Posted 11/15/2012 05:22 pm
Updated 2 years ago
The Arkansas House picked its first Republican speaker since Reconstruction on Thursday, but it took a coalition of Democrats to do it.
Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, beat Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, by a secret-ballot vote of 52-45 and will lead the House when the Legislature convenes in January. The vote came after House members withdrew support for Democratic Rep. Darrin Williams of Little Rock, who would have been the state's first black Speaker of the House if his party had maintained control of the 100-member chamber.
"We've got challenges we face that I honestly don't know the answers to," Carter told House members before the vote, disregarding remarks he had prepared to use. "I will do what I think is the right thing to do. That's all I can give."
Williams had defeated Rice for the leadership post at the end of the Legislature's 2012 session in March, but after winning 51 seats in last week's election, Republicans petitioned current House Speaker Robert Moore, D-Arkansas City, for a new vote on Williams' selection. When Williams gained only 48 votes in new balloting Thursday, Moore declared the spot vacant.
Prior to the vote, House Democratic Leader Greg Leding said if Williams couldn't be speaker, his party would back Carter.
"The Democratic Caucus would prefer Representative Carter over Representative Rice," Leding said. "In the election we ended up with a very evenly divided House, so you've got some moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats coming together because they want to make sure we govern from the middle for the next two years. We're just trying to put aside some of these harsh partisan differences and come together."
Gov. Mike Beebe said he was not involved in the discussions over the House speaker and has declined to say who he'd prefer to work with.
Carter, who had chaired the powerful Revenue and Taxation Committee despite being a Republican in a Democratic-controlled chamber, put his name up Thursday and gained one more vote than necessary to win — splitting the GOP vote and picking up support from Democrats.
The minority party even touted Carter's win as a victory and as a sign that they hold considerable clout in a chamber they don't control.
"This was a major coup for the party," Leding said. "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."
At a news conference after the vote, Moore described his successor as a key figure in the chamber and "man of wisdom, integrity and real leadership."
Under Arkansas law, Democratic, Republican and Green party votes could be necessary to pass significant legislation, particularly appropriations bills that need approval by three-fourths of the chamber. The GOP by itself is 24 votes short.
"It takes every single one of us to make this work," Carter said. "As we go through this process ... I'm asking this chamber to be unified in the direction we're headed."
Carter and Rice both pledged to work with both parties. Republicans now hold a 51-48-1 edge over Democrats and the Green Party, which holds one House seat.
"It is time for both parties to work together in legislation as they've never done before," Rice said. He didn't comment publicly after his loss and didn't return a voice mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Carter said after the vote that he understood there are some hurt feelings among some of his fellow Republicans.
"I probably do (have relationships to repair), I will start that immediately," Carter said.
Carter said he wants the parties to be proportionately represented on committees but didn't say when assignments would be made.
Rice's allies said they were saddened by his second loss for the speaker's post.
"He 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."
While making a case that he should remain as speaker, Williams had pledged to have a non-partisan style.
"I am willing to take the first step, regardless of the outcome of this election," Williams said. In an emotional speech, he said he was "the product of an adulterous relationship" and adopted by a minister and his wife who taught him God was the most important member of their family.
Carter, a banker and attorney who has been in the House for four years, said he won support from experienced legislators.
"I think, humbly, I can fit that role," Carter said.
Rep. Fred Smith, the lone Green Party member elected to the House, said he voted for Carter.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)