Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, convened the 92nd General Assembly on Monday (Jan. 14) by challenging his fellow House mates to conduct the business of the state of Arkansas during the 2019 session without getting enamored with the “trappings” of public office.
In a brief floor speech before an overflow that spilled into the halls and steps of the State Capitol, the El Dorado legislator gave the other 99 members of the State House of Representatives their marching orders by reminding them of their oath to faithfully serve their constituents in their respective districts.
“As I look at you today, I don’t see 100 individuals but rather 100 representatives. Each one here on behalf of approximately 30,000 Arkansans back home,” Shepherd said in his first 2019 speech from the Speaker’s rostrum. “Many of those 30,000 Arkansans in your district and mine could not care less about the trappings of our office or how we select our committees or who the chairpersons are.
“Ultimately, all they care about is that they can live, work and otherwise enjoy the freedoms and liberties that Arkansans have enjoyed for generations,” continued Shepherd. “And they want to pass on those freedoms and liberties to their children, not unlike what was read in 1874 and read again today in the preamble to our Constitution.”
Later, Shepherd told the incoming 2019 class that the challenges of debating, legislating, serving and setting state policy would not be easy. However, he reminded them that other Arkansans have problems and life situations that far outweigh anything lawmakers face in the legislature.
“There will be days in the session where the problems and issues we face may seem too great and the temptation is to look for the easy way out,” said the El Dorado attorney. “When those days come, I ask that you remember those are not real problems. Those are minor inconveniences.”
Without mentioning ongoing federal probes into corruption and bribery scandals that have led to indictments, plea deals and prison sentences for seven former state lawmakers, Shepherd ended his inaugural message by prompting House members to recall their oath to service.
“Too often, I believe, we’ve allowed the supposed significance of our positions to go to our heads. That’ve we confused political challenges with real challenges. That we’ve expected everything to go our way around here. But truthfully, we are not entitled to anything,” he said.
Shepherd closed his 10-minute speech by telling the House members they should focus on working for all Arkansas, not themselves. “In short, our service is not about me, it’s not about you. It is about the people of Arkansas,” he said.
House members officially selected Shepherd as Speaker-designate in March after adjourning the 91st General Assembly 2018 fiscal session. He was selected with 57 votes in a secret ballot against Rep. Andy Davis, a third term Republican lawmaker from District 31 that represents parts of Pulaski and Saline counties.
Shepherd replaced Rep. Jeremy Gilliam, R-Judsonia, who served for nearly two full terms in the speaker’s post. Gillam resigned both the speakership and his House seat in June to become the University of Central Arkansas’ director of governmental affairs and external relations.
Shepherd, an El Dorado attorney, joined the legislature in 2011 as a representative for District 6, which includes parts of Union County. His first leadership post came in the 89th General Assembly, when he chaired the House committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development.
He also served two terms as chair of the influential House Judiciary Committee, a post that went to Rep. Carol Darby, R-Texarkana. This year, House rules allowed the speaker to name not only committee chairs and vice-chairs, but to make committee assignments. You can read the full list of Shepherd’s appointments here.
After both the House and Senate opened for business, the Joint Budget Committee approved House Bill 1037 that sets aside general appropriations to cover interim expenses incurred by lawmakers during the session. The joint panel approved $368,000 in expenses for the state representatives and another $200,000 for state senators.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson will give his annual State of the State address in the House chambers on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. At noon, Hutchinson will offer his inaugural address on the steps of the State Capitol.