Despite Wins, GOP Has Own Rifts to Heal (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 9:01 am  

Republican Rep. Davy Carter's surprising and rapid election as incoming speaker last week highlighted the divides within the GOP.

LITTLE ROCK — Taking over the state House for the first time in 138 years was the easy part for Arkansas Republicans. The bigger challenge may be healing the rifts within their ranks.

Republican Rep. Davy Carter's surprising and rapid election as incoming speaker last week highlighted the divides within the GOP as it transitions into its new role as the legislative majority. It also shows the opening that Democrats believe they have even after losing control of both the House and Senate.

Carter, from Cabot, defeated fellow GOP Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron, who had been touted throughout the legislative campaign by party leaders as the next House speaker. Carter won by winning support of House Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

While Republicans will lead the House for the first time since Reconstruction, Democrats found a way to celebrate anyway.

"This was a major coup for the party," House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said after Carter's win. "I think it still demonstrates that Democrats still carry considerable power in the House and that both sides are going to have to come together to work because neither side can just run all over the other."

Leding and other Democrats believed Carter would be more moderate and be able to bridge the two parties after an election that left the House nearly split in half. He won the speaker's post after a mostly impromptu speech where he promised to work with both parties. The GOP holds a 51-48-1 edge over Democrats and the Green Party.

"We all know we're going to have to work together," Carter said.

The test of that statement will come as next year's session approaches, with both Democrats and Republicans eyeing Carter's picks to lead the House's top committees. Republicans have already made their priorities clear for next year's session, with the GOP filling all but five spots on the Revenue and Taxation Committee.

The biggest hurdle for Carter, however, may come from his own party. Moments after Carter's election, a Rice ally called the outcome "sad" for the GOP caucus.

"(Rice) has helped a lot of people and by helping a lot of people it came back and bit him," said Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs. "He helped raise money for people that voted against him today."

It's a sentiment that could lead to some ugly fights within the Republican caucus, and a chance for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to peel away some GOP support for part of his legislative agenda. Whether the fight over speaker leads to a split among Republicans on policy remains to be seen.

Hints of potential divisions among Republicans emerged throughout the year, going back to the May primary where conservative lawmakers won in primaries after tacking to the right against more moderate rivals. There was also a split between Republicans who pledged to oppose tax increases and those in the party who supported a tax increase for highways.



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