State legislators sworn into office; House Speaker names chairs

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,288 views 

Arkansas legislators were sworn into office as the 94th General Assembly kicked off in Little Rock Monday (Jan. 9). Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, was unanimously elected to a historic third term as leader of the House.

State Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, was formally installed as Senate President Pro Tempore. In his remarks to colleagues, Hester outlined the major issues that would be undertaken during the session, including education, prison and tax reform.

“Today, we officially begin the debate of how we tackle these issues,” Hester said.

He used the opening day speech to also call for cooperation among legislators.

“You will be in the loop,” Hester said of his leadership style. “Never allow yourself to feel like you’re not in the loop… Be quick to forgive, do your best to assume positive intent from your colleagues.”

The Senate named Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, as Majority Leader, while Sen. Ricky Hill, R-Cabot, was named Majority Whip. Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, will serve as Minority Leader and Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, was chosen as Minority Whip.

In the Senate, Republicans control 29 seats to the Democrats’ six seats.

While House members took their oath of office, they elected Shepherd to a third term as Speaker of the House. No speaker has served in three consecutive terms. Shepherd’s father, the Honorable Bobby Shepherd who is a U.S. Circuit Judge in El Dorado, administered his oath of office.

The El Dorado Republican offered his thoughts on launching the session with a dig at the recent circus politics in the U.S. House of Representatives in taking multiple rounds to choose Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker.

“I think I speak for more than just myself when I say I thank you for selecting me on the first ballot and not the 15th ballot,” Shepherd joked.

He called on House members to capitalize on the broad experience of the diverse body. Noting that 21 of the members are 40 years old or younger, he said he hoped all members would draw on and appreciate the various perspectives represented.

“A new generation is taking on new leadership… bringing new ideas,” he said. “The span of generations and experience in this body can serve Arkansas well.”

He sounded notes of optimism and said he did not think the session’s business would be as contentious as some predict.

“I think in the end we will come together to do the best for the people of Arkansas,” he said while quoting former President Ronald Reagan. “I have a belief in ourselves, and our country, including our state, and tomorrow.”

Shepherd named his selections for committee chairmen and vice-chairmen. With Republicans controlling 82 of the 100 House seats, over 50 Republican members had written a letter last week asking Shepherd to not appoint any Democrats to chair or vice-chair positions. Shepherd did not publicly address the letter in his floor speech, but he did name three Democrats to leadership positions. His selections included:
• Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, Speaker pro tempore
• Reps. Jack Ladyman, Fred Allen, Charlene Fite, DeAnn Vaught – Assistant Speaker pro tempore

Rep. Brian Evans, chair
Rep. Keith Brooks, vice chair

Rep. Carol Dalby, chair
Rep. Stan Berry, vice chair

Public Health, Welfare and Labor
Rep. Lee Johnson, chair
Rep. Josh Miller, vice chair

Public Transportation
Rep. Mike Holcomb, chair
Rep. Rick McClure, vice chair

Revenue and Tax
Rep. Les Eaves, chair
Rep. Howard Beaty, vice chair

Aging, Children & Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs
Rep. Sonia Barker, chair
Rep. Julie Mayberry, vice chair

Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development
Rep. Jack Fortner, chair
Rep. Roger Lynch, vice chair

City, County and Local Affairs
Rep. Lanny Fite, chair
Rep. Milton Nicks, vice chair

Insurance & Commerce
Rep. John Maddox, chair
Rep. Karilyn Brown, vice chair

State Agencies and Governmental Affairs
Rep. Dwight Tosh, chair
Rep. Mark McElroy, vice chair

House Rules
Rep. DeAnn Vaught, chair
Rep. Shad Pearce, vice chair

House Management
Rep. Carlton Wing, chair
Rep. Bart Schulz, vice chair

Joint Energy
Rep. Rick Beck, chair
Rep. Justin Gonzales, vice chair

Joint Performance Review
Rep. Mark Berry, chair
Rep. David Ray, vice chair

Public Retirement
Rep. Les Warren, chair
Rep. Mark Perry, vice chair D

Joint Advanced Communications and Information Technology
Rep. Stephen Meeks, chair
Rep. Jeremy Wooldridge, vice chair

Joint Audit
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, chair
Rep. Richard Womack, vice chair

Legislative Council
Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, chair
Rep. Bruce Cozart, vice chair

Joint Budget
Rep. Lane Jean, chair
Rep. Fran Cavanaugh, vice chair

Reps. Allen, Nicks and Perry are the only three Democrats that Shepherd named to chair, vice chair, or pro tempore positions.