An excited Republican Party of Arkansas State Committee met in Benton to elect new officers for the next two years. The meeting was the first time Republicans gathered since their historic sweep in November of all seven state constitutional offices, all six members of the state’s federal delegation, and robust majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson took the stage to kick off the meeting as the crowd cheered his victory as Republicans retook the Governor’s mansion.
“We have achieved what we have worked towards for years – Arkansas is a red state,” said Hutchinson. The victories were even greater than Hutchinson could have predicted, saying he revised his agenda to be even bolder due to strong Republican majorities in the state legislature. His focus remains on a state income tax cut. Hutchinson has proposed a $100 million tax cut targeted at the middle class and says that he remains committed to get this passed during the upcoming legislative session.
Hutchinson nominated Doyle Webb to continue to serve as chairman complimenting his leadership and saying that it is important to continue the success the party has achieved under his watch. Webb was re-elected by acclimation with no opposition.
An emotional Webb addressed his hometown crowd after his election saying that the victories were not achieved overnight, but from years of hard work. Quoting scripture, Webb said we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” and asked the committee to take time to remember those who have gone before them.
Webb reported on the sweeping wins in the November election and said that the GOP now is dealing with having adequate space for all of their elected officials to meet. To deal with the growing party, the building adjacent to the existing party headquarters in downtown Little Rock has been purchased, reported Webb.
Webb introduced Sen. John Boozman to the crowd noting his “promotion to the senior senator” with the election of Sen.-elect Tom Cotton over Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
“We have to step up and service the people of Arkansas,” said Boozman comparing the philosophy that Sam Walton employed in building Wal-Mart. “I am not so much happy about becoming the senior Senator as I am that you helped me get rid of Harry Reid (as Senate Majority Leader),” Boozman said.
Webb recognized the constitutional officers in attendance including who he introduced as “a Christian, gun toting’, baby lovin’ Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge.”
Rutledge said she looks forward to defending the traditional defense of marriage as between one man and one woman and to taking on the EPA when she takes office.
State Auditor-elect Andrea Lea also addressed the committee discussing the details of her transition process in her office. Land Commissioner John Thurston sent a letter through Saline Co. JP Josh Curtis thanking the state committee for its hard work.
The committee also elected its remaining party officers – Duane Neal for First Vice Chairman, Robin Lundstrum for Second Vice Chairman, John Parke for Treasurer, and Jennifer Parks for Secretary. All were current officeholders elected without opposition. Webb noted Lundstrum was elected twice in the same year as she was elected to the Arkansas House this year as well.
“See how easy things are when you win,” Webb noted.
Cong.-elect Bruce Westerman thanked the committee, quoting his former Arkansas football coach Ken Hatfield.
“Coach used to tell us that it’s a beautiful day to be an Arkansas Razorback. Well, it’s a beautiful day to be an Arkansas Republican,” Westerman said.
He added that he is excited about his committee assignments and is looking forward to getting to work for the state as the Fourth District representative in Washington. Quoting Philippians 3:14, Westerman said that “we press on toward the goal to win the prize” laying out the hard work that lies ahead now that Republicans have been elected.
“We have made it through bad times before and we will make it as a country,” he said.
National Committeewomen Jonelle Fulmer told the committee that she has “good news and good news” saying that Republicans won in 2014 and can win again in 2016. National Committeeman Jonathan Barnett discussed the upcoming Republican Presidential nominating process saying changes would be made from 2008, particularly how the debates are conducted. In 2012, the debates were hosted by media groups and often become heated events. This year, Barnett says the Republican National Committee plans to conduct and host a series of debates themselves.
The meeting was both a time of celebrating the Republican’s victory, but also much of the focus was on building on the success in future years and getting down to the hard work of governing.
UPDATE – After the meeting, Jonathan Barnett mentioned to watch for a possible push to change the Presidential Primary in Arkansas to early March. Republicans are discussing the creation of a Southern State Primary Day, which would include states such as Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and possibly even Texas.
This will likely be a topic at the upcoming RNC meeting in January, which means we could see legislation during the regular session to make the move. If you recall, Arkansas did this in 2008 before moving the primary back in 2012. You can read more about this from this report from the AJC.