The political hierarchy of Arkansas’s state Senate took shape Friday ahead of next year’s legislative session with the confirmation of Republican Jonathan Dismang of Beebe as President Pro Tem.
The Republican Party expanded its majority in the midterm elections and the Senate lost four members who voted for the state’s private option adaptation of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. After the elections Republican Gary Stubblefield of Branch said he would challenge Dismang, a Republican supporter of the private option, for the leadership position because of his opposition to the private option.
Stubblefield was also critical of talk Dismang would allow a Democrat to chair the powerful Joint Budget Committee. Stubblefield, lacking enough votes, withdrew his challenge earlier in the week. Larry Teague, a Democrat from the southwest Arkansas town of Nashville, did get selected as Chair of Joint Budget. Teague served in the spot in the previous session.
Any sign of internal discord between Republicans aligned with the Tea Party and more moderate Republicans was not evident during the vote for President Pro Tem. Speaking on the Senate floor Dismang called for unity.
“You’ll figure out that this institution’s going to create a camaraderie that is really unlike anything you’ve probably ever experienced. There is no one person in this room that can do anything on their own,” said Dismang.
He said the session in January would be challenging.
“We’ve got a lot of weight on our shoulders I think in this body. As far as experience the experience in the Capitol is now in this chamber and I think that puts, like I said, a great weight on our shoulders and one that we need to be very respectful of,” said Dismang.
The newly elected leadership did show a potential divide in the Republican caucus. While Dismang and new Majority Whip Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana support the private option the new Majority Leader Jim Hendren voted against it. Hendren is a relative of Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson. The incoming Republican governor has repeatedly said he will evaluate the private option, which provides private insurance to over 200,000 low-income Arkansans, when the session begins and won’t take a position on its reauthorization until then.
Democrats hold 11 seats in the 35 member state Senate. Through the committee selection process, which includes only members of the incoming 90th General Assembly, Democrats secured half of the seats in State Agencies and the Judiciary committees leaving expanded majorities for Republicans elsewhere. These committees deal with an array of issues including Voter ID and tort reform.
The leadership selected Friday was determined by the outgoing legislative body but the newly-elected 90th General Assembly could decide differently in January.