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Some Arkansas speaker hopefuls want race delayed

Posted: March 18, 2014 - 5:04pm

LITTLE ROCK — Some candidates running for Arkansas’ House speaker position said they would like to see the race pushed back until they know who has won the chamber’s majority in the November election.

The vote is now set for Wednesday, when the Legislature meets to formally adjourn the fiscal session. Those who support a delay point to the 2012 speaker’s race, when Democratic state Rep. Darrin Williams, of Little Rock, was elected to the post in March, when his party controlled the House, but lost the seat after Republicans won a majority in the November election. Current House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican from Cabot who is term-limited, was elected instead.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that there’s been some talk with postponing, because some people are concerned about what happened last session,” said state Rep. Fred Love, of Little Rock, the sole announced candidate for the Arkansas Democratic Party.

Love said he would like to see the race pushed back, as did state Rep. Matthew Shepherd from El Dorado, who is one of three Republican candidates vying for the office.

Republicans currently have a 51-48 seat lead over Democrats, with one seat held by a Green Party member.

“At this point, I would lean toward delaying it, but again, but whenever the election is, my focus is winning it,” Shepherd said. “I have to prepare for the fact that the election is getting scheduled, but I understand we’re in a closely divided House.”

But the other two Republicans — state Reps. Jeremy Gillam, of Judsonia, and Kim Hammer, of Benton — said they don’t want to see the vote pushed back because they don’t think it’s necessary to change the House rules already set forth for the speaker’s race. They say that process works and should be honored.

“I am not in favor in pushing the vote back to November,” Hammer said. “We know the vote this Wednesday represents the decision of this body. It does not necessarily mean that the next body coming in will agree.”

All four candidates are in their second term in the House and have voted for the “private option” bill this fiscal session that allows Arkansas residents to continue purchasing private health insurance using federal Medicaid dollars.

House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, a Hot Springs Republican, said he doesn’t see any benefit to changing the rules to push back the speaker’s election, but he acknowledged there’s been some discussion among GOP members about it.

Democratic Minority Leader Greg Leding, of Fayetteville, disagrees with Westerman. He said he would like to see the election delayed, since both parties have a possibility of winning the chamber’s majority in the November general election.

They both said each party will have a meeting before the speaker’s election to discuss the race.

It will take a majority of House members present for the scheduled election Wednesday to push the vote back until November.

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