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Beebe: More partisanship in House than expected

By Andrew Demillo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 1 2011 4:35 p.m. MDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he was surprised by increased partisanship in the state House after lawmakers wrapped up a session where a wave of Republican legislators split more with the Democratic governor on issues ranging from tax cuts to health care.

Though he didn't single out any legislators in particular, Beebe said he believed the House had turned more partisan during this year's legislative session. Lawmakers recessed on Friday, but planned to return Monday to complete work on congressional redistricting.

"The partisan squabbling in the House was much greater than I'd thought you'd see," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol.

"There are folks that say this is the maturing of a two-party system and that they like it. There are others who say this is what's wrong with Washington and it's just too partisan and folks just line up with initials behind their name and they don't like it," Beebe said. "I will answer your question if you're asking me. My opinion is I don't like the way Washington does business and I don't want to see it in Arkansas."

Beebe, who served 20 years in the state Senate, said he did not see the same level of partisanship in that chamber.

Democrats hold a majority in both chambers, but Republicans gained their biggest legislative numbers in last year's election. Along with those numbers came a new clout and new disagreements with Beebe.

The latest came this week, when a group of Republican House members blocked passage of the state Insurance Department budget over objections to plans to create a health insurance exchange through the federal health care law. The measure eventually was passed after the sponsor of the health exchange legislation decided to drop his proposal so it could be studied further.

Beebe has said that move increases the likelihood that the federal government will end up running the state's insurance exchange.

Though Beebe also won support for his top legislative priority — a half-cent cut in the state's grocery tax — he had to compromise with lawmakers pushing for other tax cuts. Beebe eventually signed into law a $35 million package of tax cuts. Along with his grocery tax cut, it included a cut in the sales tax on used cars and a back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Republicans in both chambers disagreed over the governor's partisanship comments. House Minority Leader John Burris, R-Harrison, pointed to the tax cut package as an example of bipartisanship.

"I think you probably see more opinions and more passion than you've seen in past sessions maybe," Burris said. "I think that's something that should be embraced and not criticized. I think it moved the conversation in a positive direction."

Sen. Ruth Whitaker, the top Republican in the Senate, said she blamed many of the freshmen from both parties for increased partisanship in the Legislature. Whitaker said she didn't see as much of it in the Senate. Whitaker wouldn't single out any lawmakers by name.

"Sure, we disagree sometimes, but we sometimes work it out as friends," said Whitaker, R-Cedarville. "It's a lot of the new ones, they haven't learned that. They have abused the decorum and dignity of the state Capitol."

Associated Press Writer Chuck Bartels contributed to this report.

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