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Ark. legislators elect first black House speaker

The Arkansas House of Representatives elects its first African-American speaker. Representative Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) says he's ready to serve next year but the elections in the fall could change that.

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas House of Representatives elects its first African-American speaker. Representative Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) says he's ready to serve next year but the elections in the fall could change that.

Newly elected House minority leader Representative Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) said Friday if Republicans become the majority party next year, he will move to seat a Republican as speaker.

Democrat Darrin Williams and Republican representative Terry Rice of Waldron both presented speeches on the House floor before the vote.

There has not been a GOP speaker since Reconstruction and that trend continued after a 54-46 secret ballot vote that makes Williams the highest serving African-American since Reconstruction.

"Clearly it's nice but I've been black for 43 years so I'm kind of used to this, so I don't feel any different," Williams says.

Williams told reporters Friday afternoon his goal is to make the next session in his words, "efficient and effective."

"I was not elected majority leader today, I was elected speaker designate for the 89th General Assembly,” Williams says. “That's to work with everybody, Republicans and Democrats."

But he also addressed the possibility of Republicans picking up five seats and becoming the majority for the first time ever and opening up an option to seat a different speaker in January.

"Our rules say this vote is because we intend for this person to speaker, that's what our rules say,” Williams says. “And that's what we've always done."

As the make-up of the house changes, it is possible the way things have always been done, could change next year.

Williams says a key goal for the house next year is dealing with how to pay for Medicaid.

The house is split 54-46 in favor of Democrats. If Republicans pick up five seats in November, they would become the majority party for the first time since Reconstruction.

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