Arkansas Politics
12:00 am
Fri March 9, 2012

Ark. Legislature Adjourns, House Chooses First Black Speaker

Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives, by a 54-46 vote Friday, chose Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) to be the next Speaker of the House.

 

Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) speaks to reporters after being voted House Speaker Designate.
Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) speaks to reporters after being voted House Speaker Designate.
Credit Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

"It is such an honor ... I am thrilled beyond measure and I am humbled," Williams said of the vote.

The vote was historic because Willams is the first black speaker of the Arkansas house of representatives.

Williams told reporters he acknowleges the historical significance and he's happy his kids can see it, but historical significance is not why he ran.

"Clearly it's nice, but I've been black for 43 years, so I'm kind of used to this," Williams said. "I'm excited to lead the body in the 89th in the same fashion our great Speaker Mr. Moore has done."

Historical significance would not have been lost had Rep. Terry Rice (R-Waldron) won. It would have been the first time since Reconstruction that the state's speaker of the house was a Republican.

The vote was conducted by secret ballot, so which lawmaker voted which way is unknown, but the 54-46 split matches party lines.

Williams’ victory also poses an interesting question because of the increasing Republican presence in the state legislature. Should Republicans gain a majority in the House going into next session they could vote not to seat Williams who won't actually assume the duties of Speaker until the next legislative session.

Williams says he can't pay attention to the political back and forth, saying he was elected leader of the house of representatives rather than Democratic Majority Leader.

"I don't worry about possibilities, there are a number of possibilities. We could have additional Democrats as well. So, the elections will take care of themselves. This body, this house - within these walls - this is not the place for an election. Elections happen out there," Williams said. "We'll let that take care of itself. I'm going to work inside these walls to build a consensus and to move forward in the 89th General Assembly."