LITTLE ROCK Rep. Davy Carter has been voted the next speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives after Republicans gained a majority for the first time since Reconstruction.
Carter, R-Cabot, was voted into the position 52 to 45 over Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, after both spoke before the members.
The election of a new speaker came after the House voted to not to affirm Rep. Darrin Williams as speaker-elect, creating a vacancy in the position and clearing the way for Republicans to run.
Williams, D-Little Rock, was elected in March when Democrats had a majority in the House. The party lost that majority in this month's election when Republicans won 51 seats.
Carter pledged to work with all members to tackle problems during remarks before the votes were cast.
"We all know we're going to have to work together," he said. "We all know we're going to come down here in January and we're going to face these challenges."
In a news conference after his election, Carter said his election was not a sign of divisiveness within the Republican ranks, though he acknowledged he does have some relationships to repair. As recently as a week ago, Republicans leaders said they didn't expect anyone other than Rice to vie for the post.
Carter said the top issues in the upcoming session will undoubtedly be Medicaid and tax reform.
"Those are going to at some point collide," he told reporters. "That will likely be the heart of the session. So we've got to get those two issues resolved."
After winning the slim majority, Republicans earlier this month petitioned to have the organizational meeting Thursday, during which members first voted to oust Williams and then to pick the new Republican speaker.
Williams, in remarks before the House voted 49-48 not to affirm him as speaker, implored the body not to vote strictly in a partisan way.
"Many may base this decision largely on my party label," he said. "But I am much more than a party label. And I hope for the good of Arkansas that each of us will rise above our party labels and find common ground."
Rice, R-Waldron, and Carter, R-Cabot, were the only two candidates to run when the House reconvened the meeting after the vote on Williams.
Read more in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.