Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, was elected state House speaker Thursday (Nov. 15) on a 52-45 vote in the 100-member chamber.
After last-minute vote-getting, including a meeting that Carter had with some Northwest Arkansas GOP House members in Springdale one day earlier, Carter defeated Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron. Carter is the first Republican speaker since post-Civil War Reconstruction. He will preside over the House when it next convenes in January.
The ballot for speaker was conducted in secret in Little Rock, meaning no one is certain who voted for which candidate, but speculation is that Democrats voted as a bloc for Carter, while a handful of Republicans crossed over to support him, as well.
That speculation was bolstered by a tweet from minority leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, who wrote, “We got our guy.”
Three House members did not vote.
On Wednesday, a half dozen local Republicans met at a Springdale restaurant with Cater to discuss elevating him to the House speaker position, a week after the GOP took control of the Arkansas Legislature.
Carter was in Springdale making a push to be elected speaker over Rice, who is seen as the more moderate of the two.
Carter’s late entry in the speaker’s race was viewed as a surprise, since many people assumed after the Nov. 6 elections that Rice would be elected to the top spot.
A conservative faction of at least a half dozen Republicans, including most of the Northwest Arkansas GOP House delegation, was expected to break ranks and back Carter. Carter’s proponents hoped those votes, combined with support from the House Democratic delegation, would push Carter over the top.
The vote occurred Thursday in a gathering of House members that began at noon in Little Rock.
Democrats are said to be supportive of the more conservative Carter because he is supposedly easier to get along with than Rice and likely will elevate Democrats to key committee positions, sources said.
Some younger, conservative Republicans are said to be upset with Rice because he surrounds himself with older, moderate Republicans such as Reps. Les “Skip” Carnine, R-Rogers, Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, and Robert Dale, R-Dover.
Among area Republican House members said to be ready on Wednesday to vote for Carter were Reps. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, Duncan Baird, R-Rogers, Justin Harris, R-West Fork, Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, and Rep-elect Micah Neal, R-Springdale, according to sources.
However, Harris indicated on social media sites Thursday that he promised his vote in the spring to Rice. On Facebook and Twitter, he congratulated Carter on the win.
A group of Republicans who met with Carter at Neal’s Café in Springdale believed on Wednesday they had enough votes to elect him speaker.
Collins called the Republicans together Wednesday to discuss strategy with Carter on collecting enough votes to defeat Rice.
The informal meeting began shortly after noon at the longtime restaurant owned by Neal. Neal won election to House District 89 on Nov. 6 by defeating Springdale Democrat Yessie Hernandez.
Carter or Rice needed 51 votes in the 100-member House to take the top position.
In the Nov. 6 statewide election, Republicans won 51 House seats to take control of the lower chamber for the first time since Reconstruction.
Democrats now hold 48 seats. A Green Party member is expected to caucus with the Democrats. With his party no longer in the majority, the speaker-elect, Darrin Williams, a Little Rock Democrat, was not expected to take the post in Thursday’s vote, but made a run for the position nonetheless. His effort to be affirmed failed on a 48-49 vote.
Rice did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.