LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The 94th Arkansas General Assembly gaveled into session Monday, and despite a push for Republicans to strengthen their hold on leadership of the chamber, Democrats were added in several chair positions.
Committee decisions on the House side were typical despite a push from Republican lawmakers to tighten control on leadership positions.
Late last week, a group of 47 Republican state representatives sent a letter to House Speaker Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R) asking that only Republicans be appointed to chairmanships and vice chairmanships.
“We have in our caucus all of the leadership potential we need to fill these positions, and the voters elected us to lead. Winning elections comes with responsibility and the ability to govern,” the letter read.
The letter drew praise from many Republicans and ire from Democrats, including State Rep. Andrew Collins (D).
“I’m embarrassed for my colleagues,” Collins tweeted. “Y’all really want titles that bad? Excluding qualified, experienced, diverse people from these roles would create worse outcomes for the people of Arkansas, who we’re supposed to be putting first.”
Shepherd appointed Democrats to leadership positions. When asked for comment Monday, Shepherd said he traditionally does not speak on Republican Caucus-related issues, but he said his decision showed he thinks it is important to include minority party representation in these positions.
“I try to make decisions I believe are in the best interests of the House and the people of Arkansas,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he considered the request, as he does with all Republican Caucus communication.
“I think the membership understands,” Shepherd said. “I think they know what to expect from me.”
Collins said Shepherd’s committee announcements Monday set a better tone for Democrats, who find themselves on the outside of many state decisions in Arkansas. The Republican supermajority only strengthened this past election cycle.
“The speaker’s decision set a more positive tone than what it otherwise could’ve been,” Collins said.
In both chambers, more than a quarter of the members are new faces. Rep. Ryan Rose (R) said he is spending his first general session learning how the process works and accepting advice from senior members.
“We joke, but it’s like drinking from a fire hose while you’re treading water and someone hands you a baby,” Rose said. “[I’m] just trying to keep up.”
Rose was one of the 47 Republicans who signed the letter sent to Shepherd, but he said he is pleased with how the committee assignments shaped up.
“I’m just excited to get in there, work with these people and serve our great state,” Rose said.