Carter opts out of 2014 governor’s race

LITTLE ROCK — The Republican House speaker who considered using his leadership in Arkansas’ first GOP-led General Assembly since Reconstruction as a stepping stone to the state’s highest office said early today he will not run for governor next year.

After a 100-day legislative session in which lawmakers approved new abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and cut taxes, House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot flirted with entering a Republican primary that already includes former Congressman Asa Hutchinson and two others. But he announced late Thursday afternoon that he would forgo the 2014 governor’s race.

“After much deliberation, I have decided against a campaign for governor at this time,” Carter said in an email message. “In the past weeks I have had many calls of encouragement and offers of support from fellow Republicans, Independents and yes, even Democrats, all of which I very much appreciate. I love this state and I love public service. Although I will be returning to the private sector, I will find ways to remain involved in public service in Arkansas in the years ahead.”

Carter, 38, in his third term in the House, left his job as a Centennial Bank executive to focus on leading the House after a surprise victory in the race for House speaker after the new GOP majority voided an earlier election of Democrat Darrin Williams of Little Rock following the November elections.

Carter won largely on the strength of Democratic support and the backing of a portion of the House Republican Caucus that bolted from the camp of Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who had been the presumptive GOP favorite for speaker after he lost to Williams in the earlier speaker’s election held when Democrats still controlled the House.

Carter led the chamber through a historic session that saw Republicans in the majority for the first time in 138 years. He was one of the principal supporters of the private option for expanding health care coverage in the state, which passed with bipartisan support. He also pushed lawmakers to pass tax cuts that will amount to $140 million in three years.

As a Republican gubernatorial candidate, he would have faced the well-known Hutchinson, who won three congressional races in the traditional GOP stronghold of Northwest Arkansas and has also run failed statewide races for U.S. Senate, attorney general and governor. State Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, and Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman also have announced for the GOP primary.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross have said they will seek the Democratic nomination.

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.