The six counties in the Southwest Arkansas Four States area succeeded in almost voting themselves out of the power structure of the next Arkansas General Assembly on Nov. 6 by defeating an incumbent state senator and helping to hand control of the Arkansas General Assembly to the Arkansas Republican Party for the first time since Reconstruction.
State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, ran unopposed in the general election in Southwest Arkansas, and was almost certain to become the President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate in January. But, Teague lost that hope when the Senate went Republican with the aid of the election of former Texarkana banker Jimmy Hickey, a first-time candidate for state office, who defeated incumbent Democrat Senator Steve Harrelson, of Texarkana.
The impact of the legislative presence of Miller, Howard, Hempstead, Lafayette, Little River and Sevier counties was split in the Senate. The consequence of that, particularly for Hempstead County, becomes apparent when two examples of the legislative teamwork involved between Teague and Harrelson, both of whom represented portions of Hempstead County, is examined: the Turk Power Plant and the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope.
Legislatively, Teague and Harrelson teamed together with now term-limited State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, D-Hope, to produce enabling legislation which paved the way for the $2 billion AEP/Southwestern Electric Power Co. project to not only get off the ground, but also to survive a tsunami of legal opposition.
Harrelson went on record during the legislative redistricting process stating he wanted to keep his representation in Hempstead County because of the Turk project. And, he carried the legislation in the Senate which changed the law to provide the legal status for the project as defined before the Arkansas Public Service Commission, thereby, helping to resolve a major point of litigation.
In the second instance, Harrelson carried the enabling legislation which allowed the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope to establish an outreach campus in Miller County to provide Miller County residents an opportunity to benefit from Arkansas Challenge and Arkansas Lottery scholarships.
Teague worked mostly behind the scenes in both cases, helping to shepherd the legislation through the Senate, while building a consensus that gave him the opportunity to seek the President Pro Tempore post. It was part of Teague's trademark presence in the Senate, which, though not lost entirely, won't be quite the same for him in the 2013 session.
Still, Teague is optimistic.
“The polls had been telling us that for the last couple of months,” he said of the Republican surge.
Teague said most estimates showed at least a 10 seat gain to a Republican majority, or at the best case for Democrats, an even split.
Teague said becoming President Pro Tempore would have been an obvious help to his rural constituency.
Page 2 of 2 - “I think most of the constituents who knew me were satisfied and optimistic,” he said. “We knew money was going to be tight in the session, but, still, there were going to be opportunities.”
Although Republican Senator Michael Lamoureaux, R-Russellville, is slated to become President Pro Tempore, Teague's knowledge and experience were not overlooked. Lamoureaux named Teague as the Senate chair of the Legislative Joint Budget Committee, and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Taxation, two powerful positions typically reserved for the Pro Tempore's team.
What Teague takes from those appointments is a sign of optimism for a cooperative session.
“I believe the greatest risk to the people of Arkansas is if we go partisan,” Teague said. “We've always worked pretty well bipartisan. Michael and I are good friends. I trust him and respect him, and I think we can work together.”
Teague said three key issues in the 2013 session will determine how well the split legislature will function, including the need to address budgetary shortfalls, the expansion of Medicaid into the federal healthcare system, and addressing “adequacy” funding for K-12 education.
“I believe the Senate will be able to do its work,” Teague said.
Meanwhile, the story in the Arkansas House of Representatives is somewhat different.
With the House's original choice for Speaker put aside by the Republican ascendency, House members are set to vote Thursday on a new speaker, pending the outcome of one contested North Arkansas election.
But, on Friday, House members drew lots to determine seniority. State Representative-elect James Brent Talley, D-Hope, a first-term House member, drew No. 99.
“I've been getting some ribbing about that,” Talley said Monday. “First to draw; last in seniority.”
Still, Talley has been able to secure committee assignments which remain important to Hempstead and Nevada counties, including the House Education Committee, as his “A” choice, and the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee as his “B” choice.
“I'll be back and forth to Little Rock until the end of the year on budget hearings,” Talley said.
Beyond that, he, like Teague, thinks a bipartisan approach will help Southwest Arkansas.
“It's still too early to say what we will have to address,” Talley said. “My challenge is to dig in and take care of business.”