Arkansas House Elects 1st Black Speaker-Designate

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Arkansas, the state that is infamously known for its harsh segregationist past and home to the capital that gave nine black young people hell for daring to integrate Little Rock Central High School more than 50 years ago, is in position to see a black man leading its House of Representatives.

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State Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) was elected to as speaker-delegate by his peers by a vote of 54-46, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Speaker-Designate Darrin Williams Talks About Historic Election

The Democrat-Gazette has more:

Williams, D-Little Rock, ran against Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron. Both men promised bipartisanship approaches to the role with Williams calling on members to avoid “Washington D.C.-style politics.”

“My vision for our house is that we honor our republic form of government by focusing on collective efforts on representing the needs and the interests of the people,” he said in a speech before the election. “I’m a proud Democrat, but I respect the Republicans in this chamber.”

The vote, by secret ballot, may have been along party lines. There are 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans in the house.

There is a catch, however. Williams is speaker-designate of the 88th General Assembly, but the 89th Assembly convenes in January 2013. The article states that, regardless of which party wins the House, the 89th Assembly must confirm the speaker-designate as speaker. If the Republicans win, it may be a problem for Williams. Please read the Democrat-Gazzette article for details behind why they report Williams may not assume the Speaker spot come November.

Regardless of the political calculus that will play out in November, the historical significance of Williams election cannot be underestimated. Especially for a state like Arkansas with such a tumultuous history with race. But Williams seems to be taking his victory in stride so far.

“Clearly it’s nice, but I’ve been black for 43 years, so I’m kind of used to this,” he said. “So I don’t feel any different.”

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