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Office of Lieutenant Governor

The office of lieutenant governor did not exist in territorial Arkansas or in the Arkansas constitution of 1836. Instead, the office was first added in 1864 with the Unionist government led by Governor Isaac Murphy. Governors and lieutenant governors (along with several other statewide offices) were to be elected by the voters of the state to four-year terms. The Reconstruction-era constitution of 1868 also included the office of lieutenant governor.

The two principal tasks of the lieutenant governor are to preside over the Arkansas Senate and to replace the governor should the governor die in office or resign (as several governors have resigned to assume other elected offices, most often United States senator). On the first occasion when this provision was to take effect, Powell Clayton resigned as governor to take his place in the U.S. Senate only after James Johnson was persuaded to resign as lieutenant governor and become secretary of state so that Ozro Hadley, president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate, would instead become acting governor. Clayton insisted upon this arrangement because of his political disagreements with Johnson and his confidence that Hadley would continue Clayton’s policies in Arkansas.

The new constitution of 1874 did not include the office of lieutenant governor, but a popular referendum in 1914 amended the constitution to restore the office. At first, the office remained vacant, as the Arkansas Supreme Court’s interpretation of popular referenda was that items had to receive a majority of votes from those participating in the election rather than a majority of votes cast on the particular referendum issue. The court reversed itself in 1925 and ruled that its reversal applied to the office of lieutenant governor in 1926, meaning that the election that fall selected the first lieutenant governor of Arkansas since the time of Reconstruction.

From 1926 until 1986, the lieutenant governor served two-year terms; since 1986, the office has been held for four-year terms. Term limits were introduced by initiated constitutional amendment in 1992. Because governors and lieutenant governors are nominated and elected separately rather than as a ticket, they often have different policies. The governor and lieutenant governor of Arkansas have sometimes even been from different political parties—in 1981–1983 when Frank White (Republican) was governor and Winston Bryant (Democrat) was lieutenant governor, and again in 1993–1996 when Jim Guy Tucker (Democrat) was governor and Mike Huckabee (Republican) was lieutenant governor.

Lieutenant governors Harvey Parnell, Jim Guy Tucker, and Mike Huckabee all became governor upon the resignation of their predecessors and were then elected to subsequent terms as governor. Lee Cazort, Bob Riley, and Joe Purcell each served as governor for a few days between the resignation of the then-current governor (usually to assume another office, such as U.S. senator) and the inauguration of the governor-elect. Despite the fact that these three individuals did serve, constitutionally, as governor—complete with inauguration ceremonies of their own and, in the case of Riley, an official portrait—they are not counted in the official list of governors by the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. 

Because the position of lieutenant governor is seen by many as not particularly critical to the functioning of state government, it has been allowed to remain vacant for stretches of time. When Winthrop Paul Rockefeller died on July 16, 2006, state Democratic and Republican officials agreed not to hold a special election, as a regular election was scheduled for later that year. Similarly, in January 2014, when Mark Darr announced his resignation in the face of an impeachment threat over the misspending of state and campaign funds, debate ensued over the need to hold a special election to fill the role.

Lieutenant Governor

Party Affiliation

Began

Ended

Calvin C. Bliss

Republican

1864

1868

James M. Johnson

Republican

1868

1871

Vonley V. Smith

Republican (Min.)

1872

1874

Harvey Parnell

Democrat

1927

1928

Lee Cazort

Democrat

1929

1931

Lawrence E. Wilson

Democrat

1931

1933

Lee Cazort

Democrat

1933

1937

Robert L. (Bob) Bailey

Democrat

1937

1943

James L. Shaver

Democrat

1943

1947

Nathan Gordon

Democrat

1947

1967

Maurice L. “Footsie” Britt

Republican

1967

1971

Bob Riley

Democrat

1971

1975

Joe Purcell

Democrat

1975

1981

Winston Bryant

Democrat

1981

1990

Jim Guy Tucker

Democrat

1990

1993

Mike Huckabee

Republican

1993

1996

Winthrop Paul Rockefeller

Republican

1996

2006

Bill Halter

Democrat

2007

2011

Mark Darr

Republican

2011

2014

For additional information:
Arkansas Lieutenant Governor. http://www.ltgovernor.arkansas.gov/ (accessed December 15, 2008).

Blair, Diane, and Jay Barth. Arkansas Politics and Government. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Donovan, Timothy P., Willard B. Gatewood Jr., and Jeannie M. Whayne, eds. The Governors of Arkansas: Essays in Political Biography. 2nd ed. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.

Goss, Kay C. The Arkansas Constitution: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 1/13/2014

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