Wednesday, January 11, 2006

TOP STORY >> Speaker contest: political hardball

Leader staff writer

Failure to solidify promised votes from Pulaski County legislators cost Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, the election Monday to become the next speaker of the state House of Representatives, according to state Rep. Sam Ledbetter of Little Rock.

Bond lost the race to Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, 58-42. Nine more votes would have given Bond a 51-49 victory. (See editorial, p. 8A.)
Petrus will become speaker in the next regular session, a year from now, provided that he’s re-elected to his current position.

“I’ve analyzed the race, said Ledbetter, who was active in Bond’s campaign. “Pulaski County votes we should have had moved on us late. Some people changed their minds.”

Bond said he was surprised and disappointed by the outcome.

Many have speculated that Deltic Timber and other powerful outside interests swung the vote for Petrus, an ally of theirs, but “Third party influence wouldn’t have much effect,” Bond said after the defeat.
Not everyone was so charitable.

“This outcome signifies, better than anything, that the 2007 session will be Old School,” Arkansas Times said on its Web site just minutes after Bond’s defeat. “The lobbyists will be sitting pretty in the House.

“Petrus has not a hint of progressivity. … He was a firm supporter of Deltic Timber in the Lake Maumelle fight and a reliable opponent to progressive school legislation.”

But Bond said simply, “The members just decided who would be best for them and best for the job and it wasn’t me.”
Petrus began campaigning earlier and Bond said that probably helped.

“He had a better plan for winning than we did,” Bond said. “Our plan to win was to appeal to people’s better angles.”
It’s a leap to say some special interests get a boost from the speaker’s race, Bond said.

“There will be 30 new members,” he said. “You can’t predict what their thoughts and views are.”
Bond sought Petrus out after current Speaker Bob Stovall, D-Quitman, announced the results to congratulate him.
“Benny is the winner,” Bond said.

Bond, who held an important chairmanship under Stovall, said he didn’t know if Petrus would give him such a chairmanship.
“We promised (regardless of the outcome) to sit down and talk about our ideas, but he’s the speaker designate,” Bond said. “Those are choices that he gets to make.”

“I never said ‘I’ll be the next speaker,’” Bond said.

In addition to dealing with big questions about education, Bond said he was concerned about the elderly.
“We’ll have double the number of elderly by 2030, and we need to make sure they can stay in their homes as long as possible,” he said. “It’s cheaper (than nursing homes) and that’s what people want to do.”

He said he would continue to push the state to be more progressive, and to press the Pulaski County Special School District for a reconfiguration favorable for Jack-sonville.

“I’m a big supporter of Will Bond,” said Ledbetter, who will be out of office next January because of term limits. “I think he is among the smartest, hardest-working, most-talented legislators I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He’s at the top of my list. He’s a good person, has good values, and he would have done a wonderful job.

“The (Jacksonville) district is fortunate to have a person of his caliber; I’ve been proud to serve with him.”

Ledbetter, who sat next to Petrus in chambers, said he had his differences with Petrus.

“We’ve disagreed on many issues,” Ledbetter said, including Deltic Timber’s Lake Maumelle Reservoir’s development, with Pet-rus supports.