Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, the outgoing House Majority Leader, was one of the leaders who helped grow the Republican supermajority from 76 GOP members to 82 in the upcoming session. He sees challenges in managing a caucus that large, but expects there will be robust debate on key issues such as education and tax cuts.
McCollum, a guest on this week’s Capitol View TV program, said there will be many new faces in the House chamber in January when he returns for his fourth two-year term.
“I don’t know that there’s any magical number in that regard,” he said in response to 82 Republican members. “As you pointed out, the supermajority had already been retained, but I’ll just say we’re excited to work with all of these new guys. I think over a quarter of the House should be brand new – 27 new members, 26 in the Republican caucus – and our Republican caucus campaign chair, [Rep.] Aaron Pilkington, did a great job. A team effort all around.”
McCollum said education, tax cuts and public safety issues “will be huge,” and he expects myriad perspectives to be vetted before the eventual outcomes.
“Those are the big ones in terms of what we’re committed to work on. And I mean, you nailed it on education reform and what that looks like and the opportunity with folks that have really, really different types of districts. Traditionally, maybe a more rural district. The school district likely is the largest employer in the county,” he said.
“I think some of us – I’ll just use me for example, someone from Northwest Arkansas, we really are used to having a lot of competition in the education space just through a lot of the growth and the change that we’ve experienced. So I think the message is ‘Let’s stay focused on the students’ as a starter, and if schools are performing well, then there’s really nothing to be worried about in the accountability measure, which is continue to get stronger,” he said.
On taxes, Arkansas Republicans, under Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have cut the top tax rate from 7% to 4.9%. McCollum thinks lawmakers will take a responsible approach to continuing to reduce the rates.
“On the way forward, we are committed to finding the path to zero, depending on what happens in the economy. Of course, we always consider that from how we do it responsibly. I think you have to look at finding more taxpayers, which a lot of folks and constituents hear that and say, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ It’s getting people back to work. What does that roadmap look like to get people excited about getting back to work? Okay, it’s a mindset, but how do you legislate that? Well, you can legislate it by getting those barriers out of the way. A lot of the legislators that I talk to, not just some of my current incumbent colleagues, but the folks that are coming in, that is a lot of what they’re talking about is we can sort out what rates look like, but how do we find the way forward on getting people back to work?” McCollum said.
This Saturday, Arkansas Republican leaders debated, but declined to adopt a policy position for the state to have closed primaries, which would require voters to declare a party affiliation to vote in either Republican or Democratic primaries. McCollum said the issue requires more study.
“My position is, and what I have committed to doing is, to study what other states have done on this issue. A few states I’m looking at are Florida and Tennessee. They have maybe closed primaries. I think the devil’s in the details. I’m undecided on the actual vote,” he said. “Let’s wait on this and let’s make sure we understand the implications of how to get it done… I just think we need to get a better understanding of what the ultimate goal is here and what we’re going to try to do.”
You can watch McCollum’s full interview in the video below.