Republican House Speaker Davy Carter drew a big crowd at the Clinton School of Public Service Friday, everyone anxious to see what he had to say on the eve of the 89th General Assembly.
Dean Skip Rutherford observed that Carter was the first GOP representative to sit in the speaker's chair since Charles Tankersley in 1871.
At the podium Carter had high praise for the governor, saying, "I'm a big fan of Mike Beebe's. He'll go down as one of the greatest governors in Arkansas history."
But when it got down to his address, Carter kept it simple. In a word: Medicaid.
The new speaker observed that Arkansas was projected to have a $300 million surplus in 2013, and he would like to see the state's Medicaid program fully funded, despite a $140 million shortfall.
He also assured people that there would be no more talk of kicking more than 10,000 Arkansas seniors out of their homes due to the shortfall. In that, Carter seemed to be on the same page as Beebe, who said Monday that keeping seniors in their homes would be his top priority during the session.
Medicaid expansion was another matter.
"I'm not sure we can afford to expand Medicaid," Carter said.
Carter said legislative leaders were exploring other options, mainly, to see if the federal government would allow Arkansas to do a partial Medicaid expansion. His concern, Carter said, was committing Arkansans to a permanent expenditure.