Photographs by Gavin Lesnick
FILE - Rep. Darrin Williams addresses the House in March before his election as speaker-designate.
Originally published March 9, 2012 at 07:39a.m., updated March 9, 2012 at 02:16p.m.
LITTLE ROCK The Arkansas House of Representatives has elected Rep. Darrin Williams as speaker-designate.
Williams, who becomes the first black speaker-designate in the history of the Arkansas House, was elected 54 to 46 a short time after Arkansas legislators adjourned the 2012 fiscal session.
Williams, D-Little Rock, ran against Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron. Both men promised bipartisanship approaches to the role with Williams calling on members to avoid "Washington D.C.-style politics."
"My vision for our house is that we honor our republic form of government by focusing on collective efforts on representing the needs and the interests of the people," he said in a speech before the election. "I'm a proud Democrat, but I respect the Republicans in this chamber."
The vote, by secret ballot, may have been along party lines. There are 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans in the house.
Speaking in a news conference after the election, Williams listed the broad topics of economic development, education and Medicare funding as his principal goals.
"I look forward to working with each member of the General Assembly to move our state forward and continue to build on the progress we have made in the 88th General Assembly," he said. "... Our work begins today."
The speaker could still change, however, when the House reconvenes. When it does so in 2013, members must vote to confirm the speaker-designate as speaker of the house and it's possible the Republicans will win the majority in November elections.
Williams said previously that the House should keep as speaker whoever was elected initially. Rice has said it should be up to the controlling political party.
Asked about the possibility of another speaker coming in if Republicans take control, Williams said it would be like changing "horses in midstream" and harm productivity. He said the house rules say the speaker-designate is the person who is intended to be speaker of the house and noted there had never been a change before.
"I didn't run to be majority leader," he said, standing beside current Speaker of the House, Democrat Robert Moore. "I ran to be speaker-designate and then speaker of the 89th general assembly. Robert Moore set a good example. I don't think he was a Democratic speaker or a Republican speaker. He was our speaker."
Williams noted the "historical significance" of being the first black speaker, but said it wasn't why he ran or why he was elected.
"Clearly it's nice, but I've been black for 43 years, so I'm kind of used to this," he said. "So I don't feel any different."
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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