LITTLE ROCK — The Republican House speaker who considered using his leadership in Arkansas’ first GOP-led General Assembly since Reconstruction as a stepping stone to the state’s highest office said Friday he will not run for governor next year.
In a noon speech to the Political Animals Club — almost four hours after announcing his decision — Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot said Arkansas should consider moving to an open primary so candidates who don’t lean too far left or right might have a chance of being elected in statewide races.
After a 100-day legislative session in which lawmakers approved new abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and cut taxes, Carter seemed poised to enter a Republican primary that already includes former Congressman Asa Hutchinson and two others.
"After much deliberation, I have decided against a campaign for governor at this time," Carter said in an email message. "In the past weeks I have had many calls of encouragement and offers of support from fellow Republicans, Independents and yes, even Democrats, all of which I very much appreciate. I love this state and I love public service. Although I will be returning to the private sector, I will find ways to remain involved in public service in Arkansas in the years ahead."
Carter, 38, in his third term in the House, left his job as a Centennial Bank executive to focus on leading the House after a surprise victory in the race for House speaker after the new GOP majority voided an earlier election of Democrat Darrin Williams of Little Rock. Carter said Friday he has accepted the position of executive vice president of Home BancShares, the parent company of Centennial Bank.
He won the speaker’s seat largely on the strength of Democratic support and the backing of a portion of the House Republican Caucus that bolted from the camp of Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who had been the presumptive GOP favorite for speaker after he lost to Williams in the earlier speaker’s election held when Democrats still controlled the House.
Carter led the chamber through a historic session that saw Republicans in the majority for the first time in 138 years. He was one of the principal supporters of the private option for expanding health care coverage in the state, which passed with bipartisan support.
During the session Carter urged House members to put less focus on social issues and more on issues such as health care and taxes. He pushed lawmakers to pass tax cuts that will amount to $140 million in three years.
Carter told the Political Animals Club that he favored a primary system in which the top two-vote getters would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
"Hopefully this would result in having more elected officials from the middle and less from the fringe," he said. "I truly believe the people of our great state, and undoubtedly in the country, are tired of the fringes on both sides."
Reporters asked Carter later if his concerns about the primary process gave him pause about running.
"I’m who I am. I don’t know if the Republican Party in the primary is willing to elect a guy like me," he said. "I don’t know. But certainly I thought about all of that."
As a Republican gubernatorial candidate, he would have faced the well-known Hutchinson, who won three congressional races in the traditional GOP stronghold of Northwest Arkansas and has also run failed statewide races for U.S. Senate, attorney general and governor. State Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, and Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman also have announced for the GOP primary.
Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross have said they will seek the Democratic nomination.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.