All 100 members of the Arkansas House of Representatives were seated today on the first day of the 93rd General Assembly’s regular session after rumblings that one closely contested seat could be challenged.
On Monday, Jan. 11, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston presented the full list of members elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives, noting that each individual had “received the highest number of votes cast in his or her respective house district” and that the results had been certified by his office. Following the roll call of representatives, Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) made a motion to seat all of the members and to have the oath of office administered by the Arkansas Chief Justice Dan Kemp.
In the subsequent vote, 96 representatives voted “yea,” in favor of Gray’s motion. Two members, Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) voted “present,” while one member, Gayla McKenzie (R-Gravette) voted “nay,” agains the motion.
This vote put an end to challenges over the District 32 seat, which has been hotly contested since the Nov. 3 general election. Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock) won the general election over incumbent JIm Sovillo by 24 votes.
Sorvillo launched a series of legal challenges to the election result, with his claim focused on 372 disqualified absentee ballots. He filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County that was dismissed and that he later appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. In addition, he filed a contest with the Arkansas Claims Commission, which rejected his argument.
The representatives later voted to install Rep. Matthew J. Shepherd (R-El Dorado) as the House Speaker. During his acceptance speech, Shepherd evoked the words of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, calling for the chamber to work together toward common goals.
“We gather now in our state’s Capitol perhaps still wounded from our own political battles or deeply burdened by the weight of an increasing divide. So let us commit now to doing instead of discord and to discovery rather than destroying. How we choose to conduct business in this chamber will set an example for Arkansans now and for generations to come,” Shepherd said.
With the seating, the Arkansas House of Representatives is now composed of 78 Republicans and 22 Democrats.