John Paul Hammerschmidt, the longtime Arkansas congressman who defeated Bill Clinton in the former president's first race for political office, has died. He was 92.
Hammerschmidt spent two decades in Congress before retiring in 1993.The Roller-Christeson Funeral Home in Harrison confirms that he died early Wednesday. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Hammerschmidt was elected to Congress in 1966, becoming Arkansas' first Republican congressman since Reconstruction. Eight years later, he defeated Clinton for re-election, handing the future president one of only two political defeats.
During his 26 years in Congress, he sponsored legislation creating the Buffalo National River, protecting the area from overdevelopment.
Hammerschmidt operated a lumber and business supply company before being elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in heavily Republican northwestern Arkansas.
With news of his passing, officials have been sharing written tributes.
Governor Asa Hutchinson:
John Paul Hammerschmidt was an icon of Arkansas and Washington politics. For years, he was the lone Republican member of Arkansas’s congressional delegation, representing the Third Congressional District for 13 terms. As such, he balanced his conservative convictions with a unique ability to work across party lines and accomplish great things for the people of Arkansas. His was the voice heard most clearly and often in the bipartisan effort to preserve the Buffalo as the first National River in the United States.
Congressman Hammerschmidt was also a leader on transportation issues, helping to build Arkansas’s roads and highways and making the state more competitive nationally. On a personal note, John Paul was a mentor of mine. I was privileged to hold his seat in Congress, and I called on his wise counsel and advice countless times. I will miss him greatly. The state has lost a true statesman and a good man.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee:
John Paul Hammerschmidt was one of the true pioneers of the Arkansas Republican Party. All of us who have ever been elected in Arkansas as Republicans owe this statesman our deepest respect. But JPH was far more than a Republican leader. He was the purest of public servants, who created the template for serving his constituents and living his life with impeccable integrity and honor. He was the most unselfish and self-effacing person I've ever known in politics. If he had an ego, it was the best kept secret in Washington where there are no secrets...
In my first race, I was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Houston, the year that JPH was retiring. Reporters came to him and asked his opinion of the news of the day. Knowing that I could use the publicity since I was a newcomer, he turned to me seated behind him and told the reporters they should ask me. Not before or since have I ever known of a political figure who would take himself off the stage to make room for someone else.
Congressman Steve Womack:
Today is an extremely sad day for the Third District and the entire state of Arkansas. John Paul Hammerschmidt was a statesman and one of our most steadfast advocates – he always put Arkansas first. As the lone Republican in our delegation for many years, John Paul proudly fought to protect Arkansas’s conservative values in Congress while working bipartisanly to bring critical transportation infrastructure to the Third District, enabling northwest Arkansas’s explosive growth. For this work and for his legendary constituent service, he garnered enormous respect. Simply put, no one did it better. He leaves behind a grateful state forever indebted for his decades of service. My prayers are with his family.
Congressman French Hill:
For the past three decades I have known and respected John Paul Hammerschmidt, and I have long admired his dedication to the public good of our state and nation. He was first and foremost a gentleman, and he earned the affection and support of his constituents by way of his unfailing gold standard of service. I join all Arkansans in saluting him for his lifetime of service, first as an airman, and then as the dean of our congressional delegation. Martha and I extend our sympathy and prayers for comfort to his fine family.
U.S. Senator Tom Cotton:
Today, I join all Arkansans in mourning the death former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt. A proud son of Harrison, John Paul was a decorated World War II pilot who represented Arkansas in Congress for 26 years. His contributions to Arkansas’s infrastructure system were invaluable and his legacy lives on in highways, waterways, and bridges across our state. John Paul Hammerschmidt was also a Republican leader for Arkansas in an era when not too many others were. His leadership and commitment to the Republican Party of Arkansas paved the way for every Republican elected official in Arkansas today. Arkansas is a better place because of his service to our state. We extend our deepest condolences to his son, John Arthur, and continue to lift the entire Hammerschmidt family up in prayer.
U.S. Senator John Boozman:
You would have been hard-pressed to find a kinder, gentler man than John Paul Hammerschmidt. As a mentor and friend, John Paul’s wisdom and counsel has shaped my time in Washington more than anyone else. It was John Paul who taught me that after the election is over, there are no more Republicans, no more Democrats, only the people of Arkansas. His dedication to his constituents during his career in public service was unmatched and is a marker we should all strive to meet. John Paul was the embodiment of a true public servant. His legacy will live on as a testament to the way those serving in Washington should operate.
Arkansas Treasurer of State Dennis Milligan:
I am deeply sadden to hear of the passing of my dear friend, mentor and party stalwart, John Paul Hammerschmidt. Tina and I offer our sincere condolences to his family and loved ones. I had the opportunity to work with Congressman Hammerschmidt as a party chairman and candidate. I was honored to have his support during my campaign and always valued his advice and insights. He will be deeply missed. Many things will be said about Congressman Hammerschmidt and his legacy, and all I will add is the word legend might be too small.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:
I am heartbroken by the news that my dear friend and campaign chairman in my race for Attorney General, Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, has passed away. The Congressman has served as a mentor and friend to not only me, but countless Arkansans. His challenge to public officials that they should ‘represent all Arkansans, not just the ones who voted for you’ is a testament to his character and words that help guide me daily. For 26 years, Congressman Hammerschmidt represented Arkansas’s Third Congressional District, and even upon his retirement remained active and involved in major issues to help grow the State for future generations.
Congressman Hammerschmidt was a true public servant and constant ambassador for the State of Arkansas. My thoughts and prayers are with the Congressman’s numerous family members and friends, and the people of the Third District who he represented with consummate humility and integrity.