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 (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
Tim Griffin Republican 2015 2023
Leslie Rutledge Republican 2023

For additional information:
Arkansas Lieutenant Governor. (accessed March 3, 2022).

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 CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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