LITTLE ROCK — In the first sign of a new order in the Legislature, winners in Tuesday’s state Senate races elected a Republican as their new leader Thursday.
Republicans also claimed a bare majority in the House in the general election, barring reversal of a House race that will go to a recount next week, and could take steps as early as Friday toward nullifying an earlier vote in which Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, was elected House speaker-designate for the 2013 session.
Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, was elected Senate president pro tem by an incoming Senate membership that will have a Republican majority for the first time since Reconstruction. GOP candidates won 21 of 35 Senate seats in Tuesday’s general election.
Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, had been chosen to the post at the end of the last session. Lamoureux said Thursday that he and Teague had previously agreed that the Senate leadership post would go to the party that won a majority in Tuesday’s election.
Lamoureux was elected Thursday by voice vote. He was the only nominee for the post. He will replace outgoing Senate leader Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro.
Teague was elected Senate chairman of the powerful legislative Joint Budget Committee.
Winners of Tuesday’s House races were scheduled to gather Friday at the Capitol for an organizational meeting. Outgoing House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr. said Thursday he expects a petition to be filed, possibly Friday, seeking to overturn Williams’ selection as speaker-designate for the regular session that begins in January.
Republicans made clear before the general election that they would move to select a new House leader if they emerged from the election with a House majority.
"I reasonably expect, from communications with leaders in the Republican caucus, that will occur," Moore said Thursday.
He said that if he received a petition signed by at least 50 members newly elected to the House that called the election of the speaker-designate into question, he would call a special organizational meeting as early as next week to determine if at least 51 members support Williams for House speaker. If Williams did not garner that measure of support, Moore said, he would declare the position vacant and open the floor for new candidates. A new election could be held the same day, he said.
"We’re in totally uncharted waters here," Moore said. "We’re trying to look at precedent, look at other applicable rules that are not specifically on point, but giving us the best guidance that we can that creates the least controversy."
Williams, who would be the first black House speaker, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday, and neither did House GOP caucus leaders.
Meanwhile, the Jackson County Election Commission said Thursday it would conduct a recount next Tuesday in the House District 52 House race between Democrat L.J. Bryant of Grubbs and Republican John K. Hutchison of Harrisburg.
Bryant lost the race to Hutchison by 44 votes according to unofficial results released by the secretary of state’s office, giving the GOP a 51-seat majority in the 100-member House. If the recount were to reverse the outcome, Republicans would be left with 50 seats while Democrats would hold 49 and one seat would be held by a member of the Green Party.
Bryant submitted a request for a recount on Thursday, said Michelle Winemiller, deputy court clerk for Jackson County. She said the commission met Thursday afternoon and set a date for the recount.
The recount will be conducted at Bryant’s expense at a cost of 25 cents per ballot, not to exceed $2,500.
Winemiller said the recount will include one provisional ballot. The ballot was cast for Hutchison. Election officials also have received one overseas military ballot but are prohibited by law from counting it until 10 days after the election, she said.
Most of the newly elected members of the Senate attended Thursday’s organizational meeting, including Sen.-elect Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who said he was excited to be part of the legislative process.
"We just start meeting people, understanding the relationships and how we’re going to move forward," said Hester. "We as a Republican caucus, we ran on certain issues — less government, less taxes, holding the line on Medicaid and some pro-life legislation — that’s what we ran on, what we were elected on and what we intend to do."
Hester said he was pleased to see a bipartisan spirit among senators.
"Democrats are in charge of some committees and Republicans are in charge of some committees, and I think that is a good sign for Arkansas," he said.
Bookout was elected Senate chairman of Legislative Council, the body of lawmakers that oversees state government between legislative sessions.
Sen.-elect Brian King, R-Green Forest, who is completing his third House term, was elected Senate chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
Other Senate committee chairmen selected Thursday include Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, Education Committee; Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee; Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, Revenue and Taxation Committee; and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, will serve as Senate majority leader and Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, will serve as majority whip during the upcoming session, while Sen.-elect Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, will serve as Senate minority leader and Sen.-elect Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, a three-term House member, was elected minority whip.
John Lyon contributed to this report.