Over the years Arkansas has demonstrated its uniqueness in political matters. At the same election the people of the state voted for Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican, for governor, Bill Fullbright, a liberal Democrat, for the Senate, and George Wallace, a redneck, for president. I remember these stories from growing up in the 1930s and 40s.
Bill Fullbright’s mother was editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times while her son was serving as president of the University of Arkansas. She was a remarkable lady who called them the way she saw them. When a governor’s race didn’t go to suit her, she said the people of Arkansas had elected a backslapper rather than a statesman. This ended Fullbright’s tenure as president of the University, but he had his revenge some years later when he defeated the man who replaced him in the race for the U.S. Senate.
Joe T. Robinson, Senate leader and vice presidential running mate for Al Smith in 1928, had an eventful January in 1913. He left his seat in Congress January 14, took office as Governor of Arkansas the 15th and was named to the Senate 12 days later, the last Senator to be elected by a state legislature before the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which provided for the direct election of senators.
For years our family doctor represented the county in the General Assembly which, at that time, met for a period of thirty days. He would run hiself ragged caring for people for 11 months and would unwind (maybe imbibe) for a month in Little Rock. In those days the Marion Hotel in Little Rock was the meeting place for the state. Much of the legislation originated in the Gar Hole, a pub in the basement. An aquarium behind the bar housed this ever present gar. I have been told that this watering hole was named for our doctor because of his vigorous opposition to a measure that would outlaw the gigging of fish.
Some years later a candidate campaigning against another representative told voters that the inmates in the asylum liked him. They say, “he is just like us.” Dalton Ham, the former East Newton superintendent’s father, was once the head of the minority party in the General Assembly. He was the only Republican in the body (that’s changed today). Prior to World War II a distant cousin of mine was a political columnist for the Arkansas Gazette, the leading newspaper in the state. He said the reason they called the legislature a body was because it had no head.
An influential state senator from Beebe had considerable sway over the highway department in the days before the state had an independent commission. It was difficult traveling north out of Little Rock because the highway was routed by several of his properties. On one occasion he was advised that the legislation he was proposing was unconstitutional. Headlines in the Arkansas Gazette quoted his response from the floor of the Senate, “To H--- with the Constitution, I’m here to represent the people of Arkansas.” As you can see from this column, I haven’t represented the state very well either.
Page 2 of 2 - Roy Shaver writes a weekly column for the Daily News.