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Shepherd will run for reelection but won’t seek fourth term as Arkansas speaker of the House

He aims to keep his seat in House by Will Langhorne | May 16, 2023 at 5:10 a.m.
Rep. Matthew Shepherd (center), R-El Dorado, is sworn in as Speaker of the House by his father, Judge Bobby Shepherd, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, during the first day of the Arkansas General Assembly session on Monday, Jan. 9, 2022, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

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

"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, an attorney and Republican from El Dorado, 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."

Shepherd's current term in the House ends in January 2025. Several lawmakers on Monday said they are considering running or have decided to run for speaker.

Arkansas House members Johnny Rye, R-Trumann, and Brian Evans, R-Cabot, said Monday they intend to run to replace Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, as speaker of the House.

"With the encouragement of many of my colleagues and the support of my family, I enter this very important race to lead my colleagues as the Speaker of the House for the 95th General Assembly," said Evans, R-Cabot, in a written statement. "I have a deep conviction that we can come together and uphold the sanctity and the honor of the House of Representatives."

Rye said during an interview he hoped to promote unity in the House if elected.

"I know that there are different ideologies, but I'm going to try my very best to help everyone in this system to get along and try to treat one another right," he said.

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, said he is considering throwing his hat in the ring but has yet to make a decision. Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said he is interested in running and will make a decision shortly.

Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Centerton, and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said they hadn't ruled out a run for speaker.

The House will select a speaker-designate at the end of the fiscal session in 2024. Shepherd said he did not intend to endorse a candidate.

"It remains to be seen as to who all would seek that position, but my plan would be to not wade into that and to stay above that as I continue my service as speaker," he said.

Shepherd has served in the House since 2011. Lawmakers elected him speaker in June 2018 after then-Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R- Judsonia, resigned to take a job with the University of Central Arkansas. 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 Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' legislative priorities including an income tax cut and overhauls of the state's education and criminal justice systems. Shepherd also sponsored enacted legislation including bills intended to protect online ticket buyers and allow some high school athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness.

While serving as speaker during earlier sessions, Shepherd helped guide the House through the coronavirus pandemic and worked with other lawmakers to build a 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."

In the years before Shepherd was elected speaker, federal investigations resulted in the convictions of several former state representatives and senators.

"When I took over as speaker, one of the real priorities was to make sure the House conducted business at a high level ethically and professionally, and I think we've done that," he said.

Shepherd described serving as a speaker as his "greatest professional experience."

"It's been challenging but it's also been a very great experience," he said. "It has also been very humbling for me to represent the House of Representatives and to have the support of the membership three times over."

During his time as a lawmaker, Shepherd has seen the Arkansas Legislature swing from Democratic to Republican control. The House currently has the largest Republican majority in office since Reconstruction.

Shepherd noted it is not uncommon for speakers of the Arkansas House or presidents pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate to continue serving as legislators after relinquishing their leadership positions.

"As a House member, I'd like to think I was an effective legislator not only for my district but also for the House as a whole," he said. "I would like to think that I can continue that type of service."

While lawmakers have discussed holding special sessions to consider additional tax cuts and changes to Arkansas' Medicaid program, Shepherd said he has not been involved in any recent talks on whether to hold a special session. Legislators adjourned the regular session of the 94th General Assembly on May 1.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline and Neal Earley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

CORRECTION: Arkansas House members Johnny Rye, R-Trumann, and Brian Evans, R-Cabot, said Monday they intend to run to replace Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, as speaker of the House. An earlier version of this story misspelled Rye’s hometown.

Print Headline: Shepherd won’t run again for speaker


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