Private Option – Arkansas’ implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act – would not cause Republicans to lose focus on governing and giving citizens a taste of something different than Washington-style gridlock.

"We need to look at what we're going to do (with the Private Option). But I think you'll see a united Republican front and I don't think you'll see a split party. so I disagree with that."

Files said he believed Democrats would still have a voice in the process, even if it is controlled by his Republican colleagues. He expects Lamoureux to be an effective extension of the governor's office, making sure all sides are heard.

"I like to think that most of the people down there are relational people wanting to build consensus and for me, it's the right thing to do. I've been in the House with 24 (Republican) members. So you're selective as to what is opposed and what is stood up to."

Lindsey echoed those sentiments and added that he expected the governor's office to work with Democrats and Republicans in good faith to accomplish the best for Arkansans.

"I know Michael will build a strong position of friendship and trust. He already has that with the president designate (Jonathan) Dismang. They're good friends. And I know Sen. Lamoureux is good friends with the minority leaders (on both sides) and with all of us. He will do a good job to help build the relationship (between branches of government)."