Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) was elected the new Speaker-designate of the Arkansas House this afternoon, winning with 57 votes. Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) got 21 votes, Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock) got 15, and Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) got 5.
Democrats I spoke with said that the caucus was split about whether they should give Love a symbolic show of support on the first vote or whether they should choose which of the three Republicans running would be most palatable and lend their support to that candidate. There was also a split among Democrats about which Republican to support, Gillam or Shepherd, both considered politically middle-of-the-road-Republican and relatively easy to work with. In the end, the caucus decided not to vote as a block; some voted for Shepherd, some for Love, and some for Gillam.
Gillam praised outgoing Speaker Davy Carter, with whom he shares a back-slapping disposition and moderate (by Arkansas Republican standards) politics. “Speaker Carter has left some pretty big shoes to fill,” Gillam said. “I’m going to be in lots of conversations with him as well as the previous speakers. I was very fortunate to have Speaker Moore as speaker in my first term, and he and I have a great relationship.”
I asked Gillam about whether he had reached out to Democrats to grab some of their support. He had a pretty good ready-made answer: “The way I looked at it is I was reaching out to my colleagues, regardless of what caucus that they were a part of, and was trying to appeal to a shared vision of how we were going to operate going forward. But yes, I had lots of conversations with members of both sides of the aisle, and was very grateful that I received the support I did from the Democratic caucus as well.” Bipartisanship!
Gillam was a supporter of the private option and I asked him about the future of the policy (Carter was an aggressive advocate for the policy as Speaker, which narrowly survived two dragout fights in the House). Here’s Gillam:
I think right now our focus needs to be on monitoring the implementation of the program as we continue to move forward. Of course it’s still new. Seeing what’s working, what’s not working and making sure that the members are well informed with what we’re seeing data-wise coming out of it. And making sure that we’re all on board moving in to the next session on what needs to be done, and I’m confident that we’re going to be able to do that.
Given recent history, might the new membership vote in someone else as Speaker in Janurary?
I believe that if we remain in our status in the majority, I believe the membership is going to rally behind me and move forward in to the session. I feel very confident that’s going to take place.
And what if the Democrats take back the House?
As we’re planning and moving forward we’re going to do so in a way that we’re incorporating members of the Democratic caucus so that if that was to occur — which I believe it’s not going to — but if it was to occur, the transition would be able to handled very smoothly and responsibly, which is what the citizens of Arkansas expect out of us.
Asked whether he had a Democrat in mind he might support for Speaker in that event, Gillam said that it would be up to the Democratic caucus to weigh in and declined to comment further. It is rumored that Rep. Tommy Wren helped to gather support for Gillam in this race in return for support for a run by Wren should the Democrats end up taking control.
On committee assignments, Gillam said he would “do it much in the same fashion that Speaker Carter did. I believe that proportionate representation in the House is a key component in the way that we need to operate and so I don’t see many deviations on that in the current moment.” Gillam said he had made no promises on committee assignments thus far.
Shepherd said that he would not run again in January. “My view is that Rep. Gillam is the Speaker, and I congratulate him and I look forward to working with him. I anticipate that we will hold on to the House and that Rep. Gillam will be the speaker when we come back in January.”
I asked Shepherd about a scenario like the last-minute run by Carter last year. “I expect Republicans to unite [behind one Speaker candidate] and move forward and do the people’s business,” he said.
Carter himself said that he thought that his surprise ascension in 2013 was “a one-time deal—whether that repeats itself, that’s only speculation.”
House Minority Leader Greg Leding said that “we look forward to doing what we can to work with Speaker-designate Gillam in the interim but I would remind everybody that there is still an election on Nov. 4 and the House is closely divided. We saw in the last [Speaker-designate] election, it didn’t necessarily matter who won.” Leding said that down the road, the House might want to consider moving the Speaker-designate vote until after the election.
Leding said that all four candidates spoke to the Democratic caucus. “We had a meeting this morning to talk about that and members voted the way they voted,” he said. Leding declined to comment on who he voted for.
Leding said that the caucus has not yet had serious discussions about who might run for Speaker if they do win back the House. If the Republicans retain control, Leding said that he did not foresee another situation like the Carter run in which Democrats rallied behind a Republican other than the presumed choice. “If Republicans maintain the majority, I would expect that Speaker-designate Gillam would become Speaker Gillam,” he said