Legislators from across Arkansas will gather at the Capitol next week to begin three months of controlled chaos that thankfully occur only once every two years.
Some of the 135 lawmakers will be particularly interesting to watch.
Before listing them, for any left-out legislator who happens to read this column, notice I wrote “some” and “interesting.” Sometimes important work doesn’t create headlines. Sometimes, you’re doing something I just don’t know about yet. And sometimes it’s just not your year.
In no particular order, starting with the Senate …
• Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs. He’s the Senate president pro tempore, the top dog. He chaired a legislative task force on tax cuts and another one dealing with health care. He’s also Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew, which must be included in any profile of him. He says they disagree sometimes in private, but they’re clearly allies. He was kind of a bomb-thrower when he was younger, but age, circumstances and leadership responsibilities have mellowed him, and he governs pragmatically.
• Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado. He, on the other hand, is a bomb thrower. The former aide to Sen. Tom Cotton has already filed bills to expand gun rights two years after being an outspoken advocate for expanding one of 2017’s most controversial gun bills – the one that OK’d them on college campuses and, until amended, at football games.
• Sens. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, and Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville. They’re trying to pass a “red flag” law creating a judicial process for temporarily removing guns from potentially dangerous people. Hutchinson has said he’s not against the idea in principle but hasn’t seen a bill he could support. Florida’s Republican governor signed such a bill in 2018. But Bond and Leding are Democrats, and this is Arkansas, so Garner has a much better chance of passing his pro-gun bills than they do of theirs.
• Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. A passionate liberal, she probably won’t pass many of her big bills, but she’s an eloquent defender of her causes. A big one for her: freeing the Little Rock School District from state control.
• Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs. He’s filing a bill to replace Arkansas’ two statues in the U.S. Capitol. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a particularly important issue. But this one could be fun.
• Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. She is chairing a new Senate ethics committee meant to curb abuses that have led to the convictions of five former lawmakers and the indictment of another. It would investigate complaints by one senator against another. Most likely, no senator will dare tattle on another. But if one does, then Irvin will be in a very interesting position.
• Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado. He’s the new speaker of the House, the most powerful member of that chamber. Everyone at the Capitol will be interested to see how he exercises that power.
• Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville. He’s been advocating for increased highway funding for years, to no avail. This year, the governor has made that issue a priority. Could this be Douglas’ time, or will he want too much?
• Rep. Andy Davis, R-North Little Rock. He lost to Shepherd in his bid for House speaker, but he’s still influential and is leading Hutchinson’s legislative efforts to transform state government. He’ll also have a big say about highways.
• Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success. As chair of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, he’ll influence tax changes that arise this session.
• Sens. X and Reps. Y. In the next three months, other legislators will propose important or newsworthy bills, or they’ll say or tweet something that makes national news. One or more might find themselves in legal hot water.
Who will those be? It will be interesting to find out.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.