Welcome from Government Affairs!
This is the first in a series of blog posts intended to inform readers about activities of the 88th General Assembly during the 2011 regular session. I will be representing the Chamber and its membership at the Capitol throughout the session where I will advocate for our legislative agenda. I am also going to have a section at the end of each post relating some of the non-legislative experiences I have while I am in Little Rock representing the Rogers-Lowell Chamber. I hope you find the information useful or at least entertaining, please feel free to leave comments!
I will also be sending out several email updates each week providing information on state, local and federal legislation that the Chamber is monitoring. If you would like to receive those emails contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today was opening day of the 88th General Assembly and saw the swearing in of 99 State Representatives and 35 State Senators. One State Representative seat remains to be filled (District 24) by a special election in March after the voters elected Republican Keith Crass who passed away shortly before the November 2 election.
One of the gallery's favorites during the the swearing-in ceremony was the planned and impromptu performances by country music singer Billy Joe Shavers. Shavers is good friends with House Speaker Robert Moore (D, Lake Village) who invited him to sing the national anthem. Due to delays in swearing-in the Senate, Shavers graced the Chamber and packed galleries with a-capella versions of a few of his classic songs. To listen to a few of them go here and here!
Snowy weather and dangerous road conditions led to the delayed opening of the Senate as State Senator Steve Harrellson (D, Texarkana) had to be flown into Little Rock this morning to attend the swearing in ceremonies. There were still a few empty seats in the House and Senate as legislators struggled to make it to the Little Rock on Sunday and Monday. Those arriving from south Arkansas had an even more difficult time getting to the Capitol than those from the North as I-30 eastbound was closed for an extended time Sunday.
After a forty-five minute delay, the House members were sworn-in and unanimously elected Speaker Robert Moore. Speaker Moore addressed the Chamber and hearkened back to his grandfather who almost 100 years ago to the date received the gavel as Speaker of the House in the exact same House Chamber. Speaker Moore humorously warned his fellow House members that if they felt a little uneasy in their seat today it was probably the ghost of "Big Daddy" watching over his grandson. In his speech, Speaker Moore encouraged the membership to set aside partisanship and do what is right for all Arkansans arguing that history will judge their efforts. He noted that prison reform, transportation and taxes are a few of the important issues that the legislature will address and cautioned them that there is "no free lunch" when dealing with tax cuts and budget issues. To watch the entire speech go here for part one and here for part two!
After Speaker Moore's welcome, chair and vice chairs were appointed for the House Committees. There were a few Northwest Arkansans appointed to leadership positions. Speaker Moore appointed Representative Jonathan Barnett (R, Siloam Springs) as chair of the Transportation Committee and Representative Mary Lou Slinkard (R, Gravette) as Vice Chair of State Agencies Committee. The Transportation Committee will most likely be tasked with implementing some of the Blue Ribbon Highway Commission's recommendations. The State Agencies Committee is another critical post since these legislators will be in charge of Congressional redistricting. Fort Smith's Stephanie Malone will chair the Aging, Children, and Youth Committee. To review the makeup of each House Committee visit the Chamber's Government Affairs website.
In addition to the A and B Committees, House and Senate members serve on Joint Committees. Representative Uvalde Lindsey (D, Fayetteville) will serve as House Vice Chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee and Chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee.
Representative Tim Summers (R, Bentonville) hosted a lunch reception after the swearing-in ceremony where I ran into Arkansas State Police Majors Les Braunns and JR Hankins. Northwest Arkansans might remember Major Braunns who commanded Troop L in Springdale for a number of years before being promoted to Highway Patrol commander of the western half of the state a few years ago. Major J.R. Hankins commanded the Clarksville Troop before being promoted last year where he currently oversees the eastern half of the state's highway patrol Troops. Major Braunns still lives in Springdale and stays at the State Police barracks during the week.
An interesting side note was the presence of Rodney Slater on the House floor today. Mr. Slater is an Arkansas native and served as U.S. Transportation Secretary under President Bill Clinton and currently works in Washington D.C. as a partner with Patton Boggs and James Lee Witt & Associates. One wonders if there is some future Arkansas political race that Secretary Slater has his eye on.
My Experience in Little Rock - Take #1
I also want to include a bit of the personal side about what life is like in Little Rock during the session. I arrived on Sunday and almost beat the snow, but I had to channel my inner NASCAR driver the last fifteen miles as snow and ice covered the roads. Thank goodness my car has all-wheel drive or I would be writing this from a ditch in North Little Rock.
The weather has put a crimp in the inaugural festivities as most of the receptions and events scheduled for tonight have been cancelled. Governor Mike Beebe's BeebeeQue is still on at Cajuns featuring BBQ and Catfish and a Johnny Cash tribute band. I hope they have the National Championship Game on so I can see Auburn and all of their Arkansas connections keep the BCS trophy in the SEC for another year. One thing is certain, Auburn is getting a great return on their $180,000 investment. The prayers from Old Man Newton's Florida church must carry a lot of weight...
I am staying at the Legacy Hotel, which is close to the Capitol and I learned that it was built in just 18 working days in 1913. Knowing this makes me nervous...
Finally, most legislative sessions run 90 days. That means a lot of my meals for the next three months will be take out and banquet food. I would wager very little will be healthy. I weighed 170 this morning in the Legacy's fitness room. If I can keep my weight under 187 I am going to declare victory. You have heard of the "Freshman 15" this is going to be the "Session 17." We won't even consider cholesterol levels that would just be cruel.
Opening Day of the 88th General Assembly
Monday, January 10, 2011on