Arkansan held gavel as tempers flared on Republican convention’s floor

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (right), R-Ark., confers with Hugh Halpern, staff director of the House Rules Committee, during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Womack was in charge of the gavel when a dispute over convention rules broke out.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (right), R-Ark., confers with Hugh Halpern, staff director of the House Rules Committee, during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Womack was in charge of the gavel when a dispute over convention rules broke out.

CLEVELAND -- When supporters and opponents of Donald Trump clashed on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack was the guy with the gavel, pounding the table and trying to restore order.

photo

Sarah Jo Reynolds, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson sing the national anthem Monday at the start of the Republican National Convention.



RELATED ARTICLES

http://www.arkansas…">Trump's Cleveland unity push startshttp://www.arkansas…">Cotton takes stage, speaks of time as GI

http://www.arkansas…">Clinton: End 'madness' of police killingshttp://www.arkansas…">Bauxite teacher set to speak at Democratic convention

"It was total chaos at the time," the congressman from Rogers said later.

Womack was filling in for the convention's chairman, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, when delegates tore up organizers' carefully choreographed script.

It got bad enough that Womack stepped away from the platform and conferred with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and the convention parliamentarian.

Afterward, when the anger had dissipated and the convention floor had emptied, Womack said it had been a wild ride.

"It was an awesome experience and things went very well except for those first few minutes when, as you saw, the anti-Trump crowd and the Trump supporters got into a shouting match," he said. "You couldn't hear yourself think in there."

Trump opponents were demanding a roll call vote on convention rules that, once approved, would prevent delegates from switching their allegiances.

Without last-minute defections, there was no way Trump could lose the nomination.

The Never Trump activists were joined by delegates who objected to other provisions in the rules.

So when Womack declared that the rules had been approved, bedlam broke out.

"It was obvious we had to hit the reset button," Womack said. "We knew what we were doing. We just needed to rethink how we were going to get through it all and still have some semblance of control of the hall, and I think ultimately we were successful in doing that."

Although members of the Colorado delegation briefly walked out in protest, order was eventually restored and the convention proceeded.

Most members of the Arkansas delegation lined up behind their party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Arkansas wasn't one of the nine states that signed petitions calling for a roll call vote on the issue. Its representatives waited while party officials and Trump staff members worked to prevent a state-by-state tally from taking place.

And when the voice vote was cast, most of the Arkansas delegation loudly backed the rules that would guarantee Trump the Republican nomination.

Arkansans said the effort to stop Trump was certain to fail and that the roll-call vote would have brought proceedings to a crawl.

"It's a last-ditch attempt by the Cruz people to disrupt the convention, and I think it's just very unfortunate," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The cowboy-hat-wearing Texas delegation, seated behind the Arkansans, was dominated by supporters of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the candidate with the second-most votes overall.

The members of the Texas delegation shouted their opposition to the rules, then bellowed their disapproval when they were ruled in the minority.

While the Texans chanted "Roll-call vote," Bud Cummins, the Trump whip for Arkansas, urged his group to repeat the refrain favored by Team Trump. "USA, USA, USA, USA. Come on, Arkansas. Everybody repeat, 'USA,'" he said.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville was one of the few Arkansans to vote against the rules, and he said the convention should have allowed a roll-call vote.

"They want to try to make sure they have control over everything," he said. "That's the way it goes. It's disappointing."

Jonathan Barnett, Arkansas' Republican national committeeman, said he'd never seen a floor fight over the rules like this one, and he's been going to conventions since 1972.

"It's not helpful, but it's good to get it over with early and go on down the road. Now's the time to do it," he said.

A Section on 07/19/2016

Upcoming Events