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House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, who is seeking re-election to the leadership post, is the sole candidate after state Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, said Thursday he had changed his mind and wouldn't challenge Shepherd.

Shepherd, a Republican from El Dorado, has served as speaker since his fellow representatives picked him in June 2018 to succeed then-Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.

Gillam resigned to take a job as director of governmental affairs and external relations at the University of Central Arkansas. Gillam served as speaker from 2015-June 15, 2018.

The House of Representatives will select the 2021-23 speaker-designate at the end of this year's fiscal session, which starts April 8. Shepherd is the sole candidate for the post after he was the only one to show up Thursday afternoon at a House organizational session in a room on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.

The House will formally elect the 93rd General Assembly speaker during the regular session in January. The House typically elevates the speaker-designate to the post.

After the end of the regular session last April, Jett said he would run for speaker-designate because someone serving multiple terms as speaker consolidates power in "too few people" and goes against the wishes of voters.

Shepherd said in May that he would seek re-election to a second full term in that leadership post because "in talking with the membership, I felt like there is the support there."

Jett said Thursday he called Shepherd a few days ago and "told him my intentions were to step aside for the good of the House" and not challenge him.

"I knew it was going to be an uphill battle," he said.

Jett said he wasn't comfortable with waging a "heavy" campaign for the leadership post during this year's fiscal session because "there is too much serious work to do" and he doesn't want to distract from that work.

"I just didn't want to do it out of respect for the institution," said Jett, who has served as chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee since 2015.

Asked about Jett's decision, Shepherd said, "I appreciate the support of the House and the apparent opportunity to continue in the role as speaker.

"My focus, even coming out of the last session and even as we approach the fiscal session, has been to focus on doing the job and that's always got to be my first focus," he said.

"Rep. Jett is a friend and has been a friend and continues to be a friend, and we had a good discussion and I think we all look forward to moving forward and moving forward in the fiscal session."

Asked whether he agreed to reappoint Jett as committee chairman, Shepherd said there were "no agreements or requests or anything like that" and he didn't promise anything.

"It doesn't matter what position or what member it is. I don't make promises as to certain positions because, if I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come back in this position as we approach that session, I want to have the ability to truly look at each position that the speaker has a role to appoint and appoint who at that point I believe best fits that role," Shepherd said.

The House in April approved a resolution taking the power of future committee assignments out of the speaker's hands and returning it to a former method based on seniority. The change is effective for the 93rd General Assembly.

The new rule also allows the speaker to balance a committee's membership if the minority party gains a majority of the seats.

The speaker will continue to appoint committee chairmen.

The House's action reversed a rule change approved at the end of the 2017 regular session for the current 92nd General Assembly.

In March 2018, the House elected Shepherd as speaker-designate over Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock. Shepherd was unopposed in the election to replace Gillam and in the election for speaker over the 92nd General Assembly for 2019-21.

Shepherd, 44, an attorney, has served in the House since 2011 and formerly served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

He is unopposed in the Nov. 3 general election to represent House District 6.

Jett, 60, is a retired farmer and owner of a trucking company.

He has been in the House since 2013. He switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in December 2016. Jett is unopposed in the general election for House District 56.

The House has 75 Republicans and 23 Democrats with two vacant seats.

Metro on 03/06/2020

Print Headline: Challenger drops bid to be House speaker

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