Arkansas House Considering Options for Speaker's Race Tie

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 2:39 pm  

LITTLE ROCK — After a campaign season that focused on which party would win Arkansas' House, Democrats and Republicans in that chamber now face a new question: What happens if neither side is in control?

Republicans claimed a majority in the state House last week for the first time since Reconstruction, winning 51 of the 100 seats in Tuesday's election. But a recount in a northeast Arkansas House race could deny the GOP an outright majority.

Legislative leaders are preparing for the scenario as the Thursday vote nears on whether to oust Democrat Rep. Darrin Williams as next year's speaker. If Williams can't muster 51 votes, he loses the position and there will be a vote for a new speaker — a vote that could end in a tie.

"If it's a tie, there's a lot of interesting questions still pending out there," said current House Speaker Robert Moore, who is term-limited and won't return to the Legislature next year.

Republicans won a 51-48 margin over Democrats in the House, with the Green Party holding one seat. The GOP was given a decisive 21-14 margin in the Senate.

There are no House rules about what happens if no party can claim a majority when electing a speaker. Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, is expected to be the only Republican vying for the position.

The results of the recount for the House District 52 race between Democrat L.J. Bryant and Republican John K. Hutchison may be unknown until Thursday. Bryant requested a recount after losing to Hutchison by 44 votes.

House Republican Leader Bruce Westerman said the initial solution is to keep voting until someone wins, but said the House may need to reconvene if it can't break a stalemate.

"If we don't have a majority and there's an unbreakable tie, you've got to look at every possible alternative," Westerman said.

Legislative leaders say they'll look at how other states have handled a split House or Senate — and experts say there are plenty of examples.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says that tied chambers are becoming more frequent, with every even-year election since 1984 producing at least one deadlocked legislative chamber. Most ties have been settled by parties negotiating a shared power agreement, an idea that Moore floated when talking with reporters last week.

Williams, who would be the state's first black speaker if confirmed Thursday, also said a co-speakership could be the way to handle it. Under that model, the House leaders would alternate presiding over the chamber.



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