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Ark. GOP, Democrats seek consensus in Legislature

Associated Press Modified: November 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm •  Published: November 7, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republicans and Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature vowed Wednesday to find common ground on tax cuts, Medicaid's future and other divisive issues, a day after voters handed the GOP control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction but left the balance of power in the House up in the air.

Tuesday's election results in Arkansas, where Republicans also swept the state's four congressional seats, complicated the to-do list for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and lawmakers from both parties. Neither party won the so-called supermajority needed to pass budget bills, and the House faced the possibility of neither party controlling an outright majority.

Beebe, who won re-election in 2010 and was his party's chief spokesman for maintaining a legislative majority, said he believed both parties could find a way to work together.

"I have every confidence that the majority, not all, the majority of the men and women in both the Senate and the House, Republicans and Democrats, will rise to the occasion and meet those governing responsibilities in a typical Arkansas, common-sense, pragmatic fashion," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol.

Republicans won 21 of 35 seats in the state Senate. In the House, they held a 50-48-1 edge over Democrats and the Green Party with results from a Benton County contest still to be counted. There was no Democrat in the race, and a GOP victory in a race against an independent would give Republicans control of the House for the first time since 1874.

Though Republicans were already claiming a majority in both chambers, the official call could be days away as technical problems delayed the count.

Democratic Rep. Darrin Williams, the House speaker-designate, indicated he'd like to lead the chamber no matter which party wins a majority.

"The Speaker has always served at the will of the majority of the membership and there should be no difference in the 89th General Assembly, regardless of which party holds the majority in the House of Representatives," Williams said in a statement released by the House.

There was little time for Republicans to savor their victories, or for Democrats to let their newfound minority status in the Legislature sink in. State Senate members planned to meet Thursday to select committee chairmen and elect a new president of that chamber. House members planned to have an organizational meeting Friday.

Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, who was likely to be elected that chamber's new president, indicated that Republican lawmakers did not view Tuesday's results as a mandate to split sharply from Democrats' policies.

"Nothing on the extreme end is going to happen," Lamoureux said. "Anyone who was planning on changing the world in 2013 probably needs to look for another job."

Sen. Robert Thompson, the top Democrat in that chamber, said the ability for both parties to work together would be tested by the high vote threshold for matters such as budget bills.

"It's difficult to get a lot done in the Legislature with a bare majority and so I certainly hope that both houses of the Legislature will be able to operate by consensus and compromise as opposed to a desire to pass an agenda along party lines," Thompson said.

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