Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

TOP STORY >>Bond: 'I'll be next speaker'

IN SHORT: Jacksonville lawyer, a rising star in the Democratic Party serving his second term as a state representative, says he thinks he’ll have the 51 votes he needs to be the next speaker of the House.

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The most powerful voice in the state House of Representatives when it reconvenes about a year from now is likely to be Jacksonville’s favorite son, state Rep. Will Bond.

Bond, who has established himself as a careful, thoughtful legislator throughout his first and second terms, says he expects to have the 51 votes he needs for election as speaker of the House when it meets Jan. 9 expressly for the purpose of selecting its future leader.

Running against Bond is state Rep. Benny Petrus of Stuttgart. Both are Democrats.
Petrus, who is a farmer and automobile dealer, could not be reached for comment this week.
The current speaker, state Rep. Bob Stovall, D-Bigelow, will serve until the beginning of the next regular session in January 2007.

Bond has a Jacksonville law practice and was active in the Educating Our Children group that fought a hard, but so far unsuccessful battle to allow Jacksonville and north Pulaski County to detach from the Pulaski County Special School District, forming their own district.

Bond chaired the House City, County and Local Affairs Commit-tee, where Deltic Timber’s controversial bill to strip regulatory authority and the power of eminent domain from Central Arkansas Water died last session.
The bill was part of Deltic’s strategy to build mini-estates on the banks of Lake Maumelle, central Arkansas’ primary drinking water reservoir.

Petrus supported the Deltic bill, and Deltic has at least once raised funds for his campaign as speaker.
“We feel like we’re going to win,” Bond said on Monday of the speaker’s race. “I feel like we have more than 51 votes. Some are still undecided and uncommitted. We’re very confident we can maintain momentum through (the Jan. 9 election.)”

No matter how many of the House’s 100 representatives show up for the vote, it will take 51 votes to win. This will be the first time the speaker will be chosen between regular sessions, Bond said. It’s possible for him to be elected speaker Jan. 9, then lose the regular election next November.

Bond said being speaker “is about being inclusive of all points of view and encouraging vigorous debate. It’s the speaker’s job to make sure everyone’s had a fair shot.”

Bond said that because of term limits, “The House can’t be led based on experience. It must be led by knowledge and fairness.”

Bond said he hadn’t promised committee chairmanships to anyone. “We want people who work hard and are talented,” he said. “It takes a hundred members to run the House effectively. You can’t gather up 10 or 20 people and try to run it your own way.

“One of the important things is to be able to sit down and look each other in the face and talk about differences of opinions without yelling and screaming.

“I don’t think it’s the speaker’s job to have a legislative agenda.
“The speaker needs to have the big picture, knowledge of budget, how to work with the Senate and executive branch to come up with a balanced budget.”
Because he says the race is not about issues, Bond was reluctant to discuss differences between his and Petrus’ voting records, but when pressed, he did say, “My voting record for pre-K and K-12 is a lot different than Benny’s. We’ve had to increase funding levels for those. That’s the future of Arkansas, making sure our public schools are first class. That required additional funding and accountability, which I was committed to.”

Bond said he expected education, the Deltic-Lake Maumelle water and condemnation issue, economic development and in light of special election failures Dec. 13, highway and higher education funding to be among the pressing items facing the next regular session of the state legislature beginning in January 2007.
“We’re going to have a new governor for the first time in 10 years,” Bond said. “We need to work with the new governor.”

Bond said he believes he has strong support among some Republicans, but that a probable majority will back Petrus, who voted with Republicans to shut down the legislature without a budget in 2003.
Bond has practiced law in Jacksonville for 10 years and his partners have included Pat O’Brien, now the Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk, and his current partner, Neil Chamberlin.
He and his wife, the former Gabriel Wood of North Little Rock, have a 4-year-old son and twin daughters born this year.

Bond attended Jacksonville schools and graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1988. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Vanderbilt University and a law degree from the Uni-versity of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

As a trial lawyer, his practice is about 50 percent personal injury, a quarter divorce and custody and the balance general law.

Bond said he serves because “to those given much, much is expected.”
“I had a wonderful upbringing by my parents, went to a great school and law school — chances many don’t have,” Bond said. “I love people, being a lawyer and hearing about people’s problems and understanding government.”

Bond said if he is re-elected for this third term next November, he intends to retire from politics at the completion of his next two-year term — at least for a while.