Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch confirms to The Tolbert Report on Thursday evening that he plans to challenge fellow Republican, Senate President Pro Tempore-designate Jonathan Dismang of Beebe, for the President Pro Tempore position in the upcoming session.
Republicans grew their majority in the most recent election from 22 seats to 24 seats in the State Senate. Perhaps more importantly, several of the newly-elected Republican Senators align more closely with the Tea Party movement particularly on the issue of opposing the Arkansas Private Option, which uses federal Medicaid expansion funds to provide for a private insurance plan for low income Arkansans – a measure supported by Sen. Dismang.
“I will be honest with you – this is not a personal disagreement with Sen. Dismang, but I disagree strongly with some of the decisions he has made,” said Stubblefield. He pointed specifically to Dismang’s hiring of James Miller on the Senate staff. Miller had previously worked for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and Stubblefield claims Miller supported Democrats in past elections, including supporting Stubblefield’s 2012 Senate opponent.
Stubblefield also criticized what he understood Dismang planned for Senate committee chairmanships. Although he did not mention it directly, some have been critical of an understanding that Democratic Sen. Larry Teague will remain as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.
“I just don’t want another two years like the last two years,” said Stubblefield who criticized the election of Speaker Carter in the House and the passage of the Private Option. “I think people said on Tuesday night they don’t want Obamacare and I think the Private Option is Obamacare in Arkansas.”
Dismang said that he spoke to Stubblefield Thursday afternoon at the state capitol after a committee meeting and Stubblefield informed him that he was considering seeking the Pro Tempore position.
“That is Stubblefield’s decision to make,” said Dismang, but he said he feels he will retain his position as President Pro Tempore-designate.
The Republican Caucus will meet next Thursday on November 13 and this is where Stubblefield says he plans to ask the Republican caucus to support him. Stubblefield said he believes the Republican caucus as a whole should support whomever the majority of the Republican caucus votes to back at that meeting. With 24 Republicans – or 23 once the current Pro Tempore Michael Lamoureux’s resignation is official – it would take 12 votes from the Republican caucus to form a “majority of the majority.”
Stubblefield said he believes he has the backing of “several conservative Senators,” but declined to give a specific number.
“The caucus can have that discussion, but commitments have been made to support me and Senators would have to go back on their word for that to happen,” said Dismang.
Either way the official election of President Pro Tempore-designate – if a new one were to happen – would not take place until the Senate meets as a whole, which is currently scheduled to take place next Friday, November 14. It would require 18 of the entire Senate body to make that new election.
The switch from Dismang to Stubblefield would be a controversial move and it would be unprecedented in the Senate. Although the current Senate Pro Tempore Lamoureux was elected over Democratic Sen. Larry Teague when the Republicans took the majority in 2012, that was agreed to unofficially in advance.
The move does resemble the election in the House of Speaker Davy Carter over Rep. Terry Rice following the 2012 election, but somewhat in reverse. Carter was elected by the House as whole with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats while the majority of the Republican caucus supported Rice. Interestingly enough, Rice is now a Senator defeating incumbent Sen. Bruce Holland in the May primary largely based on Rice’s opposition to the Private Option.
Most sources I spoke with believe that Stubblefield does not have sufficient support for his challenge and that Dismang is safe, but this does reveal an interesting dynamitic that we will no doubt see play out in the upcoming session.