Here is the good news for conservatives concerning the Arkansas Legislature. Republicans added to their majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate. This included the defeat of a number of Democrat incumbents.
Here is the not so good news. Despite the Republican gains in the House and Senate, the Democratic Party is expected to retain significant power by supporting Speaker-Designee Jeremy Gilliam (R) and Senate Pro Tempore-Designee, Johnathan Dismang (R).
The model for Democrat success in 2015 is similar to the model that was successful for Democrats in 2012 when they elected Republican Davy Carter as Speaker-Designate instead of a more conservative Republican candidate. The Democrat House Caucus leader claimed that all 48 Democrats voted for Carter. If so, then Carter only received 3 or 4 votes from Republicans, depending on what the Green party member did. If there were only 3 Republican votes that would means that Carter, John Burris and Charlie Collins were the only Republicans to vote for Carter. Carter and Burris will no longer be in the legislature.
JEREMY GILLIAM & DEMOCRAT ALLIES
Representative Jeremy Gillam recognizes he will need Democrat votes as the House becomes more conservative. For example, he supported the passage of the Obamacare Private Option which most House Republicans voted against.
- Gillam surprised many Republican voters when he publicly stated he would not campaign for any Republican candidate who was running against an incumbent House Democrat. Many of those Republican candates are now Representatives-Elect.
- Gilliam does not appear to have any desire to remove Gabe Holmstrom from the House staff and may even keep him as House Chief of Staff. [The hiring of Holmstrom by Speaker Carter was a shock among Republicans because Holmstrom had been the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. Having the former Executive Director of the Democratic party for a a Republican majority House was seen as a slap in the face of Republicans who did not support Carter. Holmstrom’s salary as Chief of staff has increased dramatically to $132,499.95.]
- Rumor to watch. Buzz in the House says Gillam will appoint a number of Democrats as committee chairs, including a Democrat as the Chair of the Public Health, Welfare, & Labor Committee.
A Republican House member sent word to Conduit for Action that CFA’s criticism of Gilliam’s protection of Democrats was hurting his own chances of getting a chairmanship. It is a sad state of affairs when a Speaker-Designate has that much power over other legislators.
JONATHAN DISMANG & DEMOCRAT ALLIES
Senator Jonathan Dismang is also facing a more conservative Senate than when he was chosen by the previous Senate to be President Pro Tempore Designee. He has been open about actions favoring Democrats.
- Dismang sent shockwaves through the Senate when he announced that he had hired James Miller as his Senate aid for the equivalent of $90,000 per year.
- Miller was on Democrat Governor Mike Beebe’s staff .
- Miller helped Beebe draw Democrat friendly legislative districts; and
- Miller was active in 2012 in at least one district in trying to elect a Democrat as State Senator.
- Dismang declared support for Democrat Senator Larry Teague to be chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. The JBC is the most powerful committee during legislative sessions.
- Rumor to watch. For months there have been percipient claims in Senate Districts 19 and 20 that Dismang called some Republican supporters urging them not to support the Republican Senate candidates. (Dismang was the lead Senate sponsor of the Private Option and both Democrat candidates had voted for the Private Option.)
RESOLUTION BY THE REPUBLICAN STATE CONVENTION
Because an opportunistic few were able to keep a conservative Republican from being elected as Speaker of the House, the Republican State Convention passed a resolution urging Republicans in the House and Senate to elect a Republican nominee for Speaker and for President Pro Tempore. The resolution also urging the Republicans to be unified in supporting their nominees. Representative Charlie Collins who helped the Democrats elect Carter and who wants to elect Gilliam was quick to criticize the resolution by the Republican base.
IS THE DESIGNATE SYSTEM HURTING CONSERVATIVES?
Over 7 months ago, the former House of Representative elected Jeremy Gilliam as Speaker-Designate. Gillam received 57 votes from the old membership of the House (made up of 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 1 Green). The new membership is drastically different with a much higher Republican membership and more importantly at least 40% of the old members will no longer be in the House.
Over 17 months ago, the former Senate elected Jonathan Dismang as President Pro Tempore-Designee. Five of the 35 members of the Senate at the time of the vote on April 2013 will not be back for 2015. All five were replaced by more conservative members.
The huge advantage of being elected by the previous legislature as heir-apparent to the leadership positions, along with time for Gillam and Dismang to shore up support with Democrat legislators, makes it more difficult for more conservative Republicans to maintain the momentum given to them at the polls.
Both Gillam and Dismang seem to be nice people. However, the designate system is likely to hurt conservatives as personal loyalties overshadows ideology. Why legislators allow the continuation of the system is a mystery. Perhaps it is merely a matter of “now it is my turn to get the spoils.”