A three-term Democratic state Representative - who was unopposed in the past two elections - is switching parties and thus giving Republicans a supermajority in the Arkansas House. State Representative David Hillman of Almyra made the announcement on Tuesday.
Hillman says the change in affiliation, to the majority party, is about trying to get things done for his east Arkansas district.
“I could be in a position to influence people over here in Little Rock, to help my district. It’s in little things. It’s not a big thing and I didn’t ask for anything. I’ve only talked to the Speaker [Jeremy Gillam] twice about it and once was yesterday. I haven’t talked to the governor or anything like that. This was my decision and what was best for my district,” said Hillman. “I came to the conclusion that in order for my constituents to have the service that they deserve, I could better do that as a Republican than I could as a Democrat.”
Hillman is the second Democratic legislator to switch to the Republican Party since the general election. State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw of the south Arkansas hamlet of Hermitage switched a few days after securing his re-election. The two defections, plus nine seats picked up by the GOP on Election Day, give the party 75 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
The three-fourths majority is enough to pass appropriation bills in the House without the support of a single Democrat. In the Senate, Democrats are barely holding off a Republican supermajority. Republicans have 24 of 35 seats in the upper chamber.
But the change in affiliation shouldn’t impact the balance of power in some sense; Hillman says he’s always been conservative anyway.
“What I tell Democrats, Republicans, whatever is just because I have changed parties, I have not changed any of my views and I’m not going to change any of my votes,” he says. “Those that know me already know that. Those that don’t, I’ll be glad to visit with them and talk to them about it. But my answer to everyone is the same, it’s the true honest thing, I want to do what’s best for my district.”
The 72-year-old says the presidential race was not a factor in his decision. Donald Trump carried Arkansas County with 3,825 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 1,939. Hillman, a farmer, is best known for advocating for trade with Cuba. He notes it’s a rare area of agreement he’s had with Democratic President Barack Obama.
A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas declined to comment on the loss to their already-thin ranks in the legislature.
In a statement, Republican Party of Arkansas Chair Doyle Webb was happy to have Hillman in the fold.
“We welcome Representative Hillman to the Republican Party with open arms. After such historic election results in Arkansas, we are very optimistic and excited for the future of the Republican Party in our state. We are pleased to see another legislator want to represent the conservative values Arkansans believe in."