Hutchinson's Chief Of Staff Pick Creates New Dynamic In Private Option Path

Nov 11, 2014

Former State Senator Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville)
Credit Arkansas Times

This week Republican Michael Lamoureux resigned his position as President Pro Tem of the state Senate to serve as Chief of Staff for Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson. What becomes of this void in the state Senate? We just held elections, what’s in store for the communities surrounding Russellville?

Shufeldt: In Arkansas as in many other states when vacancies become open government tries to work quickly to fill them. This is something because of term limits and because many elected officials are ambitious this is something that the state of Arkansas and other states are getting fairly used to. In Arkansas in the past we had a special election just earlier this year in January and it something that we’ve had in 2011 as well to fill a state legislative seat. So it’s something voters of Arkansas are getting used to.

Kauffman: Do you think voter fatigue will play a role in a possible special election primary contest or the special election itself?

Shufeldt: Yes, absolutely. Compared to other countries voters in the U.S. are asked to vote more frequently and in a special election when there’s often just the one race on the ballot turn-out is quite low. In Arkansas turnout is typically already generally lagging behind and with the fatigue of all the ads and all of the money that was spent on November’s election I think most people are probably ready for a break.

Kauffman: After the midterms, and Lamoureux’s exit, the state Senate doesn’t appear to have enough votes to reauthorize the private option as it exists now. Does the program’s reauthorization look any more or less likely to pass given that moderate Republicans now have one less on their side when they partner with Democrats to try and pass the program?

Shufeldt: Well, I think that there’s two ways to think about this. Senator Lamoureux was a Republican that was willing to work across the aisle and kind of form this bipartisan solution for the private option. While losing him in the Senate is potentially a blow it provides a new link or a better relationship between the legislative and executive branch. It’s possible that Senator Lamoureux is able to actually have more of an influence and persuade fellow Republicans and Democrats to extend the private option. There is that possibility but the election last Tuesday definitely changed the outlook and the breakdown of those in favor and those against so it will definitely be an uphill battle.

Kauffman: Does Hutchinson selecting a private option supporter to be his Chief of Staff suggest he wants someone close to him to help pass the program – which about half of the Republican caucus adamantly opposes.

Shufeldt: I don’t know that it’s specifically with that program in mind but I think his selection as Chief of Staff shows that he is potentially interested in keeping up with the pragmatic track record that our previous governors have had in Arkansas. This could be viewed as an olive branch to moderate Republicans and to the few Democrats that are left in the state House and state Senate that he’s willing to work with whoever's willing to come to the table to find a solution.

Kauffman: The vacancy in the President Pro Tem position in the state Senate also affects the newly authorized, soon to be created commission to study legislative pay – part of that ethics and term limits amendment that voters just authorized. Any thoughts on that process?

Shufeldt: I don’t have a name in mind but I think that it’s much more likely that the state Senate moves to replace Lamoureux in that position well before they’ve set a date for a special election. I anticipate senate Republicans will move very quickly to fill that void.

Kauffman: I’ve been speaking with Greg Shufeldt, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Thanks for talking with us.

Shufeldt: Thank you very much. 

A rift in the Republican Party over the private option is expected to play out Thursday between Jonathan Dismang and Gary Stubblefield.