Shepherd will seek reelection but won't pursue fourth term as Arkansas House speaker

Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd poses for photos near his desk in the house chambers at the state capitol on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Matthew Shepherd, the longest-serving speaker of the Arkansas House, announced Monday he does not intend to seek a fourth full term as leader of the chamber but plans to run for reelection to his House seat.

"It's a very difficult decision, particularly when you have a number of members encouraging and asking you to run for another term [as speaker]," said Shepherd, 47, during an interview Monday. "Ultimately, I feel like we're at a point where it makes sense for me to transition to another role and allow the House to pick a new leader moving forward into the next session."

A Republican attorney from El Dorado, Shepherd began his first term in the House in 2011. Lawmakers elected him speaker in June 2018 after then-speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, left the House. In January, legislators granted Shepherd, who represents House District 97, a historic third full-term as speaker.

During this year's regular legislative session, Shepherd oversaw the passage of Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' legislative priorities including an income tax cut and overhauls of the state's education and criminal justice systems.

While serving as speaker during earlier sessions, Shepherd helped guide the House through the coronavirus pandemic and worked with lawmakers to build up the Catastrophic Reserve Fund and pass tax cuts.

"We've established Arkansas as one of the most pro-life states in the nation, we've provided a sustainable means by which our highways are being funded," he said. "Even beyond that, just from the standpoint of how the House has operated, I think we've operated in a civil and professional manner in a way that I'm proud of and I think the people of Arkansas can be proud of."

Shepherd's current term in the House will end in January 2025. He was widely expected not to seek another term as speaker. Several lawmakers are reportedly considering runs for speaker. The House will select a speaker-designate at the end of the fiscal session in 2024.