W e started planning for my first term after the primary election in May and really got going after November, converting the headquarters into a transition office. Rudy Moore and Steve Smith, who had both served in the legislature, helped me as we prepared budgets, drafted bills to enact my policy priorities, analyzed the major management challenges, and began to hire a staff and cabinet.
In December, the Democratic Party held its midterm convention in Memphis. I was asked to travel across the Mississippi River to moderate a health-care panel featuring Joe Califano, President Carters secretary of health, education, and welfare, and Senator Edward Kennedy, the Senates chief advocate for universal health coverage. Califano was articulate in his defense of the Presidents more incremental approach to health-care reform, but Kennedy won the crowd with an emotional plea for ordinary Americans to have the same coverage that his wealth provided for his son, Teddy, when he got cancer. I enjoyed the experience and the national exposure, but was convinced that the convention only highlighted our intra-party differences, when it was supposed to unite and reinvigorate Democrats in nonpresidential election years. The midterm meetings were later abandoned.
Not long before Christmas, Hillary and I took a much-needed vacation to England. We spent Christmas Day with my friend from Oxford, Sara Maitland, and her husband, Donald Lee, an American who had become a priest in the Church of England. It was Donalds first Christmas church service. He had to be a little nervous, but he began the service with a surefire winner, a childrens sermon. He sat down on the steps in front of a lovely nativity scene and asked all the children to come and sit with him. When they settled down, he said, Children, this is a very special day. They nodded. Do you know what day this is? Yes, they said. Donald beamed and asked, What day is it? In unison, they all shouted, Monday! I dont know how he carried on. Perhaps he was consoled by the fact that in his church, kids told the literal truth.
In a month, it was time to move into the Governors Mansion and get ready for the inauguration. The mansion was a big colonial-style house of about ten thousand square feet in the beautiful old Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock, not far from the Capitol. The main house was flanked by two smaller ones, with the one on the left serving as a guest house and the one on the right providing a headquarters for the state troopers who watched the place and answered the phone twenty-four hours a day. The mansion had three large, handsome public rooms, a big kitchen, and a little breakfast room on the first floor; a spacious basement, which we converted into a rec room complete with pinball machine; and living quarters on the second floor. Despite its overall size, the mansions living area occupied just five small rooms and two modest bathrooms. Still, it was such a step up from our little house on L Street that we didnt have enough furniture to fill the five rooms.
The hardest thing about the transition was getting used to the security. I had always prided myself on my self-sufficiency and prized my private time. I had been self-supporting since I was twenty, and over the years had gotten used to cleaning house, running errands, and cooking. When Hillary and I got together, we shared the household duties. Now other people cooked the meals, cleaned the house, and ran the errands. Since I was sixteen, I had enjoyed driving alone in my own car, listening to music and thinking. I couldnt do that anymore. I liked to jog every day, usually before or after work. Now, I was being followed by a trooper in an unmarked car. It really bothered me at firstit made me want to run up one-way streets the wrong way. In time I got used to it and came to appreciate the work the folks at the mansion and the troopers did; they gave me more time for the job. Because the troopers drove me, I got a lot of paperwork done in transit. Eventually we agreed that Id drive myself to church on Sundays. It wasnt much of a concession, since my church and the Methodist church Hillary attended were both within a mile of the mansion, but I really looked forward to my Sunday freedom ride. One of the troopers ran with me when he was on duty, and I liked that a lot better than being followed. After I had been in office several years and there was clearly no imminent threat, I often ran alone in the mornings, but along a predictable downtown route with lots of people around. Frequently I ended those runs at the McDonalds or the local bakery, both about a half mile from the mansion, where Id get a cup of water, then walk back home.
The troopers did have real security work to do on occasion. In my first term, an escapee from one of our mental institutions called the mansion and said he was going to kill me. Since he had decapitated his mother a few years earlier, they took it seriously. He was caught and returned to confinement, which might have been his subconscious desire when he called. One day, a massive man carrying a railroad spike walked into the governors office and said he needed to meet with me all alone. He was not admitted. In 1982, when I was trying to regain the governors office, a man called and said hed had a message from God telling him my opponent was the instrument of the Lord and I was the instrument of the devil and he was going to do Gods will and eliminate me. He turned out to be an escapee from a Tennessee mental institution. He had an odd-caliber revolver and went from gun store to gun store trying to buy ammunition for it, and because he couldnt produce any identification, he didnt succeed. Still, I had to wear an uncomfortable bulletproof jacket for several days near the end of the campaign. Once, when the front door was accidentally left unlocked, a deranged but harmless woman got halfway up the stairs to our living quarters before the troopers caught her as she was calling out to me. Another time, a small, wiry man in combat boots and shorts was apprehended trying to break down the front door. He was high on some kind of drug mixture that made him so strong it took two troopers bigger than I am to subdue him, and then only after hed thrown one of them off and put his head through a window in the troopers quarters. He was carried away in a straitjacket strapped to a stretcher. Later, when he sobered up, the man apologized to the troopers and thanked them for keeping him from doing anyone harm.
The troopers who served me became an issue in my first term as President when two of them who were disgruntled and had financial problems spread stories about me for a modest amount of money and fame and the hope of a bigger payoff. But most of those who served on the security detail were fine people who did their jobs well, and several of them became good friends. In January 1979, I wasnt sure Id ever get used to twenty-four-hour security coverage, but I was so excited about my job I didnt have much time to think about it.
In addition to the traditional inaugural ball, we hosted a night of Arkansas entertainment called Diamonds and Denim. All the performers were Arkansans, including the great soul singer Al Green, who later turned to gospel music and the ministry, and Randy Goodrum, the pianist in our high school trio, the 3 Kings. At thirty-one, he had already won a Grammy award for his songwriting. I joined him on sax for Summertime, the first time wed played together since 1964.
The inauguration was a big event. Hundreds of people from all over the state came, as did friends Hillary and I had made over the years, including my old roommate Tommy Caplan; Dave Matter, who managed my losing campaign at Georgetown; Betsey Wright; my procivil rights Boys Nation buddies from Louisiana, Fred Kammer and Alston Johnson; and three friends from Yale, Carolyn Ellis, Greg Craig, and Steve Cohen. Carolyn Yeldell Staley also came home from Indiana to sing.
I worked hard on my inaugural address. I wanted both to capture the historical moment and to tell my fellow Arkansans more about the values and ideals I was bringing to the governors office. The night before, Steve Cohen had given me an idea I added to the speech when hed said he was feeling two things he hadnt in a long time, pride and hope. I said some things in that speech that I believe as strongly today as I did then, words that capture what Ive tried to do in all my public work, including the presidency:
For as long as I can remember, I have believed passionately in the cause of equal opportunity, and I will do what I can to advance it.
For as long as I can remember, I have deplored the arbitrary and abusive exercise of power by those in authority, and I will do what I can to prevent it.
For as long as I can remember, I have rued the waste and lack of order and discipline that are too often in evidence in governmental affairs, and I will do what I can to diminish them.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved the land, air, and water of Arkansas, and I will do what I can to protect them.
For as long as I can remember, I have wished to ease the burdens of life for those who, through no fault of their own, are old or weak or needy, and I will try to help them.
For as long as I can remember, I have been saddened by the sight of so many of our independent, industrious people working too hard for too little because of inadequate economic opportunities, and I will do what I can to enhance them. . . .
The next day I went to work for what would prove to be two of the most exhilarating and exhausting, rewarding and frustrating years of my life. I was always in a hurry to get things done, and this time my reach often exceeded my grasp. I think a fair summary of my first gubernatorial term is that it was a policy success and a political disaster.
In the legislative session I had two major spending priorities, education and highways, and a host of other substantive reforms in health, energy, and economic development. In 1978, Arkansas ranked last among all states in per capita education spending. A study of our schools conducted by Dr. Kern Alexander, a nationally recognized expert in education policy from the University of Florida, concluded that our system was dismal: From an educational standpoint, the average child in Arkansas would be much better off attending the public schools of almost any other state in the country. We had 369 school districts, many too small to offer needed courses in math and science. There were no state standards or evaluation systems. And teacher pay was pitifully low in most places.
The legislature passed almost all my education proposals, prodded by the Arkansas Education Association, which represented most of the teachers; the associations representing the administrators and school board members; and pro-education legislators, including Clarence Bell, the powerful chairman of the Senate Education Committee. They approved a 40 percent increase in funding over the next two years, including a $1,200 teacher pay raise in each year; a 67 percent increase for special education; increases for textbook costs, transportation, and other operations; and, for the first time, aid to school districts for programs for gifted and talented children and for transporting kindergarten students, a big step toward universal kindergarten.
The money was tied to efforts to raise standards and improve quality, something I always tried to do. We passed the first state programs mandating testing to measure pupil performance and indicate areas that needed improvement, a requirement that all teachers take the National Teacher Examination before they could be certified, and a bill prohibiting the firing of teachers for arbitrary, capricious, or discriminatory reasons. We also established the Arkansas Governors School for gifted and talented students, which met for the first time at Hendrix College in the summer of 1980. Hillary and I spoke to the first class. It was one of my proudest achievements, and its still going strong.
In two other areas I was less successful. The Alexander report recommended reducing the number of school districts to two hundred, which would have saved a lot of money on administrative costs. But I couldnt even pass a bill to create a commission to study it, because so many small towns believed that if they didnt have their own districts, city folks would close their schools and destroy their communities.
The other area in which I met resistance involved the formula by which school aid was distributed. Several school districts had filed a suit contending that our system was unfair, and that, when coupled with differences in local property-tax revenues, the inequalities in spending per child across the state were so great they were unconstitutional. The formula didnt take adequate account of differences in property values or student population shifts, and it gave more money per student to the very small districts, where the overhead costs per student were much higher. This system was hard to change, because giving more to some districts meant giving less to others. Both groups were well represented in the legislature, and when the losers saw the printouts showing what the changes would do to their districts, they fought hard to stop them. We adjusted the formula, but not by much. It would take a 1983 state supreme court decision invalidating the school formulas before we could really change things.
The highway program I proposed was designed to deal with the deterioration of our state highways, county roads, and city streets, and the need for new construction. Arkansas hadnt had a good road program in more than a decade, and potholes and slow travel were costing people time and money. There was a lot of support for a road program, but there were big disagreements about how to fund it. I proposed a hefty tax package featuring large increases for heavy trucks, which did most of the damage, and substantial ones for cars. At the time, car tags, like truck licenses, were priced according to vehicle weight. I thought this was unfair, since the weight differences for cars, unlike trucks, were not significant in terms of road damage, and the heavier cars were older and usually belonged to people with lower incomes. Instead, I proposed to set fees for car tags based on the value of the car, with the owners of the most expensive new ones paying $50 and of the oldest, least valuable paying $20. Under my proposal, the owners of old, heavy cars would not have had to pay more.
Some of the seasoned legislators said we shouldnt raise the license fees at all, and instead should finance the road program with an increase in fuel taxes. Organized labor was against that because ordinary drivers would have to pay substantially more over the course of a year, though they wouldnt feel it since the tax would be buried in the price of fuel purchases. I agreed with labor on the merits, but a gas-tax increase would have been far less politically damaging than what I did.
None of the organized groups except the highway contractors supported my proposal. The trucking, poultry, and timber interests said they couldnt afford the increases on their big trucks, and they got them reduced. The new-car dealers said I wanted to charge their customers too much, and licensing based on value would be an administrative nightmare. I thought their arguments were particularly weak, but the legislature bought them. The highway lobby was represented in the Senate by Knox Nelson, a wily legislator and road contractor himself, who wanted the money but didnt really care how it was raised. In the end, the legislature approved a large increase in revenue from car tags but within the old weight structure, nearly doubling the price for heavy cars from $19 to $36. I had a decision to make. I could sign the bill into law and have a good road program paid for in an unfair way, or veto it and have no road program at all. I signed the bill. It was the single dumbest mistake I ever made in politics until 1994, when I agreed to ask for a special prosecutor in the Whitewater case when there was not a shred of evidence to justify one.
In Arkansas, peoples car license fees come due every year on their birthdays, when they have to go to the revenue offices in their local counties to renew them. After the increase went into effect on July 1, every single day, for a whole year, a new group of people would come into their revenue offices to find their birthday present from me: the price of their car tags had doubled. Many of them were country people who had driven more than twenty miles to the county seat to buy their new tags. Often they had no checkbooks and had brought only enough cash to pay the previous cost of the tags, so they had to drive all the way back home, get more cash out of the family stash, and come back. When they got back and had to wait in line, as they often did, the only thing they had to look at in the spartan revenue offices was a picture of the governor smiling down on them.
In late 1978, when I was first elected governor, Hilary Jones had made a prophetic comment to me. He said the hill people had carried me through three elections, but I would have to get my votes in the cities now. When I asked him why, he replied that I was going to work on schools and economic development, which the state needed, but that anything I did to raise school standards would threaten the rural schools; that Id never be able to get many new jobs into poor rural areas; and that the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that government employees who werent in policy-making positions could no longer be replaced for political reasons meant that I couldnt even fire the current state employees in the rural counties and bring our people in. Ill still do all I can for you, Hilary said, but itll never be like it was up here again. As he was about so many things, Hilary was right on target. Over the course of my winning campaigns for governor, I got more and more support from Independent and Republican voters in the cities and suburbs, but I never recovered the depth of support I had enjoyed among white rural voters in the Third District and much of the rest of the state. Now, on top of all the things I couldnt help, I had shot myself in the foot with the car-tag increase, blowing five years of hard work among rural Arkansansand a lot of blue-collar city people, toowith the stroke of a pen.
The pattern of good policy and bad politics wasnt confined to legislative matters. I organized the governors office without a chief of staff, giving different areas of responsibility to Rudy Moore, Steve Smith, and John Danner, a policy analyst from California whose wife, Nancy Pietrafesa, was on old friend of Hillarys. Nancy was working in the administration, too, on education. President Kennedy had organized his White House in a similar way, but his guys all had short hair, boring suits, white shirts, and dark, narrow ties. Rudy, Steve, and John all had beards and were less constrained in their dress code. My conservative critics in the legislature had a field day with them. Eventually, several inter-office conflicts broke out. I decided to make Rudy chief of staff, have Steve oversee a lot of the policy initiatives, and release John Danner and his wife, Nancy, from their responsibilities. With an inexcusable loss of nerve, I asked Rudy to tell them. He did it and they quit. Although I tried to talk to them about it later, our relationship never recovered. I doubt that they ever forgave me for not handling it myself, and I dont blame them. They were good people who worked hard and had good ideas; through inexperience, I had put them in an impossible situation. It was my mistake.
I also got into hot water for bringing in a lot of people from out of state to run the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and its divisions of Social Services and Mental Health, the Department of Education, and the new Department of Energy. They were able and well intentioned, but they needed more contacts and experience dealing with their constituencies to make the big changes we were seeking.
These problems were aggravated by my own lack of experience and my youth. I looked even younger than my thirty-two years. When I became attorney general, George Fisher, the talented cartoonist for the Arkansas Gazette, drew me in a baby carriage. When I became governor he promoted me to a tricycle. It wasnt until I became President that he took me off the tricycle and put me in a pickup truck. And he was a supporter. It should have set off an alarm bell, but it didnt.
After a nationwide search, Dr. Robert Young, who had run a successful rural health clinic in West Virginia, was appointed director of the Department of Health. I wanted him to deal with the serious problems of health-care access and quality in Arkansas rural areas. Dr. Young and Orson Berry, director of the Rural Health Office, came up with an innovative plan to establish clinics that required a doctor to be in attendance at least once every two weeks, with nurse practitioners and physicians assistants manning them full-time and providing the diagnostic services and treatment for which they were trained. Despite the insufficient number of doctors willing to practice in rural areas, studies showed that most patients preferred a nurse practitioner or physicians assistant because they spent more time with patients; and a nurse-midwife program in Mississippi County had cut the infant mortality rate there in half.
Arkansas doctors strongly opposed the plan. Dr. Jim Webber, representing the family physicians, said, We dont believe a little bit of care is better than nothing. Notwithstanding the doctors opposition, the Carter administration approved a grant funding our plan. We opened four rural clinics, started building three others, and expanded the Mississippi County Nurse Midwife Program with nurse practitioners. And the work we did won praise across the nation.
We tried to work with the physicians whenever we could. I supported appropriations to build an intensive-care nursery at the Arkansas Childrens Hospital to care for extremely premature and other endangered newborns, and to establish a radiation-therapy institute at the University Medical Center to provide better treatment to cancer patients. I appointed Hillary to chair a Rural Health Advisory Committee, to recommend further improvements and help prioritize the large number of requests for help from rural communities. We worked harder to recruit doctors to rural areas, set up a loan fund to provide up to $150,000 of state money to any doctor who would set up a clinic in a town with six thousand or fewer people, and allowed family practitioners in small towns to apply for $6,000 a year in income supplements. The doctors strongly supported all these initiatives, which were especially remarkable because the economic downturn in 1980 forced severe cutbacks in the Department of Healths budget. Still, the doctors never forgave Dr. Young, or me, for not consulting them more and not going more slowly on the rural health clinics. By August 1980, the Arkansas Medical Society was asking for his resignation. When I left office in 1981, some of my initiatives were cut back, illustrating the point that you can have good policy without good politics, but you cant give people good government without both.
Energy was a huge issue because of OPECs steep increases in the price of oil, which raised prices for everything else, too. In this area, we had good policy and better politics, though I still made some powerful enemies. I got the legislature to upgrade the Arkansas Energy Office to a cabinet-level department and attempted to build a broad coalition of ratepayers, utilities, businesses, and government to save ratepayers money; give utilities, businesses, and homeowners incentives to promote conservation; and help develop new sources of clean energy. I thought we could become more self-sufficient and a national leader in both conservation and alternative fuels. We passed legislation allowing tax deductions for energy conservation and renewable energy expenditures for residential, commercial, and industrial use, and exempted mixed fuels that were at least 10 percent alcohol from the state gas tax. We provided energy audits to industrial and commercial businesses and gave 50 percent matching grants to schools, hospitals, and other public institutions for the purchase and installation of energy conservation programs. The federal government provided funds for such initiatives, and we were the first state in the country to get them. When I took office, according to federal government statistics our energy conservation program was the worst in the country. After a year, we ranked ninth overall and third in industrial conservation.
Our efforts at utility regulation were mostly successful but much more controversial. I wanted the Energy Department to be able to intervene in the Public Service Commissions rate hearings and to be able to get information on, and inspect, nuclear power facilities. The legislature, prodded by its senior member, Max Howell, who was liberal on education and taxes but close to the utilities, watered down my first request and refused to fund the second. When I persuaded Arkansas Power and Light to offer interest-free conservation loans to its customers and charge the cost of making them to the ratepayers, everyone who understood the issue applauded, knowing it was a far cheaper way of increasing energy availability than building new power plants. Unfortunately, a number of legislators, who thought conservation amounted to subversion of the free-enterprise system, raised so much hell that APL felt compelled to shelve the program. The utility did continue to support our extensive efforts to weatherize the homes of low-income people, which made them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and cut their utility bills considerably.
Alas, even our conservation efforts didnt escape controversy. An investigative reporter discovered that one of the projects we funded was a boondoggle. It was designed to train low-income people to chop wood and distribute it to other poor people to burn in their stoves. The Special Alternative Wood Energy Resources project had a descriptive acronym, SAWER, but a lousy record. It had spent $62,000 to train six woodchoppers and cut three cords of wood. I fired the director and got someone else who fixed the program, but it was the waste that stuck in the publics mind. To most Arkansans, $62,000 was a lot of money.
On the regulatory front, we were outgunned on two big issues. First, we did our best to stop what was called pancaking by utilities. If they asked for a 10 percent rate increase and got only 5 percent, they could collect the 10 percent while they appealed the decision in court. Meanwhile, they could file for another rate increase and do it all over again, thus pancaking unapproved rates on top of one another. Even if the utilities lost their appeals, which they usually did, the effect of the pancaking was to force ratepayers, including many poor people, to give them massive low-interest loans. It was wrong, but once again the utilities had more swat with the legislature than I did, killing the anti-pancaking bill in committee.
Second, I continued to fight with APL and its parent, Middle South Utilities, over the plan to make Arkansas ratepayers foot the bill for 35 percent of the Grand Gulf nuclear plants in Mississippi, while APL proposed to build six coal-fired plants in Arkansas, and demand for electricity in our state was declining so much that APL was planning to sell electricity from one of its existing plants to out-of-state users. Under the law, utilities were entitled to a profit, euphemistically called a rate of return, on all their expenses. And under the Grand Gulf plan, Arkansas ratepayers would have to pay for more than a third of the construction costs, plus the rate of return, even if they never used any of the power. APL had no ownership in the plant; it belonged to an independent subsidiary with no ratepayers, and its construction and financing plan had to be approved only by the federal government, which subjected the project to far less than adequate scrutiny. When these facts were published in the Arkansas Gazette they caused a firestorm of protest. APL was urged to pull out of Grand Gulf by the chairman of the Public Service Commission. We organized a massive postcard campaign to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging it to reverse the Grand Gulf decision and give Arkansas relief. All to no avail.
The Grand Gulf arrangement was eventually upheld by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which had jurisdiction over cases involving federal regulatory agencies. The opinion was written by Judge Robert Bork, my old Constitutional Law professor. Just as he had been at Yale, he was all for states rights when it came to restrictions on individual liberty. On the other hand, when big business was involved, he thought the federal government should have the final say and protect business from meddlesome state efforts to look out for ordinary citizens. In 1987, in testimony I researched and wrote myself for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Borks decision in the Grand Gulf case was one of the grounds I cited for opposing his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I worked hard on an energy plan against stiff opposition, but I had made a powerful adversary in APL, which had offices in most counties. And I wasnt through making enemies. I was upset by what I thought were excessive clear-cutting practices by some of our timber companies and appointed Steve Smith to head a task force to look into it. Steve was still in his firebrand phase. He scared the timber folks and made them mad. All I wanted the clear-cutters to do was to reduce the size of their big cuts and leave adequate buffers along roads and streams to reduce soil erosion. My loudest critics claimed I wanted to put every log hauler and mill worker out of business. We got nowhere, and Steve got disgusted and went home to the hills not long afterward.
I even made some people mad in my economic development work. Thats hard to do. I was determined to broaden the states efforts beyond the traditional function of recruiting new industries, to include the expansion of existing industries and aid to small and minority businesses and farmers in marketing their products at home and abroad. We dramatically increased the activity of our states European office in Brussels and I took the first Arkansas trade mission to the Far Eastto Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong. We became the first state in America to have our own program for handling hazardous waste products approved by the federal government. We were also successful in the traditional work of recruiting new industries, with increased investments over previous years of 75 percent in 1979 and 64 percent in 1980. How could I make anybody mad with that record? Because I changed the name of the department, from the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission to the Department of Economic Development, to reflect its new, broader scope of activity. The AIDC, it turned out, was a sacred brand name to many influential businesspeople who had served on the commission and to local chamber of commerce directors all over the state who had worked with the agency. They were not satisfied by my appointment of Jim Dyke, a successful Little Rock businessman, to lead the new department. If I hadnt changed its name, I could have done all the same things without the adverse fallout. In 1979 and 1980, I seemed to have an affinity for adverse fallout.
I made a similar mistake in education. I appointed Dr. Don Roberts, superintendent of schools in Newport News, Virginia, to be director of education. Don had been an administrator in the Little Rock system a few years earlier, so he knew a lot of the players, and he had a friendly, low-key manner and got along well with most of them. He implemented the reforms I passed in the legislature, plus one of his own, a teacher-training program called PET, Program for Effective Teaching. The problem was that to get Don in, I had to ask for the resignation of the departments longtime director, Arch Ford. Arch was a fine gentleman who had devoted decades of dedicated service to Arkansas schoolchildren. It was time for him to retire, though, and this time, I didnt make the mistake of letting someone else ask him to go. But I could have handled it better, giving him a big send-off and taking pains to make it look like his idea. I just blew it.
In the human services area, we got generally good reviews. We took the sales tax off prescription drugs, a measure especially helpful to seniors, and increased the homestead-property tax exemption for them by two-thirds. All told, more than twenty-five bills directly benefiting the elderly were passed, including tougher standards for nursing homes and an expansion of home health care.
Nineteen seventy-nine was the International Year of the Child. Hillary, who was serving as chair of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, an organization she had helped to found, took the lead in pushing some meaningful changes, including passing a Uniform Child Custody Act to eliminate custody problems for families moving in and out of our state; reducing the average daily population of our youth-service detention centers by 25 percent; developing better inpatient and community-based treatment for severely disturbed children; and placing 35 percent more children with special needs in adoptive homes.
Finally, I got involved in welfare reform for the first time. The Carter administration named Arkansas one of a handful of states to participate in a workfare experiment, in which able-bodied food-stamp recipients were required to register for work in order to keep getting the stamps. The experience sparked my abiding interest in moving toward a more empowering, work-oriented approach to helping poor people, one that I carried with me all the way to the White House and the signing of the Welfare Reform bill of 1996.
As 1980 dawned, I felt good about the governorship and my life. I had made some powerful interests angry, and gripes about the car tags were growing, but I had a long list of progressive legislative and administrative initiatives of which I was very proud.
In September, our friends Diane Kincaid and Jim Blair were married in Morriss and Ann Henrys backyard, where Hillary and I had had our wedding reception four years earlier. I performed the ceremony, as the Arkansas Constitution allows governors to do, and Hillary served as both bridesmaid and best man. The politically correct Blairs referred to her as best person. I couldnt argue with that.
Besides being the best, Hillary was pregnantvery pregnant. We badly wanted to have a child and had been trying for some time without success. In the summer of 1979, we decided to make an appointment with a fertility expert in San Francisco as soon as we got back from a short vacation in Bermuda, but we had a wonderful time, so wonderful we never made it to San Francisco. Soon after we got home, Hillary found out she was pregnant. She kept working for several months, and we attended Lamaze classes in anticipation of my participating in a natural childbirth. I really enjoyed those classes and the time we spent with the other expectant parents, who were mostly middle-class working people just as excited as we were. A few weeks before her delivery date, Hillary was having a few problems. Her doctor told her she absolutely couldnt travel. We had complete confidence in him and understood that she had to observe his travel ban. Unfortunately, that meant she couldnt go with me to the annual Washington meeting of the National Governors Association, including dinner at the White House with President and Mrs. Carter. I went to the conference; took Carolyn Huber, who had left the Rose Law Firm to run the Governors Mansion for us, to the White House dinner, called home every few hours, and returned as soon as I could on the night of February 27.
Fifteen minutes after I walked into the Governors Mansion, Hillarys water broke, three weeks early. I was nervous as a cat, carrying around my list of Lamaze materials to take to Arkansas Baptist Hospital. The state troopers who worked at the mansion were nervous, too. I asked them to get the bag of ice cubes for Hillary to suck on while I gathered the other stuff. They dida nine-pound bag, enough to last her through a week of labor. With the trunk loaded with Hillarys ice, the troopers got us to the hospital in no time. Soon after we arrived, we learned Hillary would have to give birth by cesarean section because the baby was in breech, upside down in the womb. I was told that hospital policy did not permit fathers in the delivery room when an operation was necessary. I pleaded with the hospital administrator to let me go in, saying that I had been to surgeries with Mother and that they could cut Hillary open from head to toe and I wouldnt get sick or faint, whereas Hillary was on edge, because she had never been a hospital patient in her entire life and she needed me there. They relented. At 11:24 p.m., I held Hillarys hand and looked over the screen blocking her view of the cutting and bleeding to see the doctor lift our baby out of her body. It was the happiest moment of my life, one my own father never knew.
Our little girl was a healthy six pounds, one and three quarters ounces, and she cried on cue. While Hillary was in the recovery room, I carried Chelsea out to Mother and anyone else who was available to see the worlds most wonderful baby. I talked to her and sang to her. I never wanted that night to end. At last I was a father. Despite my love for politics and government and my growing ambitions, I knew then that being a father was the most important job Id ever have. Thanks to Hillary and Chelsea, it also turned out to be the most rewarding.
When we got home from the hospital, Chelsea had a ready-made extended family in the Governors Mansion staff, including Carolyn Huber and Eliza Ashley, who had cooked there forever. Liza thought I looked too young to be governor in part because I was thin; she said if I were more stout Id look the part, and she was determined to make it happen. Shes a great cook, and unfortunately she succeeded.
The Rose firm gave Hillary four months of parental leave to get Chelsea off to a good start. Because I was the boss, I could control when I went to the office, so I arranged my work to be home a lot in those first few months. Hillary and I talked often about how fortunate we were to have had that critical time to bond with Chelsea. Hillary told me that most other advanced countries provided paid parental leave to all citizens, and we believed that other parents should have the same priceless opportunity wed had. I thought about those first months with Chelsea in February 1993, when I signed my first bill into law as President, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows most American workers three months off when a baby is born or a family member is ill. By the time I left office, more than thirty-five million Americans had taken advantage of the law. People still come up to me, tell me their stories, and thank me for it.
After we got Chelsea settled in, I went back to work in a year that would be dominated by politics and disasters. Often the two were indistinguishable.
One of the things candidates dont discuss much and voters dont consider carefully in races for governor or President is crisis management. How will the Chief Executive handle natural or man-made disasters? I had more than my fair share in my first term as governor. The state was deluged in winter ice storms when I took office. I called out the National Guard to get generators to people without electricity, clear rural roads, and pull vehicles out of ditches. In the spring of 1979, we had a string of tornadoes, which required me to ask President Carter to officially declare Arkansas a disaster area, making us eligible for federal funds. We opened disaster-assistance centers to help people whod lost their homes, businesses, and farm crops. We had to do it all over again when the spring of 1980 brought more tornadoes.
In the summer of 1980, we had a terrible heat wave that killed more than one hundred people and brought the worst drought in fifty years. Senior citizens were most at risk. We kept the senior centers open longer and provided state and federal money to buy electric fans, rent air conditioners, and help pay electric bills. We also got strong support from the Carter administration in the form of low-interest loans for poultry producers whod lost millions of chickens, and farmers whose fields had burned up. The roads were collapsing under the heat, and we had a record number of fires, nearly eight hundred, forcing me to ban outdoor burning. Rural Arkansas was not in a positive frame of mind heading toward the November election.
Besides the natural disasters, we had some crises brought on by human accident or design. The damage they caused was more psychological than physical or financial, but it was profound. In the spring of 1979, the Ku Klux Klan and its national director, David Duke, decided to hold a meeting in Little Rock. I was determined to avoid the violence that had erupted between Klansmen and protesters recently during a similar rally in Decatur, Alabama. My public safety director, Tommy Robinson, studied the Decatur situation and put in place stringent security measures to avoid a repeat. We had a lot of state troopers and local police on the ground, with instructions to arrest people at the first sign of disorder. Eventually, six people were arrested, but no one was hurt, thanks largely to the deterrent effect of the large police presence. I felt good about how we handled the Klan situation, and it increased my confidence that we could deal properly with anything that might happen in the future. A year later, something much bigger came up.
In the spring of 1980, Fidel Castro deported 120,000 political prisoners and other undesirables, many of them with criminal records or mental problems, to the United States. They sailed to Florida, seeking asylum and creating a massive problem for the Carter administration. I knew immediately that the White House might want to send some of the Cubans to Fort Chaffee, a large installation near Fort Smith, because it had been used as a relocation center in the mid-seventies for Vietnamese refugees. That relocation was largely successful, and many Vietnamese families were still living in western Arkansas and doing well.
When I discussed the issue with Gene Eidenberg, the White House official handling the Cuban issue for the President, I told him the Vietnamese effort had worked well in part because of preliminary screenings in the Philippines and Thailand to weed out those who shouldnt be admitted to the United States in the first place. I suggested he put an aircraft carrier or other large vessel off the coast of Florida and do the same kind of screening. I knew that most of the refugees werent criminals or crazy, but they were being portrayed that way in the press, and the screening process would build public support for those who did come in. Gene said screening would be pointless because there was no place to send the rejects. Sure there is, I said. We still have a base at Guantnamo, dont we? And there must be a gate in the fence that divides it from Cuba. Take them to Guantnamo, open the door, and march them back into Cuba. Castro was making America look foolish and the President look powerless. Jimmy Carter already had his hands full with inflation and the Iranian hostage crisis; he didnt need this. My proposal seemed to me to be a good way for the President to look strong, turn lemons into lemonade, and pave the way for public acceptance of the refugees who were allowed to stay. When the White House dismissed my suggestion out of hand, I should have known we were in for a long, rough ride.
On May 7, the White House notified me that Fort Chaffee would be used to resettle some of the Cubans. I urged the White House to take strong security precautions and made a statement to the press saying the Cubans were fleeing a Communist dictatorship and pledging to do all I can to fulfill whatever responsibilities the President imposes upon Arkansans to facilitate their resettlement. By May 20, there were nearly twenty thousand Cubans at Fort Chaffee. Almost as soon as they arrived, disturbances by young, restless Cubans, tired of being fenced in and uncertain about their future, became a staple of daily life inside the fort. As I have said, Fort Smith was a very conservative community, and most people were none too happy in the first place about the Cubans coming. When reports of the disturbances were publicized, people in Fort Smith and nearby towns became frightened and angry, especially those who lived in the little town of Barling, which borders the fort. As Sheriff Bill Cauthron, who was strong and sensible throughout the crisis, said in an interview: To say that they [local residents] are scared is an understatement. They are arming themselves to the teeth, and that only makes the situation more volatile.
On Monday night, May 26, a couple hundred refugees charged the barricades and ran out of the fort through an unguarded gate. At dawn the next morning, primary election day, I called sixty-five National Guardsmen to Fort Chaffee, flew to Fayetteville with Hillary to vote, then went to the fort, where I spent the day talking to people on the ground and at the White House. The commanding officer, Brigadier General James Bulldog Drummond, was an impressive man with a sterling combat record. When I complained that his troops had let the Cubans off base, he told me he couldnt stop them; he had been told by his immediate superior that a federal statute, the posse comitatus law, prohibits the military from exercising law-enforcement authority over civilians. Apparently, the army had concluded that the law covered the Cubans, though their legal status was uncertain. They werent citizens or legal immigrants, but they werent illegal aliens either. Since they had broken no law, Drummond was told he couldnt keep them at the fort against their will just because the local population detested and feared them. The general said his sole mission was to keep order on the base. I called the President, explained the situation, and demanded that someone be given authority to keep the Cubans on the base. I was afraid people in the area were going to start shooting them. There had been a run on handguns and rifles in every gun store within fifty miles of Chaffee.
The next day I again spoke to the President, who said that he was sending more troops and that they would maintain order and keep the Cubans inside the base. Gene Eidenberg told me that the Justice Department was sending the Pentagon a letter saying the military had the legal authority to do so. By the end of the day, I was able to relax a little and to ponder the primary election, in which my only opponent, the old turkey farmer Monroe Schwarzlose, got 31 percent of the vote, thirty times the vote he had received in the 1978 primary. The rural folks were sending me a message about the car tags. I hoped they had gotten it out of their system, but they hadnt.
On the night of June 1, all hell broke loose. One thousand Cubans ran out of the fort, right past federal troops, and onto Highway 22, where they began walking toward Barling. Once again, the troops didnt lift a finger to stop them. So I did. The only barrier between the Cubans and several hundred angry and armed Arkansans was composed of state troopers under the command of Captain Deloin Causey, a dedicated and coolheaded leader; the National Guardsmen; and Sheriff Bill Cauthrons deputies. I had given Causey and the National Guard strict instructions not to let the Cubans pass. I knew what would happen if they did: a bloodbath that would make the Little Rock Central High crisis look like a Sunday afternoon picnic. The Cubans kept coming at our people and began throwing rocks. Finally, Causey told the state police to fire shots over their heads. Only then did they turn around and go back to the fort. When the smoke cleared, sixty-two people had been injured, five of them from the shotgun blasts, and three of Fort Chaffees buildings had been destroyed. But no one was killed or hurt too badly.
I flew up to Chaffee as soon as I could to meet with General Drummond. We had a real shouting match. I was outraged that his troops hadnt stopped the Cubans after the White House had assured me the Pentagon had received Justice Department approval to do so. The general didnt flinch. He told me he took his orders from a two-star general in San Antonio, Texas, and no matter what the White House had said to me, his orders hadnt changed. Drummond was a real straight shooter; he was obviously telling the truth. I called Gene Eidenberg, told him what Drummond had said, and demanded an explanation. Instead I got a lecture. Eidenberg said hed been told I was overreacting and grandstanding after my disappointing primary showing. It was obvious that Gene, whom I considered a friend, didnt understand the situation, or me, as well as I had thought he did.
I was fit to be tied. I told him that since he obviously didnt have confidence in my judgment, he could make the next decision: You can either come down here and fix this right now, tonight, or Im going to shut the fort down. Ill put National Guardsmen at every entrance and no one will go in or out without my approval.
He was incredulous. You cant do that, he said. Its a federal facility.
That may be, I shot back, but its on a state road and I control it. Its your decision.
Eidenberg flew to Fort Smith on an air force plane that night. I picked him up, and before we went to the fort I took him on a tour of Barling. It was well after midnight, but down every street we drove, at every house, armed residents were on alert, sitting on their lawns, on their porches, and, in one case, on the roof. Ill never forget one lady, who looked to be in her seventies, sitting stoically in her lawn chair with her shotgun across her lap. Eidenberg was shocked by what he saw. After we finished the tour he looked at me and said, I had no idea.
After the tour, we met with General Drummond and other federal, state, and local officials for an hour or so. Then we talked to the horde of press people who had gathered. Eidenberg promised that the security problem would be fixed. Later that day, June 2, the White House said the Pentagon had received clear instructions to maintain order and keep the Cubans on the base. President Carter also acknowledged that the people of Arkansas had suffered needless anxiety and promised that no more Cubans would be sent to Fort Chaffee.
Delays with the screening process seemed to be the root cause of the turmoil, and the people doing the screening made an effort to speed it up. When I went to visit the fort not long afterward, the situation was calmer and everyone seemed to be in a better frame of mind.
While things seemed to be settling down, I was still troubled by what had happened, or hadnt, between May 28, when Eidenberg told me the army had been ordered to keep the Cubans from leaving Chaf-fee, and June 1, when they let one thousand of them escape. Either the White House hadnt told me the truth, or the Justice Department was slow in getting its legal opinion to the Pentagon, or someone in the Pentagon had defied a lawful order of the Commander in Chief. If thats what happened, it amounted to a serious breach of the Constitution. Im not sure the whole truth ever came out. As I learned when I got to Washington, after things go wrong, the willingness to take responsibility often vanishes.
In August, Hillary and I went to Denver for the summer meeting of the National Governors Association. All the talk was of presidential politics. President Carter seemed to have survived a vigorous challenge to his renomination from Senator Edward Kennedy, but Kennedy had not withdrawn. We had breakfast with the famous criminal lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, whom Hillary had known for years and who had wanted her to come to work for him after law school. Williams was strongly for Kennedy, and believed hed have a better chance to defeat Ronald Reagan in the fall campaign because the President was bedeviled by a bad economy and the ten-month-long captivity of our hostages in Iran.
I disagreed with him on the politics and the merits. Carter had done a lot of good things as President, wasnt responsible for the OPEC price increases that had fueled the inflation, and had few good options for dealing with the hostage crisis. Besides, despite the problems with the Cubans, the Carter White House had been good to Arkansas, giving financial aid and support for our reform efforts in education, energy, health, and economic development. I had also been given remarkable access to the White House, for both business and pleasure. In the latter category, the best visit was when I took Mother to hear Willie Nelson sing on the South Lawn of the White House at a picnic the President hosted for NASCAR. After the event, Mother and I accompanied Nelson and the Presidents son Chip to the Hay-Adams Hotel, across Lafayette Square from the White House, where Willie sat at the piano and sang for us until two in the morning.
For all those reasons, I was feeling good about my relationship with the White House as the National Governors Association meeting began. The Democratic governors and their Republican counterparts held separate meetings. I had been elected vice chairman of the Democratic governors at the winter meeting, thanks to my nomination by Governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina, who would become one of my closest friends among the governors and an ally in the fight for education reform all the way through the White House years. Bob Strauss, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, asked me to get the Democratic Governors Association to endorse President Carter over Senator Kennedy. After a quick canvass of the governors present, I told Strauss the vote would be twenty to four for Carter. We had a civilized debate, with Strauss speaking for the President and Governor Hugh Carey of New York arguing for Kennedy. After the 204 vote, Strauss and I spoke briefly to the press, touting the endorsement as a show of confidence in and political boost for President Carter at a time when he needed it.
About fifteen minutes later, I was told the White House was trying to reach me on the phone. Apparently the President wanted to thank me for helping line up the governors support. Appearances can be deceiving. What the President wanted to tell me was that the weather was about to turn cold in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the rest of the Cubans were being housed. Because those forts werent insulated from the winter weather, he said it would be necessary to move the refugees. Then came the kicker. Now that the security problems were solved at Fort Chaffee, they would be moved there. I responded, Mr. President, you promised that no more refugees would be sent to Arkansas. Send them to a fort in some warm place out west youre not going to win in November anyway. The President replied that hed considered that but couldnt do it because it would cost $10 million to outfit a facility out west. I said, Mr. President, your word to the people of Arkansas is worth $10 million. He disagreed, and we ended the conversation.
Now that Ive been President, I have some idea of the pressures Jimmy Carter was under. He was dealing with both rampant inflation and a stagnant economy. The American hostages in Iran had been held by the Ayatollah Khomeini for almost a year. The Cubans werent rioting anymore, so they were the least of his problems. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had both voted for him in 1976, and they had more electoral votes than Arkansas, which he had won with almost two-thirds of the vote. I was still more than twenty points ahead of my opponent, Frank White, in the polls, so how could I be hurt?
At the time I saw it differently. I knew the President would be hurt badly by breaking his commitment to Arkansas. Whether or not the forts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had to be closed for weather or for political reasons, sending the remaining Cubans to the one place he had promised not to, in order to save $10 million, was nuts. I called Rudy Moore and my campaign chairman, Dick Herget, to see what they thought I should do. Dick said I should fly directly to Washington to see the President. If I couldnt change his mind, I should talk to the press outside the White House and withdraw my support for his reelection. But I couldnt do that, for two reasons. First, I didnt want to look like a modern version of Orval Faubus and other southern governors who resisted federal authority in the civil rights years. Second, I didnt want to do anything to help Ronald Reagan beat Carter. Reagan was running a great campaign, with a big head of steam, fueled by the hostages, the bad economy, and the intense support of right-wing groups outraged about everything from abortion to Carters turning the Panama Canal over to Panama.
Gene Eidenberg asked me not to announce the relocation until he could come to Arkansas and put the best face on it. The story leaked anyway, and Genes visit to Arkansas did little to help. He made a convincing case that there would be no further security problems, but he couldnt deny that the President was breaking a clear commitment to the state that had been more supportive of him than any other outside his native Georgia. I won a larger role in controlling the security arrangements and made some improvements, but I was still the Presidents man in Arkansas who had failed to hold him to his word.
I returned home from Denver to a very volatile political situation. My opponent in the general election, Frank White, was gaining ground. White was a big man with a booming voice and a bombastic style that belied his background as a graduate of the Naval Academy, savings-and-loan executive, and former director of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission under Governor Pryor. He had strong support from all the interest groups Id taken on, including utility, poultry, trucking, and timber companies, and the medical associations. He was a born-again Christian with the strong backing of the state chapter of the Moral Majority and other conservative activists. And he had the pulse of the country people and blue-collar workers upset about the car tags. He also had the advantage of a generally disgruntled mood, due to the economy and the drought. When the bad economy led state revenues to decline below projections, I was forced to lower state spending to balance the budget, including education cuts that reduced the second years $1,200 pay raise for teachers to about $900. Many teachers didnt care about the states budget problems; they had been promised $1,200 for two years and they wanted the second installment. When it didnt come, the intensity of their support for me faded considerably.
Back in April, Hillary and I had seen Frank White at an event and I told her that no matter what the polls said, he was starting with 45 percent of the vote. I had made that many people mad. After the announcement that all the refugees would be housed at Fort Chaffee, White had his mantra for the election: Cubans and Car Tags. Thats all he talked about for the rest of the campaign. I campaigned hard in August but without much success. At factory gates, workers changing shifts said they wouldnt vote for me because I had made their economic woes worse and betrayed them by raising the car tags. Once while campaigning in Fort Smith, near the bridge to Oklahoma, when I asked a man for his support, he gave a more graphic version of the answer Id heard hundreds of times: You raised my car tags. I wouldnt vote for you if you were the only SOB on the ballot! He was angry and red in the face. In exasperation, I pointed over the bridge to Oklahoma and said, Look over there. If you lived in Oklahoma your car tags would be more than twice as expensive as they are now! Suddenly all the red drained out of his face. He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, See, kid, you just dont get it. Thats one reason I live on this side of the border.
At the end of August, I went to the Democratic National Convention with the Arkansas delegation. Senator Kennedy was still in the race, though he was clearly going to lose. I had some good friends working for Kennedy who wanted me to encourage him to withdraw before the balloting and make a generous speech supporting Carter. I liked Kennedy and thought it was best for him to be gracious, so that he wouldnt be blamed if Carter lost. The blood between the two candidates was bad, but my friends thought I might be able to persuade him. I went to the senators hotel suite and gave it my best shot. Kennedy ultimately did withdraw and endorse the President, though when they appeared on the platform together he didnt do a very good job of faking an enthusiasm he clearly didnt feel.
By convention time, I was the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and was invited to give a five-minute address. National conventions are noisy and chaotic. The delegates normally listen only to the keynote address and the presidential and vice-presidential acceptance speeches. If youre not giving one of those three, your only chance of being heard over the constant din of floor talk is to be compelling and quick. I tried to explain the painful, profoundly different economic situation we were experiencing, and to argue that the Democratic Party had to change to meet the challenge. Ever since World War II, Democrats had taken Americas prosperity for granted; their priorities were extending its benefits to more and more people and fighting for social justice. Now we had to deal with inflation and unemployment, big government deficits, and the loss of our competitive edge. Our failure to do so had driven more people to support Republicans or to join the growing cadre of alienated nonvoters. It was a good speech that took less than the allotted five minutes, but nobody paid much attention to it.
President Carter left the convention with all the problems he had when it started, and without the boost a genuinely enthusiastic, united party usually gives its nominee. I returned to Arkansas determined to try to salvage my own campaign. It kept getting worse.
On September 19, I was home in Hot Springs after a long day of politics when the commander of the Strategic Air Command called me to say that there had been an explosion in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas, about forty miles northwest of Little Rock. The story was unbelievable. An air force mechanic was repairing the missile when he dropped his three-pound wrench. It fell seventy feet to the bottom of the silo, bounced up, and punctured the tank full of rocket fuel. When the highly toxic fuel mixed with the air, it caused a fire, then a huge explosion that blew the 740-ton concrete top off the silo, killed the mechanic, and injured twenty other air force personnel who were near the opening. The explosion also destroyed the missile and catapulted its nuclear warhead into the cow pasture where the silo was located. I was assured that the warhead wouldnt detonate, that no radioactive material would be released, and that the military would remove it safely. At least my state wasnt going to be incinerated by Arkansas latest brush with bad luck. I was beginning to feel snakebit, but tried to make the best of the situation. I instructed my new director of public safety, Sam Tatom, to work out an emergency evacuation plan with federal officials in case something went wrong with one of the seventeen remaining Titan II missiles.
After all the other things wed been through, now Arkansas had the worlds only cow pasture with its very own nuclear warhead. A few days after the incident, Vice President Mondale came to our state Democratic convention in Hot Springs. When I asked him to make sure the military cooperated with us on a new emergency plan for the missiles, he picked up the phone and called Harold Brown, the secretary of defense.