F or the last couple of months of 1976, I commuted to Little Rock to prepare for my new job. Paul Berry got me some office space on the eighteenth floor of the Union Bank building, where he worked, so I could interview prospective staff members.
A lot of idealistic and able people applied for jobs. I persuaded Steve Smith to become my chief of staff, to make sure we came up with some good policy initiatives while handling the work that came in the door. There were only twenty lawyers on the staff. Some very good ones wanted to stay on with me. I hired some new lawyers, among them young women and black attorneysenough to make our legal staff 25 percent female and 20 percent black, both numbers unheard of in those days.
Sometime in December, Hillary and I found a house at 5419 L Street in the Hillcrest section of Little Rock, a nice old neighborhood close to downtown. At 980 square feet, it was even smaller than our home in Fayetteville and cost a lot more, $34,000, but we could afford it, because in the previous election the voters had approved an increase in the salaries of state and local officials for the first time since 1910, raising the attorney generals salary to $26,500 a year. And Hillary found a good job at the Rose Law Firm, which was full of experienced, highly regarded lawyers and bright younger ones, including my friend Vince Foster and Webb Hubbell, a huge former football star for the Razorbacks who would become one of Hillarys and my closest friends. From then on, she earned much more than I did every year until the year I became President and she gave up her practice.
In addition to issuing opinions on questions of state law, the attorney generals office prosecuted and defended civil suits on behalf of the state; represented the state in criminal appeals to the state supreme court and in criminal cases in federal court; provided legal advice to state boards and commissions; and protected consumer interests through lawsuits, lobbying the legislature, and appearing in utility-rate cases before the state Public Service Commission (PSC). The workload was large, varied, and interesting.
The year got off to a fast start. The legislature went into session in early January and there was a PSC hearing on a request for a large rate increase for Arkansas Power and Light Company, based on the cost of APLs participation in a large nuclear power plant at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, that was being built by its parent company, Middle South Utilities (now Entergy). Since Middle South didnt serve customers directly, the costs of the Grand Gulf plant had to be allocated among its subsidiaries serving Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the city of New Orleans. The Grand Gulf case would consume a lot of my time and attention over the next few years. I had two problems with it: first, because the parent company was building the plant, advance approval by our state PSC was not required, even though our ratepayers were required to pay for 35 percent of it; and second, I thought we could meet the increased demand for electricity much less expensively through energy conservation and more efficient use of existing plants.
In preparing for the hearing, Wally Nixon, a lawyer on my staff, came across the work of Amory Lovins, which demonstrated the enormous potential and economic benefits of energy conservation and solar power. I thought what he said made sense and I got in touch with him. At the time, the conventional wisdom among business and political leaders was that economic growth required constantly increasing electricity production. No matter how strong the evidence supporting it, conservation was viewed as a harebrained fantasy of fuzzy-headed intellectuals. Unfortunately, too many people still look at it that way.
For more than twenty years, as attorney general, governor, and President, I tried to push an alternative-energy policy, using the work of Amory Lovins and others to support my argument. Though I made some modest progress in all three jobs, the opposition remained fierce, especially after the conservatives took over Congress in 1995. Al Gore and I tried for years without success to get them to adopt a 25 percent tax credit for the production or purchase of clean energy and energy conservation technology, with mountains of evidence to support our position. The Republicans blocked it every time. I used to joke that one of the most significant achievements of my second term was that I had finally found a tax cut Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay wouldnt support.
Working with the state legislature was fascinating, not only because the issues were interesting and unpredictable, but also because the House and Senate were full of colorful people, and because sooner or later half the state seemed to show up to lobby for or against some measure. One day early in the legislative session, I appeared at a committee hearing to speak against a measure. The room was packed with people representing interests who were for it, including Vince Foster. And Hillary. He had brought her along for the experience, not knowing I would be appearing for the other side. We just smiled at each other and did our jobs. Luckily, the Rose firm had gotten an opinion from the American Bar Association saying it could hire the wife of the attorney general and setting out the steps necessary to avoid conflicts of interest. Hillary followed them to the letter. After I became governor, and she was a full partner at the Rose firm, she gave up her portion of the annual profits made from state bond business, legal work the firm had been doing since the 1940s.
When I took office, there was a serious backlog of opinions and other work. We often worked until midnight to catch up, and in the process we developed a great rapport and had a terrific time. On Fridays, when the legislature wasnt in session, I allowed casual dress and encouraged everyone to go for a long lunch at a nearby haunt that had first-rate hamburgers, pinball machines, and a shuffleboard game. The old unpainted shack also had a big canoe on the roof and an ominous name, the Whitewater Tavern.
The growing strength of the Moral Majority and like-minded groups gave rise to some legislation that many moderate and progressive legislators didnt want to pass but didnt want to be on record as voting against. The obvious tactic was to get the attorney general to say the bill was unconstitutional. This was an example of another of Clintons laws of politics: If someone can shift the heat from himself to you, hell do it every time.
The funniest bills were offered by Representative Arlo Tyer of Pocahontas, in northeast Arkansas. Arlo was a decent man who wanted to stay one step ahead of the Moral Majority. He introduced a bill to make it illegal to show X-rated movies anywhere in Arkansas, even to adults. I was asked whether the bill was an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech. I could just see the headlines: Attorney General Comes Out for Dirty Movies! I called Bob Dudley, a district judge from Arlos hometown, to find out why hed introduced the bill. Do you have a lot of X-rated movies up there? I asked. Dudley, who was a real wit, said, No. We dont have any movie theaters at all. Hes just jealous of the rest of you seeing all that stuff.
As soon as the movie bill died, Arlo came up with another gem: a $1,500-a-year tax on every couple in Arkansas who lived together without benefit of wedlock. The headline alarm bell went off in my brain again: Clinton Comes Out for Living in Sin! I went to see Representative Tyer on this one. Arlo, I asked, how long do a man and a woman have to cohabit to pay this tax? A year, a month, a week? Or is a one-night stand enough? You know, I hadnt thought about that, he replied. And what about enforcement? I went on. Are you and I going to get baseball bats and knock down doors to see whos doing what with whom? Arlo shrugged and said, I hadnt thought about that either. Maybe I better pull that bill down. I walked back to my office relieved to have dodged another bullet. To my surprise, some of my staff seemed disappointed. A couple of them had decided they wanted the bill to pass and our office to enforce it. They had even imagined their new uniforms: T-shirts emblazoned with the acronym SNIF, for Sex No-no Investigation Force.
We had a tougher time when it came to gay rights. Two years earlier, Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker had spearheaded a new criminal code through the legislature. It simplified and clarified the definitions of more than one hundred years of complicated and overlapping crimes. It also eliminated so-called status offenses, which had been condemned by the Supreme Court. A crime requires committing a forbidden act, intentionally or recklessly; just being something society deems undesirable isnt enough. For example, being a drunk wasnt a crime. Neither was being a homosexual, though it had been before the new code was adopted.
Representative Bill Stancil took a lot of heat from the conservative pastors in his hometown of Fort Smith for his vote in favor of the revised criminal code. They said he had voted to legalize homosexuality. Stancil was a good man who had been one of Arkansas best high school football coaches. He was a muscular, square-jawed, broken-nosed guy, and subtlety wasnt his strong point. He couldnt believe he had voted for homosexuality and was determined to rectify his error before the religious right could punish him for it, so he introduced a bill to make homosexual acts a crime. For good measure, he criminalized bestiality too, causing one of his wittier colleagues to remark that he obviously didnt have many farmers in his district. Stancils bill described in excruciating detail every conceivable variation of both kinds of forbidden intercourse. A pervert could read it and escape the urge to buy pornographic material for a whole week.
There was no way to beat the bill on a direct vote. Moreover, the Supreme Court was a long way from its 2003 decision declaring that consensual homosexual relations are protected by the right to privacy, so getting an opinion from me saying the bill was unconstitutional wasnt an option. The only possible strategy was to delay the bill to death. In the House, three young liberals who were great allies of mineKent Rubens, Jody Mahoney, and Richard Maysdecided to offer an interesting amendment. Word got out that something was afoot, and I joined a packed gallery above the House chamber to watch the fireworks go off. One of the guys rose and praised Stancils bill, saying it was about time someone stood up for morality in Arkansas. The only problem, he said, was that the bill was too weak, and he wanted to offer a little amendment to strengthen it. Then, with a straight face, he proposed the addition, making it a Class D felony for any member of the legislature to commit adultery in Little Rock while the legislature was in session.
The entire gallery was engulfed in peals of laughter. On the floor, however, the silence was deafening. For many legislators from small towns, coming to Little Rock for the session was the only fun they hadthe equivalent of two months in Paris. They were not amused, and several of them told the three wise guys theyd never pass another bill unless the amendment was withdrawn. It was. The bill sailed through and was sent to the Senate.
We had a better chance to kill it there, because it was assigned to a committee chaired by Nick Wilson, a young senator from Pocahontas who was one of the brightest and most progressive members of the legislature. I thought he might be persuaded to keep the bill bottled up until the legislature adjourned.
On the last day of the session, the bill was still in Nicks committee and I was counting the hours until adjournment. I called him about it several times and hung around until I was almost an hour late in leaving for a speech in Hot Springs. When I could finally wait no longer, I called him one last time. He said they would adjourn in half an hour and the bill was dead, so I left. Fifteen minutes later, a powerful senator who favored the bill offered Nick Wilson a new building for the vocational technical school in his district if hed let the bill go through. As Speaker Tip ONeill used to say, all politics is local. Nick let the bill go, and it passed easily. I was sick. A few years later, the present congressman from Little Rock, Vic Snyder, tried to repeal the bill when he was in the state Senate. He failed too. As far as I know, the law was never enforced, but we had to wait for the 2003 Supreme Court decision to invalidate the law.
Another really interesting problem I faced as attorney general was literally a matter of life and death. One day I got a call from the Arkansas Childrens Hospital. It had just recruited a gifted young surgeon who was being asked to operate on Siamese twins who were joined at the chest, using the same systems to breathe and pump blood. The systems couldnt support them both much longer, and without surgery to separate them, they both would die. The problem was that the surgery would certainly kill one of them. The hospital wanted an opinion saying that the doctor couldnt be prosecuted for manslaughter for killing the twin who wouldnt survive the surgery. Strictly speaking, I couldnt guarantee him that, because an attorney generals opinion protects the person receiving it from civil suits but not from criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, the opinion would be a powerful deterrent to an overzealous prosecutor. I gave him an official letter stating my opinion that the certain death of one of the twins to save the life of the other would not be a crime. The doctor performed the operation. One twin died. But the other one lived.
Most of the work we did was far more conventional than the examples Ive cited. For two years, we worked hard to issue truly well-written opinions, do a good job for the state agencies and with the criminal cases, improve the quality of nursing-home care, and hold down utility rates, including a vigorous effort to keep the cost of a pay-phone call down to a dime, when nearly every other state was raising it to twenty-five cents.
Apart from my work, I got around the state as much as I could to broaden my contacts and strengthen my organization for the next election. In January 1977, I gave my first speech as an elected official at a Rotary Club banquet in Pine Bluff, the largest city in southeast Arkansas. I had gotten 45 percent of the vote there in 1976, but I needed to do better in future races. The five hundred people at the dinner provided a good opportunity to improve. It was a long evening, with a lot of speeches and an interminable number of introductions. Often the people who run such events are afraid that everyone who isnt introduced will go home mad. If so, there werent many unhappy people after that dinner. It was nearly 10 p.m. when my host got up to introduce me. He was more nervous than I was. The first words out of his mouth were You know, we could stop here and have had a very nice evening. I know he meant to suggest the best was yet to come, but thats not how it came out. Thank goodness, the crowd laughed, and I got a good reception to my speech, mostly because it was short.
I also attended several events in the black community. One day I was invited by the Reverend Robert Jenkins to his inauguration as the new pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church. It was a little white wooden church in North Little Rock with enough pews to seat 150 people comfortably. On a very hot Sunday afternoon, there were about three hundred people there, including ministers and choirs from several other churches, and one other white person, our county judge, Roger Mears. Every choir sang and every preacher offered congratulations. When Robert got up to preach, the congregation had been there a good while. But he was young, handsome, a powerful speaker, and he held their attention. He began slowly, saying he wanted to be an accessible pastor but not a misunderstood one. I want to say a special word to the ladies of the church, he said. If you need a pastor, you can call on me anytime of the day or night. But if you need a man, call on the Lord. Hell get you one. Such candor would have been unthinkable in a mainline white church, but his crowd appreciated it. He got a loud chorus of amens.
As Robert got into his sermon, the temperature seemed to rise. All of a sudden an older lady sitting near me stood up, shaking and shouting, seized by the spirit of the Lord. A moment later a man got up in an even louder and more uncontrolled state. When he couldnt calm down, a couple of the churchmen escorted him to a little room in the back of the church that held the choir robes and closed the door. He continued to shout something unintelligible and bang against the walls. I turned around just in time to see him literally tear the door off its hinges, throw it down, and run out into the churchyard screaming. It reminded me of the scene at Max Beauvoirs in Haiti, except these people believed they had been moved by Jesus.
Not long afterward, I saw white Christians have similar experiences, when my finance officer in the attorney generals office, Dianne Evans, invited me to the annual summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, about thirty miles south of Little Rock. Dianne was the daughter of Pentecostal ministers, and like other devout women of her faith, she wore modest clothes and no makeup and didnt cut her hair, which she rolled up into a bun. Back then, the strict Pentecostals didnt go to movies or sporting events. Many wouldnt even listen to nonreligious music on the car radio. I was interested in their faith and practices, especially after I got to know Dianne, who was smart, extremely competent at her job, and had a good sense of humor. When I kidded her about all the things Pentecostals couldnt do, she said they had all their fun in church. I was soon to discover how right she was.
When I got to Redfield, I was introduced to the state leader of the Pentecostals, Reverend James Lumpkin, and other prominent ministers. Then we went out into the sanctuary, which held about three thousand people. I sat up on the stage with the preachers. After my introduction and other preliminaries, the service got going with music as powerful and rhythmic as anything I had heard in black churches. After a couple of hymns, a beautiful young woman got up from one of the pews, sat down at the organ, and began to sing a gospel song I had never heard before, In the Presence of Jehovah. It was breathtaking. Before I knew it, I was so moved I was crying. The woman was Mickey Mangun, the daughter of Brother Lumpkin and wife of the Reverend Anthony Mangun, who, along with Mickey and his parents, pastored a large church in Alexandria, Louisiana. After a rousing sermon by the pastor, which included speaking in tonguesuttering whatever syllables the Holy Spirit brings outthe congregation was invited to come to the front and pray at a row of knee-high altars. Many came, raising their hands, praising God, and also speaking in tongues. It was a night I would never forget.
I made that camp meeting every summer but one between 1977 and 1992, often taking friends with me. After a couple of years, when they learned I was in my church choir, I was invited to sing with a quartet of balding ministers known as the Bald Knobbers. I loved it and fit right in, except for the hair issue.
Every year I witnessed some amazing new manifestation of the Pentecostals faith. One year the featured pastor was an uneducated man who told us God had given him the power to memorize the Bible. He quoted more than 230 verses in his sermon. I had my Bible with me and checked his memory. I stopped after the first twenty-eight verses; he never missed a word. Once I saw a severely handicapped young man who came every year answer the altar call in his automated wheelchair. He was near the back of the church, which sloped down to the front. He rolled his wheelchair on full speed and barreled down the aisle. When he got about ten feet from the altar, he slammed on the brakes, throwing himself out of the wheelchair into the air and landing perfectly on his knees just at the altar, where he proceeded to lean over and praise God just like everybody else.
Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christs admonition to love their neighbors. In 1980, when I was defeated for reelection as governor, one of the first calls I got was from one of the Bald Knobbers. He said three of the ministers wanted to come see me. They arrived at the Governors Mansion, prayed with me, told me they loved me just as much now as they had when I was a winner, and left.
Besides being true to their faith, the Pentecostals I knew were good citizens. They thought it was a sin not to vote. Most of the preachers I knew liked politics and politicians, and they could be good practical politicians themselves. In the mid-eighties, all over America, fundamentalist churches were protesting state laws requiring that their child-care centers meet state standards and be licensed. It had become a very hot issue in some places, with at least one minister in a midwestern state choosing to go to jail rather than comply with the child-care standards. The issue had the potential to explode in Arkansas, where we had had some problems with a religious child-care center and where new state standards for child care were pending. I called in a couple of my Pentecostal pastor friends and asked what the real problem was. They replied that they had no problem meeting the state health and safety standards; their problem was in the demand that they get a state license and display it on the wall. They considered child care to be a critical part of their ministry, which they thought should be free from state interference under the First Amendments guarantee of freedom of religion. I gave them a copy of the new state standards and asked them to read them and tell me what they thought. When they came back the next day, they said the standards were fair. I then proposed a compromise: religious child-care centers wouldnt have to be certified by the state if the churches agreed to remain in substantial compliance with them and to allow regular inspections. They took the deal, the crisis passed, the standards were implemented, and as far as I know, the church-run centers never had any problems.
One Easter in the eighties, Hillary and I took Chelsea to see the Easter Messiah service at the Manguns church in Alexandria. The sound and light systems were first-rate, the scenery was realistic, including live animals, and all the performers were members of the church. Most of the songs were original and beautifully performed. When I was President and happened to be in Fort Polk, near Alexandria, at Eastertime, I went back to the Messiah service and talked the traveling press corps into coming with me, along with Louisianas two black congressmen, Cleo Fields and Bill Jefferson. In the middle of the service, the lights went out. A woman began to sing a well-known hymn in a powerful deep voice. The reverend leaned over to Congressman Jefferson and asked, Bill, you think this church member is white or black? Bill said, Shes a sister. No doubt about it. After a couple of minutes, the lights came back up, revealing a small white woman in a long black dress with her hair piled up on her head. Jefferson just shook his head, but another black man sitting a couple of rows ahead of us couldnt contain himself. He blurted out, My God, its a white librarian! By the end of the show, I saw several of my normally cynical press-corps people with tears in their eyes as the power of the music pierced the walls of their skepticism.
Mickey Mangun and another Pentecostal friend, Janice Sjostrand, sang at the dedicatory church service at my first inauguration and brought the house down. As he was leaving the church, Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leaned over to me and asked, Where did you find white women who could sing like that? I didnt know there were any. I smiled and told him knowing people like them was one reason I got elected President.
During my second term, when the Republicans were trying to run me out of town and a lot of the pundits were saying I was dead meat, Anthony Mangun called me and asked if he and Mickey could come see me for twenty minutes. I said, Twenty minutes? Youre going to fly all the way up here for twenty minutes? He replied, Youre busy. Thats all itll take. I told him to come on up. A few days later, Anthony and Mickey sat alone with me in the Oval Office. He said, You did a bad thing but youre not a bad man. We raised our children together. I know your heart. Dont give up on yourself. And if youre going down, and the rats start to leave the sinking ship, call me. I rode up with you, and I want to go down with you. Then we prayed together and Mickey gave me a tape of a beautiful song she had written to shore me up. It was entitled Redeemed. After twenty minutes, they got up and flew home.
Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just their own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, dont miss it.
Toward the end of 1977, the political talk started again. Senator McClellan had announced his retirement after almost thirty-five years in the Senate, setting the stage for an epic battle to be his successor. Governor Pryor, who had come close to defeating McClellan six years earlier, was going to run. So were Jim Guy Tucker and the congressman from the Fourth District in south Arkansas, Ray Thornton, who had achieved prominence as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. He was also the nephew of Witt and Jack Stephens, so he had guaranteed financing for his campaign.
I had to decide whether to get into the Senate race too. A recent poll had me in second place, about ten points behind the governor and a little ahead of the two congressmen. I had been an elected official less than a year, but unlike the congressmen, I represented the entire state, was home all the time, and had the good fortune to have a job that, when well done, naturally engenders public approval. Not many people are against consumer protection, better care of the elderly, lower utility rates, and law and order.
But I decided to run for governor instead. I liked state government and wanted to stay home. Before I could get into the race, I had one last big case to handle as attorney general. I did it long distance. After Christmas, Hillary and I went to Florida to see Arkansas play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Coach Lou Holtz, in his first year at Arkansas, had led the Razorbacks to a 101 season and a sixth-place national ranking; their only loss was at the hands of top-ranked Texas. Oklahoma was ranked second nationally, having also lost to Texas, but more narrowly.
No sooner had we arrived than a firestorm broke out in Arkansas involving the football team. Coach Holtz suspended three players from the team, which prevented them from playing in the bowl game, for their involvement in an incident in the players dorm involving a young woman. They werent just any three players. They were the starting tailback, who was the leading rusher in the Southwest Conference; the starting fullback; and the starting flanker, who had blinding speed and was a genuine pro prospect. The three of them accounted for most of the teams offense. Although no criminal charges were filed, Holtz said that he was suspending the players because they had violated the do right rule, and that he was coaching his charges to be good men as well as good football players.
The three players filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement, claiming the suspension was arbitrary and may have been based on racial considerations, since the three players were black and the woman was white. They also lined up support on the team. Nine other players said they wouldnt play in the Orange Bowl either unless the three were reinstated.
My job was to defend Holtzs decision. After talking with Frank Broyles, who had become athletic director, I decided to stay in Florida, where I could consult closely with him and Holtz. I asked Ellen Brantley on my staff to handle things in the federal court in Little Rock. Ellen had gone to Wellesley with Hillary and was a brilliant attorney; I thought it wouldnt do any harm to have a woman arguing our side of the case. Meanwhile, the support for Holtz and playing the game began to build among the players.
For a few hectic days, I spent eight or more hours a day on the phone, talking to Ellen back in Little Rock and to Broyles and Holtz in Miami. The pressure and criticism were getting to Holtz, especially the charge that he was a racist. The only evidence against him was the fact that when he had coached at North Carolina State, he had endorsed ultra-conservative Senator Jesse Helms for reelection. After spending hours talking to Holtz, I could tell he wasnt a racist, nor was he political. Helms had been decent to him and he had returned the favor.
On December 30, three days before the game, the players dropped their suit and released their twelve allies from their commitment not to play. It still wasnt over. Holtz was so upset he told me that he was going to call Frank Broyles and resign. I immediately called Frank and told him not to answer the phone in his room that night no matter what. I was convinced Lou would wake up in the morning wanting to win the game.
For the next two days the team worked like crazy. They had been eighteen-point underdogs to start, and after the three stars were out, the game was taken off the odds chart. But the players whipped one another up into a frenzy.
On the night of January 2, Hillary and I sat in the Orange Bowl watching Oklahoma go through warm-ups. The day before, top-ranked Texas had lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. All Oklahoma had to do was beat crippled Arkansas to win the national championship. Along with everybody else, they thought it was going to be a cakewalk.
Then the Razorbacks took the field. They trotted out in a straight line and slapped the goal post before they started their drills. Hillary watched them, grabbed my arm, and said, Just look at them, Bill. Theyre going to win. With smothering defense and a record-setting 205 yards rushing from reserve back Roland Sales, the Razorbacks routed Oklahoma 316, perhaps the biggest and certainly the most unlikely victory in the storied history of Arkansas football. Lou Holtz is a high-strung, skinny little fellow who paced the sidelines in a way that reminded Hillary of Woody Allen. I was grateful that this bizarre episode gave me the chance to know him well. Hes brilliant and gutsy, perhaps the best on-the-field coach in America. Hes had other great seasons at Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina, but hell never have another night quite like that one.
With the Orange Bowl case behind me, I went home to make my next move. After Senator McClellan publicly announced his retirement, I went to see him to thank him for his service and ask his advice. He strongly urged me to run for his seat; he didnt want David Pryor to win it and had no particular ties to Tucker and Thornton. He said that the worst I could do was lose, as he had done on his first try, and that if I lost, I was young and could try again, as he had. When I told him I was thinking of running for governor, he said that was a bad idea, that all you did in the governors office was make people mad. In the Senate you could do big things for the state and the nation. The governors office, he said, was a short trip to the political graveyard. Historically, McClellans analysis was right. While Dale Bumpers had ridden the wave of New South prosperity and progressivism from the governors office to the Senate, he was the exception to the rule. Times were tough in Pryors tenure and he was facing a stiff challenge whether I ran or not. And it was hard to serve as governor longer than four years. Since Arkansas adopted a two-year term in 1876, only two governors, Jeff Davis before World War I and Orval Faubus, had served more than four years. And Faubus had to do wrong at Central High to hang on.
McClellan, at age eighty-two, was still sharp as a tack, and I respected his advice. I was also surprised by his encouragement. I was much more liberal than he was, but the same could be said for all his potential successors. For some reason, we got along, in part because I had been away at law school when Governor Pryor ran against him and therefore couldnt have helped Pryor, which I would have done had I been home. I also respected the serious work McClellan had done to crack organized-crime networks. They were a threat to all Americans, regardless of their political views or economic circumstances. Not long after our meeting, Senator McClellan died before he could finish his term.
Despite his advice and the assurances of support for the Senate race that Id received from around the state, I decided to run for governor. I was excited by the prospect of what I could accomplish, and I thought I could win. Though my age, thirty-one, was more likely to be an issue against me in a race for governor than one for the Senate, because of the heavy management and decision-making responsibilities, the competition wasnt as stiff as it was in the Senate race.
Four other candidates ran in the Democratic primary: Joe Woodward, a lawyer from Magnolia in south Arkansas who had been active in Dale Bumperss campaigns; Frank Lady, a lawyer from northeast Arkansas, who was a conservative evangelical Christian, the favored candidate of the Moral Majority voters, and the first, but not the last, of my opponents to publicly criticize Hillary, explicitly for practicing law and implicitly for retaining her maiden name when we married; Randall Mathis, the articulate county judge of Clark County, just south of Hot Springs; and Monroe Schwarzlose, a genial old turkey farmer from southeast Arkansas. Woodward promised to be the strongest candidate. He was intelligent and articulate and had contacts all over the state because of his work with Bumpers. Still, I started with a big lead. All I had to do was keep it. Because all the real interest was in the Senate race, I just had to run hard, avoid mistakes, and go on doing a good job as attorney general.
Despite its relative lack of drama, the campaign had its interesting moments. The tree story surfaced again when a state policeman who was supporting Joe Woodward swore he had taken me out of that infamous tree back in 1969. In Dover, north of Russellville, I answered another challenge to my manhood by participating in a tug-of-war with a bunch of very large log haulers. I was the smallest man on either team and they put me in front. We pulled the rope back and forth across a hole full of water and mud. My side lost, and I wound up caked in mud, with my hands torn and bleeding from pulling the rope so hard. Fortunately, a friend who had urged me to compete gave me a new pair of khakis so that I could return to the campaign trail. In St. Paul, a town of about 150 near Huntsville, I was shaking hands with all the marchers in the Pioneer Day parade, but I chickened out when I saw a man walking right toward me with his pet on a leash. It was a full-grown bear. I dont know who was reassured by the leash, but I sure wasnt.
Believe it or not, tomatoes played a role in the 1978 campaign. Arkansas grows a lot of them in Bradley County, most of them picked by migrant laborers who travel from South Texas through Arkansas up the Mississippi River all the way to Michigan, following the warming weather and ripening crops. As attorney general, I had gone to Hermitage, in the southern part of the county, to a community meeting on the problems the small farmers were having in implementing new federal standards for their workers housing. They simply couldnt afford it. I got them some help from the Carter administration so that they could build the required facilities and stay in business. The people were very grateful, and after I announced for governor they scheduled a Bill Clinton Appreciation Day, which included the high school band leading a parade down the main street. I was excited about it and glad a reporter from the Arkansas Gazette was driving down with me to cover the story. On the way, she asked me a lot of questions about the campaign and the issues. I said something that called into question my support for the death penalty, and that became the days story. The whole town of Hermitage turned out, but the event, and the work that gave rise to it, remained a secret to the rest of the state. I complained about it for days until finally my staff decided the only way to shut me up was to make fun of me. They had T-shirts printed up with the words You Should Have Seen the Crowd at Hermitage! At least I got about all the votes down there and I learned to be more careful in dealing with reporters.
A few weeks later, I was back in Bradley County to work the tomato vote again at Warrens annual Pink Tomato Festival, and I entered the tomato-eating contest. Three of the seven or eight competitors were young men much bigger than I was. We each got a paper sack full of tomatoes, which had been carefully weighed. When the bell sounded, we ate as many as we could in the allotted time, which I think was five minutes, a long time for a crowd to watch grown men behave like pigs at the trough. Any part of the tomato that was not consumed had to be put back in the sack, so that the exact weight of tomatoes consumed could be determined. Like a fool, I tried to win. I always did. I finished third or fourth and felt pretty sick for a couple of days. It wasnt all for nothing, though; I got most of the votes in Warren, too. But I never entered the contest again.
The U.S. Congress had passed the equal-rights amendment to the Constitution and referred it to the states for ratification, but the requisite three-quarters of the state legislatures had not ratified it and never would. Even so, it was still a hot-button issue among Arkansas social conservatives, for several reasons. Senator Kaneaster Hodges, whom David Pryor had appointed to finish Senator McClellans term, had given an eloquent speech on the Senate floor in support of the ERA. Our friend Diane Kincaid had bested Phyllis Schlafly, the nations leading opponent of the amendment, in a highly publicized debate before the Arkansas legislature. And Hillary and I were on record supporting it. The opponents of the ERA predicted an end to civilization as we knew it if the amendment passed: women in combat, unisex bathrooms, broken families where uppity women no longer were subject to their husbands.
Because of the ERA, I had a minor run-in with Frank Ladys supporters at a rally of about five hundred people in Jonesboro, in northeast Arkansas. I was giving my campaign speech outlining my proposals for education and economic development when an older woman in a Lady T-shirt started screaming at me, Talk about the ERA! Talk about the ERA! Finally I said, Okay. Ill talk about it. Im for it. Youre against it. But it wont do as much harm as you think it will or as much good as those of us who support it wish it would. Now lets get back to schools and jobs. She wouldnt let it go. She screamed, Youre just promoting homosexuality! I looked at her, smiled, and said, Maam, in my short life in politics, Ive been accused of everything under the sun. But youre the first person who ever accused me of promoting homosexuality. The crowd roared. Even some of the Lady supporters laughed. And then I got to finish my talk.
On primary election day, I got 60 percent of the vote and carried seventy-one of the seventy-five counties. The vote in the Senate race was split almost evenly among Pryor, Tucker, and Thornton. The governor got 34 percent, and Jim Guy Tucker got a few more votes than Ray Thornton, so there would be a runoff. The conventional wisdom was that Pryor was in trouble because, as an incumbent governor, he should have polled well over 40 percent. Because I liked him and had enjoyed working with him in state government, I urged him to seek advice from my new pollster, Dick Morris, a young political consultant who had been active in New York City politics. Morris was a brilliant, abrasive character, brimming with ideas about politics and policy. He believed in aggressive, creative campaigns, and was so cocksure about everything that a lot of people, especially in a down-home place like Arkansas, found him hard to take. But I was stimulated by him. And he did me a lot of good, partly because I refused to be put off by his manner and partly because I had good instincts about when he was right and when he was wasnt. One thing I really liked about him was that he would tell me things I didnt want to hear.
In the fall campaign, my opponent was a cattleman and the chairman of the state Republican Party, Lynn Lowe. The race was uneventful except for the press conference on the steps of the Capitol in which his campaign accused me of being a draft dodger. I referred them to Colonel Holmes. I won the election with 63 percent of the vote, carrying sixty-nine of the seventy-five counties.
At thirty-two, I was the governor-elect of Arkansas, with two months to assemble a staff, put together a legislative program, and wrap up my work as attorney general. I had really enjoyed the job, and thanks to the hard work and dedication of a fine staff, we had accomplished a lot. We cleaned out the backlog of requests for legal opinions, issuing a record number of them; recovered more than $400,000 in consumer claims, more than in the previous five years of the divisions existence combined; told the state boards that regulate professions that they could no longer ban price advertising by the professional groups they regulated, a common practice in those days all across America; pushed for better nursing-home care and an end to age discrimination against the elderly; intervened in more utility-rate hearings than the office had ever done before, saving the ratepayers millions of dollars; drafted and passed legislation to compensate victims of violent crime; and protected the privacy rights of citizens with regard to personal information held by state agencies. One other thing I accomplished was especially important to me. I convinced the required three-quarters of both legislative chambers to amend the states voting rights law to restore the right to vote to convicted felons upon completion of their sentences. I argued that once the offender had paid in full, he should be restored to full citizenship. I did it for Jeff Dwire, a hardworking, tax-paying citizen, who never got a pardon and who died a thousand deaths every election day. Sadly, more than twenty-five years later the federal government and most states still havent followed suit.