Arkansas Senate Republicans on Monday selected Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs over Sens. Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana and Kim Hammer of Benton as their nominee to be the Senate president pro tempore-designate.
Senate Republican leader Scott Flippo of Mountain Home declined to disclose the vote tally among the Senate's 27 Republicans, saying the vote count "will remain private."
The 35-member Senate will consider electing a Senate president pro tempore-designate this morning, said Hickey, who is the current Senate president pro tempore. The Senate also includes seven Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs.
Hickey, who has served as the Senate leader since January of 2021, said Monday that he wishes Hester the best of luck and he has every intention of supporting him in the transition.
The Senate president pro tempore-designate elected today will be considered to be in line to be elected as the Senate president pro tempore from 2023-2025 during the Senate's organizational session after the November general election. The organizational session will prepare for the 2023 regular session, starting in January.
Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis said Monday "I am a little bit surprised" about the Senate Republicans selecting Hester over Hickey as their nominee to the Senate president pro tempore-designate.
Hester said he feels fortunate to be selected as the Republican nominee for Senate president pro tempore-designate, "understanding the enormous responsibility that comes with that."
He said he believes he won the GOP nomination for Senate president pro tempore-designate because the overall mood of the Senate Republicans is to have a new Senate president pro tempore every two years.
Hester, 44, said his agenda will be to make sure that he communicates well with the other senators and communicates the Senate's desires to the executive branch, and to make sure the Senate works together.
He is a homebuilder and Realtor who has has served in the Senate since 2013 and has been an outspoken at times.
Asked whether he plans to dial back being outspoken at times, Hester said that "I intend to represent the body very well."
He said he doesn't intend to change the way he votes, but it is different to speak for the entire Senate instead of speaking for himself, and he said he will speak for the Senate in a way that makes the chamber proud.
Asked to speculate why he lost to Hester, Hickey, who is a 55-year-old retired banker who owns two residential real estate companies and has served in the Senate since 2013, said Hester "got more votes" than he did from Senate Republicans.
He said serving as Senate president pro tempore has been an extremely hard job that required working long hours amid the covid-19 pandemic.
Hickey said it's a load off his shoulders knowing somebody else is in line to the Senate president pro tempore.
Hammer, a 63-year-old pastor, has served in the Senate since 2019. He said the Senate had three good candidates for Senate president pro tempore-designate, and it was an uphill climb competing against Hester and Hickey, who both have served in the Senate longer than him. Hammer served in the House of Representatives from 2011-2019.
In December, Hester said Hickey isn't taking enough conservative positions as the Senate president pro tempore, but Hickey disputed that. At that time, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, tweeted, "Time for new leadership" after Hickey signaled he was seeking a second two-year term as Senate president pro tempore. In December, Hester also said he wants to represent the Legislature in bringing significant changes to the state.
In April 2020, Senate Republicans elected Hester as their nominee to be Senate president pro tempore-designate. At that time, Hickey said he opted against running in the Senate Republican caucus to be the nominee for president pro tempore-designate because he wanted the Senate's 35 members to elect him. At that time, the Senate included 26 Republicans and nine Democrats.
The full Senate subsequently selected Hickey, with the apparent backing of a coalition of Senate Republicans and Democrats, over Hester as the president pro tempore-designate in a secret ballot. The full Senate's decision surprised Hester in April of 2020.
In November of 2020, Arkansas Senate Republicans selected Hickey over Sen. Blake Johnson of Corning to be their nominee as Senate president pro tempore. At that time, Hester said he didn't seek to be the caucus' nominee because "I can count votes."
The full Senate subsequently elected Hickey as Senate president pro tempore from 2021-2023. Hickey said he will continue to serve as the Senate's leader for the rest of this year.
In other Senate Republican Caucus elections Monday, Johnson was elected without any opposition as the Senate Republican leader, and Sen. Ricky Hill of Cabot was elected over Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville to be Senate Republican whip, Flippo said.