CONWAY -- Jeremy Gillam, a two-term speaker of the Arkansas House, is resigning from the Legislature to take a position that will include lobbying and other activities for the University of Central Arkansas.
"It is bittersweet to leave" the Legislature where he's served since 2011, said Gillam, R-Judsonia, but he is "excited about the new opportunity."
Gillam, 41, submitted a letter of resignation, effective at 5 p.m. June 15, to the governor's office Wednesday. He will become UCA's director of governmental relations and external affairs the next day.
His annual salary will be $130,000, UCA President Houston Davis said Wednesday in an interview.
As House speaker, Gillam makes $47,277 a year. The speaker represents House District 45, which covers part of White County.
Gillam said he and his brother sold their 450-acre berry farm in White County last month. Ritter Crop Services of Jonesboro bought the farm for $1,364,925, according to the White County assessor's office.
"For a while I have been trying to figure where the Lord is going to lead me and what is going to be the best fit for me and my family, but I still wanted to serve and do something that I felt was making a difference," Gillam said.
"I visited with a lot of different people about a lot of different possible roles ... and this [position] was just kind of organically developed over the last few months," he said.
Gillam said the House will caucus on June 15 to choose his successor. He hopes the chamber promotes Speaker-designate Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, to the position.
Davis said Wednesday that he was impressed that Gillam had twice been chosen House speaker. Speakers typically serve one two-year term.
"That is a high-pressure role" and shows Gillam has a "strong leadership record," Davis said.
"One thing that really struck me is that I had individuals from both sides of the aisle mention his name as a really strong candidate for this job," Davis said. "It's a testament to him [that] he's a two-term speaker. That tells me he can deliver, that he's got a good work ethic and that he's an honorable person."
Gillam and Davis said Gillam will not be a registered lobbyist, and Gillam said he doesn't view himself as a lobbyist. Gillam will, however, work with state, local and federal governments on issues affecting UCA, Davis said.
Gillam "will be representing UCA's interests as well as providing information relating to higher-education matters to the statehouse," the president said.
State lawmakers are subject to a two-year cooling-off period for registering as lobbyists, said Graham Sloan, director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission. But state law provides an exception to registering as a lobbyist for a public servant acting in his official capacity under certain conditions.
"So, a former member of the General Assembly whose term of office had expired [under Arkansas Code Annotated 21-1-402] could take a job with a state university and engage in lobbying activities and not be required to register as a lobbyist as long as they don't receive $400 in a calendar quarter from a nongovernmental source for lobbying or spend more than $400 in a calendar quarter for lobbying," Sloan said in an email.
For several months, there has been speculation about whether Gillam would go to work for a state agency such as UCA or the state Plant Board.
State Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, said UCA's announcement Wednesday was "obviously ... not a surprise to anyone."
"It is a little surprising that he resigned in the middle of his term to do it," said Gray, who is chairman of the state Democratic Party.
When they approved Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution in November 2014, voters extended from one year to two years the period during which lawmakers are barred from accepting lobbyist jobs after leaving office. Gray said he questions "the loophole there" that essentially allows lawmakers to accept lobbying jobs for state agencies after leaving office.
That loophole "speaks to the things that people don't like about government," and lawmakers should make it clear to the public that the exemption exists, Gray said. He said he isn't taking a shot at Gillam or begrudging him for taking the job with UCA.
"But I just think it is a problem in our system," he said.
Davis said UCA Chief of Staff Kelley Erstine will continue to represent UCA as well at times.
Davis said Gillam's position is "not just about the relationships with the statehouse, although that's important for providing information and being aware of current issues."
Davis said Gillam could get involved in issues that would affect UCA's infrastructure -- easements, streets and access points, for example. There also will be opportunities for Gillam to help with internal matters such as student development and internships.
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the governor plans to call a special election to fill the vacancy in House District 45.
In the Nov. 6 general election, Beebe Republican Jim Wooten is unopposed for that seat, but the next legislative term won't start until mid-January.
In a written statement, Hutchinson said Gillam "has been a tremendous asset to Arkansas throughout his years of service in the House of Representatives."
"He has done a remarkable job serving as speaker, and his unique perspective and strong leadership will be missed," Hutchinson said.
As for the timing of his resignation, Gillam referred to Shepherd and said, "At the end of the day, the House is in good hands."
Shepherd said he has been preparing to take over as speaker since March when he was elected speaker-designate.
"I feel like I am ready and prepared to go," Shepherd said.
State Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, who lost a bid for House speaker-designate to Shepherd in March, said he supports elevating Shepherd to House speaker on June 15.
Gillam likened his plans to the resignation of then-Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, who joined the University of Arkansas System as associate vice president of university relations. Key is now the state's education commissioner.
Gillam is the second lawmaker in recent years to take a lobbying position with UCA. In January 2013, when his legislative term ended, former state Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, became executive assistant to then-UCA President Tom Courtway. Baker resigned that position in April 2014 and is a music teacher at UCA.
Arkansas Tech University hired former Rep. Phil Jacobs, D-Clarksville, in 2005 as associate vice president for governmental relations, after his term ended. He registered as a lobbyist.
Former Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, has been Arkansas State University System's vice president for governmental relations since 2015. Broadway's Senate term ended in January 2011, and he became director of the state Department of Higher Education the next month. From there he moved to ASU.
Other lawmakers have taken different government jobs. In June 2016, state Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Flippin, resigned to become the Department of Human Services' first chief of legislative and governmental affairs. At that time, he said it wasn't a lobbying position.
Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, resigned in November to accept an appointment as President Donald Trump's representative to the Southern States Energy Board.
Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, resigned in November to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development office in Arkansas.
State Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, is shown in this photo.
Speaker-designate Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, is shown in this file photo.
A Section on 06/07/2018
Print Headline: State Speaker Gillam to quit as a legislator; Hired at UCA, doesn’t see himself as lobbyist, he says