Arkansas Years Likely To Be Part Of Hillary Clinton’s Story At Democratic Convention

Jul 24, 2016

Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton in the mid-1980s during an interview on KLRE-FM 90.5 in Little Rock.
Credit KLRE-KUAR Archives

As the case is made during this week’s Democratic National Convention for why Hillary Clinton should be elected president of the United States, expect to hear at least some about her time living in Arkansas.

Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, says the years she was Arkansas’s first lady with then-Gov. Bill Clinton were key in the formative development of the political leader she is today. He says it also presents a more likeable image than how many now view her.

"I think that in trying to reintroduce Hillary to the country as something more than the devil figure that the Republicans portrayed her to be, you’ll see a lot of humanizing efforts that will show her work with children, show her work on behalf of education reform and I think to tell that story about Hillary, you’re going to have to talk about Arkansas and you’re going to get some testimony from folks who were here when all this was going on," Bass says.

He doesn’t expect Arkansans will play as prominent a role in the Democratic convention as they did at last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where three statewide elected office-holders had prime-time speaking roles. But Bass expects her experiences in the state will be touted.

"They’re not going to be necessarily front and center because I think Hillary was never as much a part of Arkansas as Bill was, but she was clearly here for much of her adult life and I think it’s part of the story and I think it’ll be on display in Philadelphia."

Hillary Clinton grew up in Chicago and moved to Arkansas with Bill Clinton after they met while attending Yale Law School. He was born in Hope and grew up in Hot Springs.

Arkansas delegates to the convention who had experiences with her during the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s are eager to share those stories.

Arkansas state Sen. Joyce Elliot
Credit Arkansas Times

"Some of us from Arkansas have already had many inquiries from other delegations, from national press about the time she was here in Arkansas because that is where the whole thing started with her when it comes to being involved in politics," says state Sen. Joyce Elliot of Little Rock, who is vice-chair of the state party.

Elliot says she first met Mrs. Clinton when the first lady was playing "a big role in education, leading the effort to help write the first standards we really had of any substance here in Arkansas." She also credits Clinton for her work co-founding Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, which improved foster care at a time when it "was not high on anybody’s radar."

After watching Donald Trump campaign over the last year, Elliot says she feels extremely motivated to do the hard "sacrificial work" necessary to get Clinton elected. She believes Republicans have been effective at creating misperceptions about Clinton through repeated Congressional hearings over her role in Benghazi or using a private server for her email account.

Also in Philadelphia for this week’s convention is former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who serves on the Democratic National Committee.

Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in November 2013.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

"I hope that the people here in Arkansas are proud of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their contributions to our nation and to the world, but I hope they also see the very stark contrast between the convention that just concluded where Donald Trump painted a dark, dark picture of the United States and declared that he alone should be empowered to fix it," McDaniel said.

"I think that Secretary Clinton is going to say of course we have problems, America always has problems, but we are better suited than any nation on earth to address our problems and to improve and to give our children hope and opportunity and to improve our standing in the world and here at home."

Former President Clinton and daughter Chelsea are expected to speak during the convention, culminating in Mrs. Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday.

While noting the importance of her later roles as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, McDaniel hopes the lead up to her speech will give adequate attention to her efforts in Arkansas.

"She wasn’t a public figure, she wasn’t an elected official, and so it truly was because it was her character, it was what she believed, to invest so much of herself in serving children here in Arkansas and helping with serving children in court, serving children at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, working to develop programs that still endure today. She did that on her own strength and merit while her husband was pursuing his own agenda as governor."