Tuesday, March 25, 2014

TOP STORY >> Gillam to reassess private option

Leader senior staff writer

Jeremy Gillam, a White County farmer, is the House speaker-designate for the next session of the state General Assembly.

Gillam, a Judsonia Republican who won 57 of 100 votes in a four-man race last Wednesday, said he’s not absolutely committed to health care insurance for the working poor, although he’s supported the expansion this session and last year.

He said he was committed to taking a hard look at the current program, popularly known as the private option, when the biennial policy session of the General Assembly convenes in January.


“I don’t necessarily have that agenda,” Gillam said. “My goal is to see us put out sound policy. If it’s working, we can proceed.”

Gillam, 35, said the legislature should monitor costs. “For right now, we’re charged with protecting the state budget. A healthy workforce is more productive.”

Gillam and the three representatives he defeated in the speaker race all voted for the private option. The others were Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) and Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock).


His election is not necessarily binding. If Democrats win back the House in November, there could be a new speaker election in January.

“I’ve been running from one meeting to the next,” Gillam said Friday. He spoke at the Political Animals Club at the Governor’s mansion, talked with media and visited some agencies.

“We’re going to begin planning for the 2015 session, getting structure set up for that, make sure the membership is ready,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gillam says state Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) “is still very much the speaker until January.”

At the end of last year’s session, Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) was elected speaker-designate. But, when the Republicans gained control of the House, the speaker’s race came down to Carter and Terry Rice (R-Waldron). Carter won support of enough Democrats to win the speakership.


Rice is a foe of the private option, and Carter was one of the staunchest defenders and authors of Arkansas’ innovative solution. So Carter’s election may have been pivotal in the eventual passage in the House of the private-option Medicaid expansion.

The House speaker sets the agenda.

Gillam said he hasn’t settled on a chief of staff yet. “We have a great staff there right now.”

Carter’s chief of staff is Gabe Holmstrom, a Democrat.

“He’s a good friend of mine,” he said, “working to make the transition as smooth and productive as possible.”


In January, the General Assembly will have to deal with education, higher education, workforce education and “a whole host of other needs — health care costs and highway funding issues, for example,” he said.

“I’m going to be meeting with Sen. (Jane) English as we move forward,” he said, regarding reorganization of workforce education.

English, a North Little Rock Republican, was the critical 26th vote to pass the private option in the Senate. An opponent of the private option, she said she traded her vote in exchange for meaningful reorganization of workforce education and skills training.

“The membership as a whole is engaged in this,” Gillam said. “Higher education is not the right path for everyone.”

He said he wants to make sure everyone has employment opportunities.


In other business before adjourning last Wednesday, both houses overrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of language defining sand as “equipment,” giving a tax break to out-of-state companies fracking in Arkansas.

The vote was 55-41, with Republicans voting to override, while all but four Democrats, including Rep. Mark Perry (D- Jacksonville) supported the governor. The tax break may be headed for a court challenge.

Gillam is a graduate of Beebe High School. He attended Arkansas State University in Beebe and received degrees in criminology and psychology from Arkansas State University.

He has served on the White County Farm Bureau board of directors, the ASU-Beebe Development Council and the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Board.

Gillam has been recognized with several awards from the Arkansas Farm Bureau, and, in 2010, he was a runner-up for the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award.

He and his wife, Carissa, have two young sons.