The state Senate meets Friday for new member orientation, committee organization for 2015 and, I’m told by staff, TWO leadership elections.
The incoming Senate will vote, probably in the afternoon, on a Senate president pro tem designate, who’ll serve in the 2015 session. But the resignation of the past pro tem, Sen. Michael Lamoureux, to join rising Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s staff, means there’s a need for a pro tem to serve the remainder of the year. It’s not just ceremonial.
Issue 3, approved by voters Nov. 4, authorizes an independent commission to set the pay of state officials, the legislature and judges. Two members of the seven-member commission are to be appointed by the Senate president pro tem. The pro tem has 30 days from Nov. 5 to make the appointments. The governor, House speaker and Chief Justice Jim Hannah (who gets one) also must name members. They’ll then have a couple of months to make recommendations on pay and legislative expense procedures.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang was presumed to be the next president pro tem and he’d presumably by elected to finish the year, too. But Sen. Gary Stubblefield recently announced a challenge and it’s being whipped by opponents of the private option Medicaid expansion that Dismang championed. Opposition also stems from Dismang’s hiring of a Mike Beebe aide for the Senate staff and his support make Democrat Larry Teague the Senate co-chair of Joint Budget in a return of a favor extended by Teague in the past. Strictly speaking, Dismang doesn’t appoint the Joint Budget co-chair. It’s elected from among the 28 Senate members of the committee. In less contentious times, you’d think the members would accede to their leader’s wishes.
Senate happenings aren’t entirely clear because the Senate majority has often dropped rule changes on organization day to punish enemies and reward friends. It’s not wholly clear who’s friend and foe in the dominant Republican caucus (24 of 35 members). That leaves the 11 Democrats, though unlikely to have the clout to pass much of anything, still in a position to deliver important votes on an issue that divides Republicans.
As for committee assignments. as rules now stand, committee memberships are chosen strictly by majority, with the first pick on a committee generally the chair, except that the minority party gets no chairmanships. It happens that the remaining 11 Democrats dominate the seniority ranks. There are eight members on the standing committees.
Get your popcorn. But don’t plan to watch it on TV. The Senate doesn’t livestream its proceedings and I get no indication it plans to follow the House lead on this. Livestreaming of House meetings has been an unalloyed success — a public service and a boon to public accountability. Who could not like that?