Newly elected Speaker of the House Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) isn't likely to mend any fences with Arkansas House Republicans with this news: He's selected Gabe Holmstrom, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party, to serve as chief of staff. He replaces Bill Stovall, a former Democratic House Speaker who's served as House chief of staff for the last two years. But in another move that might not sit well with Carter's caucus, Stovall isn't going anywhere. He stays on in a newly created position, chief operations officer, where he says he'll continue to handle the administrative needs of the House and advise the Speaker and his staff in some capacity.
Holmstrom, who lives in Little Rock, but like Carter, is from Cabot, leaves Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, where he's served as public affairs specialist for two years. Before that, most of his jobs have been in Democratic politics: spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Marion Berry and Chad Causey's failed bid at Berry's 1st District seat and senior adviser to the state Democratic Party.
Despite representing different parties, Carter and Holmstrom have been close friends for a decade.
What's the fallout? I've got a call into Carter. But I suspect a number of members of his caucus will view this as a poke from a sharp stick into an already festering wound. Carter, of course, reportedly won the Speaker position thanks to support by nearly every House Democrat and just a handful of Republicans. Some Republicans saw his run for the Speaker as a betrayal of the party and, specifically, Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron), who was thought to have the position locked up after Republicans took the majority.
Carter and Holmstrom are, by all accounts, smart and amiable guys, but will that be enough to win the Nate Bells of the world into their camp on something like Medicaid expansion, which won't necessarily take Nate Bell to pass, but will certainly take several of similar political persuasion?
From the Democrats' point of view, this is pretty much all good news. Surely, two Democrats in top-level positions will have a moderating effect on Carter, who himself is generally regarded as a moderate Republican, as he tries to direct a Republican caucus eager to make its voice heard after nearly a century and a half in the wilderness.
For Holmstrom, personally, I wonder how often he'll be forced to hold his nose and push forward policy he disagrees with? But if he helps pass Medicaid expansion, crossing the aisle to make Arkansas healthier could be key for him and his political future.
UPDATE: Arkansas News' Rob Moritz tracked down Carter, who said, “I made it very crystal clear the staff will be nonpartisan, and knowledge, skill set and trustworthiness are the three things that matter, it’s not Republican and Democrat. I trust Gabe immensely.”
The article notes that former Republican state legislator Roy Ragland, of Marshall, would serve in another newly created position, House director.
Also, Nate Bell approves, because he doesn't think Holmstrom will have much sway: “I think in this business a lot of people want to make it far more partisan than it is, many people. This position will have a very limited affect on policy.”
Meanwhile, Bell also retweeted the following from state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork): "In less than 30 days the (R) Majority has demonstrated more bipartisanship than the (D)s have done in 138 years!"
In other words, screw you guys, we're better at sharing than you are.