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OPINION: Was 93rd session a long, mean term for state legislators?

by Maylon Rice | May 5, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

I have written much about the 93rd General Assembly, which went into recess last week after 108 days of existence -- the longest since the 1930s -- and one of the most emotionally draining sessions -- even when compared to sessions where there was no money for programs.

But I'll step back this week and hear from what some of the elected officials -- especially what those in the 100-member House of Representatives have to say about the last 108 days.

Take a moment and read their words:

State Rep. Nicole Clowney, Democrat from House District 86:

"This session has been heartbreaking and exhausting. It's not easy to feel like we're shouting into the void against legislation that feels so patently wrong and at the same time, inevitable. Or to run bills that we know will fail, just because we can't stay silent. Or to be away from family and friends who are sacrificing so, so much to keep things moving at home," Clowney posted on her Facebook page.

"Yes, the days can be hard. But, District 86, I remain so HAPPY to get to do this job. The bad bills we stopped, the good bills we got through, the hard conversations we started and the relationships we forged to make our work better in future sessions ... those things make every devastating day and sleepless night worth it."

I will never forget how lucky I am to serve."

State Rep. Gayla Hendren McKenzie, Republican from House District 92, from Gravette:

"It takes a special kind of legislator to present two back-to-back bills in the same committee and not get a single question or a motion to pass. Just awkward silence, until the chairman mercifully tells you that your bill has failed. And then repeat," she wrote recently on her Facebook page.

"The bills were actually just resolutions to change the House rules on the selection of committee chairs and vice-chairs. I believe that a change in rules will help restore a better balance of power and give a greater voice to our constituents.

"... An hour after this committee meeting, I was laughing with one of its members on the house floor. Never take it personally.

"Here's my political update for the day: We (the Legislature) propose too many bills. We pass too many bills. Not every good idea that we have should become law."

State Rep. Denise Garner, Democrat from Fayetteville representing House District 84.

"And we are recessed! The House is now in an extended recess. We will return in the fall to address redistricting. We returned to the chamber shortly after midnight to concur in an amendment. I will continue to update you during the interim. Zoom and/or in-person updates coming soon. I so appreciate all your support while in session. I can't wait to get home!"

State Rep. David Whitaker, Democrat from Fayetteville, representing House District 85, posted a photo on Facebook of his lush green backyard at his home near the UA campus and wrote:

"So, my 'End of the Session' picture isn't the Capitol or the House Chamber, because I think we've all seen enough of that for a while. Taking some time to recharge here in the front garden. Lots of life energy pouring out of this place. It is good. Take care of yourselves while I'm away. I will be back soon! Thanks for your support and kindness during the past 108 days!"

• • •

And there you have some of the voices from the House on how the 108-day session, the longest since the Depression, was perceived from within the Chamber.

History and perhaps a court challenge or two will sort out the details of the Legislature's activities -- it always, it seems, does.

--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.


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