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It's done. The Arkansas House of Representatives has elected as its speaker for 2013-14, Republican Davy Carter. The secret ballot vote was for 52 for Davy Carter and 45 for Terry Rice. The House is split 51-48-1 in favor of Republicans, with one Green representative. Republicans were split on the election (some bitterly), with many, generally the more conservative members, wanting to stick with Rice. He'd made no promises of bipartisanship when he ran last spring and finished behind a Democrat, though he struck a conciliatory note today. Carter, a late-developing candidate with significant Democratic backing, was seen as more likely to return favors to Democrats. Carter himself held an important chairmanship under current Speaker Robert Moore, a Democrat. Carter, however, is conventionally conservative on most issues, though his selection could be crucial to an eventual bipartisan agreement on expanding Medicaid under federal health legislation.
Republicans rode to a legislative majority in this year's election by promising to-the-death opposition to every element of President Obama's health care plan. Now, with Obama re-elected and Obamacare moving forward, some Republicans are changing tunes as the alternative - punishing cuts to nursing homes and hospitals - begin to become a reality.
What's to make of the vote? At least one Democrat - probably more - put Carter over the top. But that also would mean some Democrats voted with Rice.
We'll never know for sure, but I can't find anybody who can count more than six firm Carter votes in the Republican caucus - Carter, John Burris, Bruce Westerman, Charlie Collins, Duncan Baird and Matt Shepherd seem the likeliest suspects. That would take the 51-member GOP caucus down to the 45 votes Rice received, giving Carter the six, 45 Dems and a Green, if the three non-voting were all Democrats. But these are a lot of ifs and pure conjecture.
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The Arkansas House of Representatives today chose leadership for the next session.
It opened with Democrat Darrin Williams of Little rock speaking for confirmation of his earlier election as speaker for 2013. He pledged bipartisan leadership and urged Arkansas to become a "standardbearer" for such leadership nationwide by continuing his selection to lead a group that the election changed from majority Democratic to majority Republican.
"I am much more than a party label," Williams said. He would have been the first black speaker of the House.
The vote NOT to continue his selection was by secret ballot.
A party-line vote, with 51 of the Republicans opposing continuation of Williams, wa expected. Then the question was to be a new election, with Terry Rice, runnerup to Williams last spring, challenged by another Republican, Davy Carter, who has at least some support from the Democratic caucus. The Republican caucus is split on which to favor.
UPDATE: The vote was 48 to affirm, 49 not to affirm. That opened the position. Green Party Rep.-elect Fred Smith said he voted for Williams. That means at least one Democrat defected if it was otherwise a party line vote. And two Republicans didn't vote, if it was a party line vote.
Williams said the outcome was exactly what he expected, but that he wasn't disappointed, and he would back whoever was elected. "This is the process...it's never been about me. It's about the people of Arkansas...I'll still be the first black speaker designate, but it was not about me."
UPDATE III: Only Terry Rice and Davy Carter nominated themselves to be speaker. Williams didn't pursue another vote. They spoke for their nominations.
Carter, speaking first and off the cuff, acknowledged a "difficult process." He said the group will have to work together. "I promise you, whatever situation we're in to best of my human ability, that I will do what i think is the right thing to do. That's all I can give."
He said he'd listen and work with everyone and that everyone would be involved. "I'm asking this chamber to be unified."
Rice complimented Darrin Williams. He also noted that his father and grandfather had both been Democratic representatives. He said he'd select leadership based on ability, not party affiliation. "This is about fairness and I am a fair man," he said.
He, too, promised that every voice would be heard.
He said we wanted to promote an economic agenda - to reduce the state income tax and to fight "over-regulation." He also said he wanted to reduce government waste and make government smaller.
A secret ballot vote decided the next speaker. At 2:12 p.m., Moore announced Carter's historic ascension.
Westerman dodged questions about why Carter was elected, saying nothing beyond, "he got more votes," and admitting that he wasn't surprised there were two Republican nominations.
Carter said, "I have had, my strongest supporters, we have had communications ongoing. Again, this progressed pretty quickly. So did I wake up and say one day I want to be speaker? No...I've been here for four years...I think I have exhibited a trust with the body...really the bottom line of the whole matter is that I'm committed to working with the diverse membership body for the collective citizens of the state of Arkansas...These are unique times. We have national politics and a contentious presidential race, and you have a 51/49 party split in the house...humbly, I think I can fit the role to have relationships with both parties...we had a vote of the entire membership on the floor, it was bipartisan, secret ballot, and I had support of the entire body."
He also said that there was no divisiveness in the Republican party, but that if there were relationships within the party that needed to be repaired, he would start working towards that immediately. He said he hadn't made any decisions about committee assignments yet, but that Medicaid and tax reform would be the key issues of the upcoming session.