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Todays' the deadline for Arkansas House Republicans to mail ballots to elect a new minority leader for the GOP contingent. There's a little indication that it might be something of a new school v. old school divide akin to national GOP politicking .

The race is between youngster John Burris (pictured) and oldster Les Carnine.

Gerard Matthews reports:

 

The old guard vs. the new

By Gerard Matthews 

On May 1, 2010, the state’s 28 House Republican caucus members will complete voting to elect a lawmaker to be their voice in the next legislative session, the House minority leader. The race has come down to two candidates, Rep. Les “Skip” Carnine of Rogers and Rep. John Burris of Harrison.

There are the obvious differences: Burris is 24 years old, while Carnine is a retired school administrator, but there might be more to it than that.

At least on a national level, it could be argued that hot-button social issues like gay marriage are becoming less of a focal point for Republicans. A straw poll taken at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference found that, among Republicans under the age of 25, “stopping gay marriage” and “promoting traditional values” were near the bottom of the list of priorities. Money issues were far more important.

“I think we’ll see a huge change in Arkansas over the next few years and I don’t think you’re going to continue to see the Republican Party keep going to the right on social issues,” one Republican lawmaker, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Times. “Now, on the fiscal issues I think you will.”

Burris agrees and says it’s an interesting time for the Republican Party, both nationally and here in Arkansas.

“If we want to grow our party and our caucus we’re going to have to talk about issues that matter to people and we’re going to have to show that we can be effective,” Burris says. “We don’t need to grandstand and poke at all the old buttons that may have worked in 2004 or 2006 or whatever. People want to send people to Little Rock that are going to promote their values and get something done about it, not just talk about it in speeches at Tea Parties.”

Carnine didn’t return calls.

“With gay marriage,” our Republican source says, “it’s a personal thing. Now, I may not think it’s right, but I’m not going to legislate it. It’s a personal thing to that individual.”

But that’s just one man’s opinion and it also may only be a temperature reading of current hot topics. Fiscal irresponsibility in Washington seems to stir more excitement these days than adoption by same-sex couples.

Gary Wekkin, a political science professor at the University of Central Arkansas, says social issues probably aren’t as big of a deal to the younger generation of Republicans, but young lawmakers still have a constituency to appeal to.

“They don’t want to put that on the table and say they don’t really care about gay marriage or gay adoption,” Wekkin says. “Instead, they want that to disappear. Because if they did acknowledge that they didn’t care about it, it would put another brick in the wall between themselves and possible voters, because there is a constituency for that. And I don’t think they want to anger that constituency, they just want the issue to go away.”

Bryan King, R-Green Forest, and current minority leader, says no matter what happens, Republicans will still vote together most of the time.

“If you look at where Republicans are as a caucus on the issues and we’re 80-90 percent together on the issues,” King says. “If you look at Democrats, they’re from 0-100. To the extent that there are differences, that can be a good thing. It’s not necessarily old-guard/young-guard, I think it’s just a product of term-limits where you have freshmen that are more motivated to feel like there’s a time constraint and they feel like they’ve got to get out there and do something.”

Burris says either he or Carnine will do a good job. Our Republican source agrees and says whatever internal struggles the GOP may have, it’s not unique to one party.

“There’s a struggle between the younger and the older. You’re seeing it all over. You see it in both parties. In the Democratic Party you’re seeing a struggle. There is a liberal voice in Arkansas and it doesn’t have any representation whatsoever. I think the younger generation wants to have that kind of representation and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It goes the same for the Republicans. The younger generation wants to have a voice and a more defined role.” 

The GOP caucus is already sizable enough to block non-education spending bills. The minority could gain importance if, as many believe, the party picks up more seats in elections this year.

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