Outgoing House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, tells reporters Friday of his plan to call a meeting next Thursday to select a speaker-designate for the session that starts in January. Arkansas News Bureau/John Lyon
LITTLE ROCK — The outgoing Democratic House speaker on Friday called a special meeting for next week so incoming House members, a majority of them Republicans, can determine his successor.
House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr. set a special meeting for Thursday after all 51 incoming GOP House members signed a petition Friday seeking a meeting to resolve uncertainty surrounding the House leader for the 89th General Assembly that convenes in January.
Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, was elected Speaker-designate earlier this year, but Republicans, who won a bare majority in the House in this week’s general election, want the speaker for the 2013 regular session to be from their party.
Twenty-two incoming Democratic House members also signed a petition asking for a meeting to address the issue.
“Even if it turns out to be 50-49-1, we still need to go in and clear the air and say, What have we got? Democrats and Republicans are on the same side on this,” Moore said.
Williams said he asked his Democratic colleagues to request the meeting.
“We want to move this process forward according to the statute,” he said, adding that he would “would love to be speaker” but “we’ll see what happens.”
Any of the incoming House members could seek the speaker’s chair at Thursday’s meeting, but as of Friday the only known candidates were Williams and Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, whom Williams defeated in the speaker’s race in March.
Rice and House Republican caucus leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said they were fine with holding the meeting Thursday.
“That would give time for the recount to hopefully be completed,” Westerman said.
Democrat L.J. Bryant of Grubbs has requested a recount in the District 52 House race which he lost by 44 votes to Republican John K. Hutchison of Harrisburg. The Jackson County Election Commission has set Tuesday to conduct the recount. If Bryant prevailed, the new House membership would be comprised of 50 Republicans, 49 Democrats and one Green Party member.
The winners of House races in Tuesday’s general election were at the state Capitol on Friday for an organizational meeting to select seats, draw for seniority and receive committee assignments. Among them was Rep.-elect Fred Smith of Crawfordsville, a former Harlem Globetrotter who resigned from the House early in the 2011 session because of a felony theft conviction but has had the conviction expunged.
Smith tried to run for the seat as a Democrat this year but the Democratic party sued to have him removed from the ballot and won, because at the time his felony conviction had not been expunged. After the conviction was expunged, he filed to run as a Green Party member, and he won the office by default after Democrat Hudson Hallum, his only opponent, dropped out of the race after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit election fraud in a 2011 special election.
Smith said Friday he had made no decision about whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans.
”I’m just standing alone,” he said. “I’m not bitter or mad at anybody. I’m just going to take it one day at a time. My door is open to Democrats and Republicans.”
Also at the Capitol was Rep.-elect Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, who is confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal injury he sustained in a car accident nine years ago.
Because the chairs in the House chamber are bolted to the floor, Miller did not sit at his newly assigned seat Friday. He said he has been told the House staff will remove the chair and modify the desk to accommodate him.
“I look forward to being able to represent the values of my constituents back home,” Miller said. “I’m just tickled to be here.”