LITTLE ROCK — Sen. Michael Lamoureux and Rep. Davy Carter say they understand the historical positions they are in as leaders of the first Republican-led state Legislature since the end of the Civil War.
They also say they’re willing to work across the aisle during the upcoming regular session to improve Arkansas’ economy and address a looming Medicaid shortfall.
"We’re in unique times," Carter, a banker and lawyer from Capot, said last week after being elected House speaker for the 89th General Assembly. "We’ve got national politics and a contentious presidential race, and we have a 51-49 party split in the House. Humbly, I think I can fit that role to have relationships with members in both parties."
The day after the Nov. 6 general election, Lamoureux, the incoming Senate president pro tem, called Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, to let him know the election was over and it was time to prepare for the session.
"I know everybody I know is sick of campaign commercials and elections and all that, and I wanted to put that to bed as soon as possible and he is eager to do that as well," Lamoureux said. "Even when we’re disagreeing on policy or something, he has always been personally kind to me and I’ve been down to his office a lot. I was probably in his office last session 50 times last session."
Beebe said he has admired the abilities of both lawmakers during their tenures in the Legislature.
"I think we’ll be able to work (together)," he said. "Lamoureux has already reached out, and I’m extremely optimistic about that. I think the same thing will occur in the House."
While both lawmakers are graduates of the W.H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the paths they took to reach the highest leadership positions in the Legislature are quite different.
Carter, 37, graduated from high school in Marianna and earned a degree in corporate finance from Arkansas State University. He later completed the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University. After working at a bank for a while, he decided to attended law school.
Now an attorney for Centennial Bank, Carter said he did not even consider politics until he was in law school, and friends and family encouraged him to run for the state House after state Rep. Susan Schulte, R-Cabot, left office because of term limits.
He was elected to succeed Schulte in 2008 and had no opposition this year for election to a third House term.
Carter said he has been impressed with the leadership of outgoing House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City.
"I admire him. I thought he did great job," Carter said. "We didn’t always agree on policy matters but I thought he handled situations in the House business pretty well, from my perspective."
He said his own leadership style would resemble Moore’s — "That it represents the body of the General Assembly, that it’s fair, that it ’s represented proportionally by party, and I intend to follow that through."
Carter has served as chairman House Revenue and Taxation Committee the past two years and recently led the panel’s review of state tax exemptions with an eye on income tax reform during the upcoming regular session.
"I’m glad we did it," Carter said, adding the committee’s education will prove beneficial as lawmakers deal with a looming Medicaid shortfall and Beebe’s proposed further reduction of the state sales tax on groceries. "It’s even more important now that we have that background going into the session."
Carter, who is married with three children, said he expects the governor’s proposal to reduce the sales tax on groceries to be reviewed, along with income tax reform.
His job as House speaker, Carter said, is "trying to build a consensus in the House with both Republicans and Democrats. I understand there are going to be issues, that the parties are going to disagree on policy, and I’m a conservative Republican and I’m going to vote for the policy that I think is right."
Moore praised Carter for his knowledge and ability on state issues and the budget.
"Rep. Carter was a key person in my administration," Moore said. "I’ve known him as a man of wisdom, integrity and real leadership. I applaud the members of their election process and look forward to working with Rep. Carter in the transition process."
Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, was elected House speaker-designate in March, but after the November election, in which Republicans won majorities in both chambers, the incoming House membership last week voided Williams’ election and elected Carter as speaker over another Republican, Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron, who had lost to Williams in the earlier vote.
Williams threw his support to Carter.
"I will do all I can to help him," he said. "The eight months that I prepared to becoming speaker, I am going to give him the benefit of all I have done."
Lamoureux, 36, is a graduate of Dover High School, where he was center on the basketball team. He received a degree in history from Arkansas Tech University and then attended the UALR law school. He is married with two children.
His interest in politics began in high school and he worked on state legislative races and Mike Huckabee’s gubernatorial campaign while in his late teens.
Lamoureux was elected to the state House in 2002 and served three terms before he was term limited. In December 2009, he ran for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Sharon Trusty of Russellville, who resigned in mid-term for family issues.
Lamoureux, who also was unopposed for re-election this year, said outgoing Senate Pro Tem Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, and the late state Rep. Jodie Mahony, a Democrat from El Dorado, have been influences on his career in the Legislature.
He said Bookout "treated me as good as you would want to be treated" after he was elected to the Senate in 2009. "There was never a moment where he treated me any different than anybody else, and I’m sure I wore him out with questions."
Mahony showed him how to fight for a bill and then move on to the next issue with no hard feelings, he said.
As a freshman Republican in 2003, Lamoureux said he went toe-to-toe with Mahony, who at that time had already spent more than 30 years in the Legislature, during a committee meeting.
"We had fought on an issue and I thought, ‘okay, the next time I see him it’s going to be awkward. He is going to be mad at me,’" Lamoureux said. "So later, he comes up to me and starts talking to me about something else. I start waiting for him rehash the old, and it was like it never happened. He was really good about doing that kind of teaching, teaching us how to fight with each other and then moving on and seeing the big picture."
Lamoureux said his goal for the 2013 session "is for the Senate to be an effective organization."
"You have got to be aware of all the different factions and you’ve got to be aware of who gets along and what people’s interests are," he said. "But I think if that’s the goal and you are not picking sides or doing everything else, it’s easier because you are trying to make sure that the other 34 members are successful. That’s the way Paul (Bookout) did the job."
Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, was earlier elected Senate president pro tem-designate for the 2013 session, but later agreed to step aside if Republicans won a majority of Senate seats this year. Lamoureux was unanimously elected earlier this month and Teague, at Lamoureux’s urging, was selected chairman of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Lamoureux said he is willing to debate issues with Democrats and is not against compromising.
"On a lot of issues, you already know what you think before you start," he said. "I’m pro-life. I don’t need to have an eight-hour meeting about that. I already know what I think.
"On the Medicaid shortfall … I think there are a million different points of view. A lot of people have concerns but they don’t know what their position is yet, so I think that it’s different in the sense that we’ve got a long way to go just to make sure that everyone understands the facts."
Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, who is term-limited, praised the selection of Lamoureux as the next Senate pro tem, saying he has a strong work ethic, is willing to listen and "works well across party lines."
"I think he set the tone when he references former Sen. Bob Johnson’s comments after the election," Baker said. "When you get down here after the election you have got to put the state of Arkansas before party."
Baker said Lamoureux "will not back off one bit his conservatives principles and that is the key to being a statesman, to be able to not set aside your core convictions but yet also come together and get the work done."