State GOP protests House rule change

Re­ver­sal sought on plan to let speaker pick panel mem­bers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRIAN FANNEY

The Repub­li­can Party of Arkansas on Sat­ur­day de­liv­ered a re­buke to a change cham­pi­oned by the state House speaker — a mem­ber of the party — and adopted by the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House dur­ing the past leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Dur­ing the party’s sum­mer state com­mit­tee meet­ing on Sat­ur­day, mem­bers ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion by the Benton County Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee ask­ing for a change in how leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber­ship is cho­sen in the House. By a large ma­jor­ity, state Repub­li­can com­mit­tee mem­bers voted to ask the House to re­turn to us­ing se­nior­ity in com­mit­tee selections, but guar­an­tee the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal party a com­men­su­rate num­ber of seats on each com­mit­tee.

Sup­port­ers of the res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cized new rules pushed by House Speaker Jeremy Gil­lam, R-Jud­so­nia, dur­ing the reg­u­lar ses­sion that grant the House speaker the power to ap­point com­mit­tee mem­bers.

“We are vest­ing more and more power into one per­son, and I be­lieve part of our party prin­ci­ple is to spread that,” said Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs. “I don’t want

“We are vest­ing more and more power into one per­son, and I be­lieve part of our party prin­ci­ple is to spread that.” —Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs

to ne­go­ti­ate my prin­ci­ples — or any­thing else — or cre­ate an­other sys­tem where I have to go politic just to get on a com­mit­tee.”

Af­ter the meet­ing, Repub­li­can Party of Arkansas Chair­man Doyle Webb said in an in­ter­view that party mem­bers wanted bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the House com­mit­tees.

“There’s con­cerns among the grass roots that they worked to elect a ma­jor­ity in the Leg­is­la­ture and — as we have stated in our plat­form — we wish that would be re­flected in the com­mit­tee makeup and in the chair­man­ship and it has not oc­curred at this point,” he said. “We un­der­stand that there’s still some study go­ing on for the fu­ture, but the com­mit­tee wanted to ex­press it­self again.”

How­ever, op­po­nents of the res­o­lu­tion said the mat­ter had been han­dled by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

“If the only ar­biter of that de­ci­sion-mak­ing process is that se­nior­ity num­ber, I don’t see how you get peo­ple where they need to be,” Gil­lam said in a phone in­ter­view Sat­ur­day. Gil­lam wasn’t at the meet­ing. “Democ­racy should have a lit­tle bit more fore­thought go­ing into it than a ran­dom draw out of a bowl.”

Fresh­man law­mak­ers pick their se­nior­ity num­ber out of a bowl to de­ter­mine their rank.

Gil­lam said he be­lieves that if the Repub­li­can com­mit­tee had been able to see the re­search that House mem­bers saw dur­ing the de­bate in Jan­uary, they would have made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion. Ad­di­tion­ally, Gil­lam said the res­o­lu­tion adopted Sat­ur­day rec­om­mends a sys­tem that would limit geo­graphic di­ver­sity on com­mit­tees.

“It’s House busi­ness, and the House will de­ter­mine the rules at the end of the day,” he said. “When we changed the rules, we did so very de­lib­er­ately. There’s zero states in the en­tire coun­try that use the se­nior­ity sys­tem [rec­om­mended by the Repub­li­can com­mit­tee], and there’s a rea­son for that.”

Dur­ing the state Repub­li­can meet­ing, Rep. Mark Low­ery, R-Maumelle, lamented how ar­bi­trary se­nior­ity se­lec­tion is. House Ma­jor­ity Leader Mathew Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, re­ferred to the “near fi­asco that we had” un­der the old se­nior­ity sys­tem for pick­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers.

The new rules were adopted af­ter Democrats man­aged to split con­trol of the House Rev­enue and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee, which re­views tax-re­lated pol­icy, although they hold only 24 of the 100 House seats.

Be­cause rep­re­sen­ta­tives adopted the rule change af­ter com­mit­tees had been se­lected, Gil­lam has not yet used his new power to pick com­mit­tee mem­ber­ship.

The Democrats’ move an­gered Repub­li­cans, and the Arkansas Se­nate later changed its rules to en­sure that the ma­jor­ity party has a ma­jor­ity in all stand­ing Se­nate com­mit­tees.

Bills are ini­tially as­signed to House or Se­nate com­mit­tees for con­sid­er­a­tion. Those com­mit­tees de­ter­mine what bills move to the full House or

Se­nate for votes. If a bill stalls in a com­mit­tee, two-thirds of law­mak­ers in the full House or Se­nate can vote to ex­tract it, although that power is rarely used.

The de­bate over com­mit­tee se­lec­tion proved to be the most con­tentious part of Sat­ur­day’s meet­ing.

Ear­lier in the meet­ing, Gov. Asa Hutchin­son ru­mi­nated on next year’s elec­tions and the Repub­li­can Party’s strengths.

Midterms are his­tor­i­cally tough for the party in charge, the gov­er­nor said.

He told the crowd to share Repub­li­can ac­com­plish­ments on the fed­eral level — Neil Gor­such’s place­ment on the U.S. Supreme Court, En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency rules rolled back, dereg­u­la­tion and eco­nomic growth.

At the state level, Hutchin­son touted tax cuts, a his­tor­i­cally low un­em­ploy­ment rate, state em­ployee re­duc­tion and foster care im­prove­ments.

But he warned Repub­li­cans that not ev­ery­one is get­ting the mes­sage. He told the story of a woman who ap­proached him at an event and asked to give him a hug.

“I thought she wanted to brag on all the great things that we did and ex­press ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” the gov­er­nor said. “She gave me a warm and ten­der hug. She stepped away and said, ‘Now just who are you?’”

Sat­ur­day’s meet­ing fol­lowed the party’s an­nual Rea­gan-Rock­e­feller

Din­ner on Fri­day. The event at­tracted about 650 peo­ple and raised be­tween $300,000 and $400,000, Webb said.

The din­ner was closed to the me­dia be­cause its speaker — Jea­nine Pirro of Fox News — had a clause in her con­tract that pro­hibits her from speak­ing at open-press events, Webb said.

Democrats had their an­nual fundraiser — for the first time called the Clin­ton Din­ner — on July 23. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards served as the key­note speaker.

The din­ner was closed to the me­dia be­cause its speaker — Jea­nine Pirro of Fox News — had a clause in her con­tract that pro­hibits her from speak­ing at open press events, Webb said.

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