LITTLE ROCK — Republican House Speaker-elect Davy Carter on Monday named a former senior adviser to the state Democratic Party as his chief of staff for the 2013 session.
Carter named veteran Democratic operative Gabe Holmstrom to the post during the first day of a weeklong orientation for newly elected House members.
Holmstrom, a former spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, served as a senior adviser to the Democrat Party in 2010. He also was a campaign manager for former Democratic Congressman Marion Berry and for Democrat Chad Causey’s failed bid to succeed Berry.
Originally from Cabot, Holmstrom most recently served as a public affairs specialist with Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods public relations firm in Little Rock.
Carter, also from Cabot, said Monday he has known Holmstrom for years.
"Gabe is a friend of mine," Carter said. "He has got the skill set and the knowledge and the history of someone that … is perfect for that position, and most importantly, I trust him."
Republicans will hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature next year after nearly 140 years of Democratic control. Carter, who will be the first Republican since Reconstruction to serve as House speaker in Arkansas, said he did not think the appointment of a Democrat as his chief of staff should be viewed by the GOP House majority as a problem.
"I made it very crystal clear the staff will be nonpartisan, and knowledge, skill set and trustworthiness are the three things that matter, it’s not Republican and Democrat," Carter said. "I trust Gabe immensely."
Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, termed Holmstrom a "good pick" and said partisanship had no bearing.
"I think in this business a lot of people want to make it far more partisan than it is, many people," Bell said. "This position will have a very limited affect on policy."
Last spring the House, still controlled by Democrats at the time, elected Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, as House speaker for the 2013 session over GOP Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron. Williams would have been the state’s first black House leader.
But after Republicans gained a narrow House majority — 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Green Party member — in the Nov. 6 general election, the incoming membership failed to confirm the earlier vote.
Rice was the only Republican candidate for speaker when the House voted in March and was presumed to be in line for the post if the GOP won a House majority this fall. But Carter presented himself a few days after the general election as a new contender and defeated Rice 52-45 on Nov. 16 after promising incoming members he would work hard and be inclusive.
Holmstrom did not return an e-mail request for comment Monday and Rice did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Holmstrom will replace outgoing House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr.’s chief of staff, Bill Stovall of Quitman. Carter announced that Stovall, himself a former Democratic House speaker, would move to a newly created position as House operations officer and that former GOP House member Roy Ragland of Marshal would serve in another new position, House director.
Ragland has served as a government liaison for Secretary of State Mark Martin.