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Arkansas House Speaker race takes a twist

story from Talk Business, content partner with The City Wire

The ascendancy of Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, to the post of Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives following historic GOP control of the House is no longer a certainty.

Talk Business, a content partner with The City Wire, is reporting that Rice could be challenged by Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, in an internal Republican division that pits the “Deacons” against the “Youth Group.”

This past Tuesday, Republicans gained control of the Arkansas House with 51 seats, assuming a recount election in House District 52 remains with GOP nominee John Hutchison, who won the seat by 44-votes over Democrat L.J. Bryant.

On Thursday, House members will meet to consider an effort to change leaders from their pre-selected Speaker-designate Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock.

Conventional wisdom has been that Williams’ previous challenger, Rice, would assume the speakership if House control shifted to Republicans. Talk Business learned on Tuesday (Nov. 13) that a Republican challenger to Rice has been making phone calls to gauge support. Although unconfirmed officially, multiple sources indicate that Carter, who chaired the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, is talking about a challenge.

The new Speaker’s election is scheduled to take place on Thursday.  What will happen first, according to Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert, is a call for a new election for Speaker Designate in the form of a motion declaring that it is apparent Williams does not have the support from the majority of the House to become the Speaker for the 2013 general session.

The vote for the motion to call for a new Speaker Designate election will require 51 votes from the incoming House members. If this passes, “then it will get interesting as it will require a majority of 51 votes – not a plurality – to elect a new Speaker,” Tolbert writes.

Tolbert also writes that a possible split happening within the Republican House caucus between a group rallying around Rice – the “Deacons” – and a separate group of mostly younger members pushing Carter – the “Youth Group.”

Part of the disagreement has to do with committee chairmanship appointments – one of the biggest powers of the Speaker. For example, there is discussion that Rice may appoint Rep. Les Carnine, R-Rogers, to chair the Joint Budget Committee while the Youth Group would like to see Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, in that role. Basically, there is concern that Rice will stick with his group of Deacons leaving the Youth Group out in the cold.

The Deacons are quite upset over the apparent coup from the Youth Group at what they believed was already an agreed to vote for Rice, Tolbert noted. The Deacons say Rice contributed heavily – around $50,000 – to Republican House candidate campaigns, while Carter did little party building.

Although that might not matter as Carter could very well have the numbers on his side if he sticks to his guns. Sources put the number of Republicans supporting Carter at around 20 while he also has an equal if not larger group of Democrats supporting him.
That means Thursday’s vote could go a number of ways.

One scenario would be that Carter, Rice, and current Speaker Designate Williams would all run. This would likely result in no one achieving 51 votes in the initial vote and force a runoff between the top two vote-getters. If Carter can get into a runoff against Williams or even possibly against Rice, he would likely be the favorite for the Speaker’s chair.

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The biggest caveat here is that this counts on Carter sticking to his guns in running against Rice, which is definitely not certain. It is likely some sort of compromise could be worked out behind the scenes before the election on Thursday.

One top Republican House source downplayed the rumors completely telling me that “the rumors of the demise of the Republican caucus are greatly exaggerated” and that most of the rumors are coming from the Democratic membership trying to stir up division.

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