Mostly party line vote gives House speaker control over committee membership | Arkansas Blog

Mostly party line vote gives House speaker control over committee membership

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UPDATE: The Arkansas House today approved a House rules change to give total power to the speaker to appoint committee members in the future.

The vote was 75-23 and one present. There are 24 Democrats in the House and many of them opposed the change.

CORRECTION: The vote was mostly party line, but not entirely. Four Democrats voted with the speaker and five Republicans opposed the rule change with one Republican voting present and the House Democratic  leader, Michael John Gray, not voting though he said he opposed the change.

The new rules also allow legislators to raise campaign contributions during the fiscal session of the legislature, held in election years. That item drew almost no attention in an extended debate.

Speaker Jeremy Gillam rose to defend both his changes. He said he'd be fair in appointments. He said the campaign contribution rule would align the House with the Senate and the ability of others in government to raise money while governing. (That all are wrong don't make all right, is my view.)

Gillam noted he'd not be running for House again and won't be speaker the first time the committee appointment rule takes effect. He said, in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Charles Blake, that he didn't think the change would make the speaker more powerful. He said it wasn't a "power trip." He said it was an opportunity to "align ourselves better." He said it was just an administrative function.

This also follows Democratic efforts to pack select committees by using the old caucus selection system, based on seniority. Republicans were furious when Democrats nailed down a majority of Revenue and Taxation Committee seats (lost when Rep. Joe Jett switched parties) and vowed rules changes to prevent it from happening again.

Rep. John Walker, Little Rock's liberal lion, issued a blast in advance of the vote, which was expected to favor Gillam, as his Rules Committee did Tuesday. He wrote this letter:

Dear Members,

The Speaker has asked for and received tentative approval to appoint all committees taking into account his knowledge and appreciation of what he thinks our strengths, qualities, interests and initiatives with respect to legislation are. While he has presumed majority approval, I suggest that it is undemocratic, unwise and contrary to the best interests of the citizens of the State to allow the Speaker or anyone for that matter to have absolute control of who serves when, where and under what circumstances. That authority maybe abused without any recourse. Moreover, it may prevent each of us from being effective advocates for the interests on which we ran and were elected. Beyond that, it allows the Speaker to give favor and reward to some and punish others without recourse. No one person should have that authority. That authority is with the voters. The seniority system has worked well for decades. It has not benefited segments or individuals within the body except to the extent that we know for certain what the rules are. We cannot know what is in Speaker Gilliam's mind. This is not personal toward him but that authority should not be vested in anyone including the Governor of the State of Arkansas.

Image the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the US Congress determining who should be appointed to the committees thereof. It is possible that state interests may go unaddressed so that, for example, farming interests could be subverted by Speaker appointments from Industrial states are vice versa.

The people elected us to have a voice. That voice is to be heard in committees where most of the work of the Legislature takes place. We did not elect Speaker Gilliam as a czar. To allow this role makes that possible and more so likely.

I respectfully ask that each of you give serious consideration to the ramifications of his initiatives, determine whether his choice of where each of us would best serve and then reject his role in the appointment process except for committee chairpersons.

Thank you, 



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