Speaker's Race Redux
"Davy, Davy Carter, King of the Wild Frontier"
By now most of you know that Republican Representative Davy Carter of Cabot has become Speaker of the House (over fellow Republican Terry Rice of Waldron) with the overwhelming support of the House Democrats and a small group of some of the most conservative Republican members. Some conservative activists are alarmed over the turn of events, and others are elated. What's the real story? Read on and you will know.
First of all, the side that made a deal with the Democrats to elevate Carter is not composed of "liberal" Republicans. Carter got six or seven Republican votes, and I can surmise the identity of all but one or two of them. They are some of the staunchest small-government pro-freedom conservatives in the house. Others who were vacillating between Carter and Rice and chose Rice in the end were also among the more pro-limited government conservatives. Indeed, Carter himself seems to be more conservative than Rice in his voting record, and far more conservative than Rice when it comes to what kind of Republicans he would appoint to chair various committees.
To me the #1 issue for those who backed Carter on the Republican side was what sort of Republicans the Speaker would appoint as chair of various committees. Rice was going to freeze out the NWA Conservatives and instead elevate notorious establishment insiders like Jonathan Barnett, Skip Carnine, and Robert Dale. Their numbers on the "Freedom Index" fall at the lower end of the Republican Spectrum. Carter would prefer guys like Charlie Collins and Duncan Baird for committee chairmen. On this important issue Carter should be hands-down the choice of conservatives, and really anyone who has disdain for cronyism.
Some tried to market this as Carter and company doing this primarily for personal ambition. Look, all these guys and gals are ambitious. That is why they do this. I don't see the sense in ascribing the 'personal ambition' angle all to one faction. In fact, those against Carter pointed out that he had not given money to other Republican candidates, while Rice handed out $50,000 of special interest money to them. That is important to Republicans, but Conservatives could not help but notice that the money was handed out based on who could help Terry Rice- not who the conservatives were. Even the most liberal Republican candidate imaginable, who backed Obamacare's provisions right down to the public funding for abortion (see question #8), got significant money from Rice and his special interest backers. Ambition is universal, what differs is the commitment to ideals and the conception of integrity.
The next question then becomes what Carter gave up to get the support of the Democrats. The Democrats say it is a matter of who they trust to give them an impartial hearing. If that's all it is, then conservatives got a good deal with Carter, but of course we have reason to doubt that this is the whole story. More on that in a bit.
Rice took some heat early because he lost two key committees (Public Health and Insurance) to the Democrats. I don't think that it is fair to blame Rice for that, nor would it be fair to blame Carter if the Democrats wind up running those two committees. Legislators pick committee assignment by seniority. Because so many Republicans were elected with this freshman group, Democrats still have the edge on Seniority even if Republicans have a narrow margin on absolute numbers. Rice would have had to have done some Herculean horse trading, including perhaps with some Democrats, to have gotten GOP majorities on all committees.
Still, one of the complaints of the Carter faction was the same one the Democrats had. It seems that Rice was not flexible, no matter who he was dealing with. It did not appear to be a case of ideological inflexibility, which can be a virtue, but rather a personal trait which transcended policy. Indeed one rumor was that shortly before Rice was beaten Carter offered to pull his candidacy if only Rice would change some of his Chair appointments to more conservative members. The word is that Rice flatly refused- not even bothering to counter-offer, despite his precarious position.
So the Democrats get someone that they view as easier and more pleasant to work with, as well as someone they trust not to capriciously game the process of assigning bills to committee. That latter point is critical, as well as open to interpretation. The specter of Obamacare looms over the session. Democrats made a play for the Public Health and Insurance Committees because they anticipate that bills about Obamacare will be routed mostly through those two committees. They think if they can get some of these bills out of the committee then they will pass the full house. I agree, since Beebe will trade favors, the Dem-Gazette will pillory any Republicans who stand firm, and since some Republicans (including those Rice supported) have made noise like they support key elements of the sweeping and costly plan.
There is another committee that is a reasonable choice to review many of the bills that will be introduced to attempt to implement Obamacare - State Agencies. The Republicans should control that one. One key thing to look for is where Carter sends these Obamacare related bills. If they all go to Public Health and Insurance with none to State Agencies, it sends a signal that there was a secret deal. I predict a mix, but we will see. At least you know what to look for now.
One of the biggest decisions is whether or not we expand Medicaid. The Feds claim they will pay for 90% of the cost (100% at first). Why anyone thinks they have any money to do this is beyond me. The government can hardly pay for the Medicaid we have. I predict that if we do it, the Feds will reneg on their commitment and try to stick states with more of the bill. This will happen just after working class people get sucked into and start relying on the system. That's when it will come undone. Remember I warned you.
The bottom line is that the elevation of Carter is not necessarily a blow to conservatives, in fact it could be a boon. Instead of just taking whatever crumbs the establishment gives them, they are pushing for more authority. We will see what Carter does about Obamacare in the House, but I am not sure that anyone could stop it, given the narrow margin and lack of solidarity over it's mandates among the house Republicans.