Former governor and senator David Pryor again helped the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies pack the Ron Robinson Theater June 8, and again opened by talking about his contemporary Dale Bumpers.
Balcony seating was flush for the June 8 Legacies and Lunch noontime discussion, and folks stood and watched from the entrance and aisles. Unlike January’s Legacies which featured Clinton School of Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford interviewing Pryor just days after Bumpers’ passing, this one was moderated by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette political columnist John Brummett and featured fellow columnist Ernie Dumas, political operative Archie Schaffer, and Pryor.
Billed “Happy Hours and High Times,” remembrances fell quite a bit short of such anecdotes. The discussion pivoted largely around Bumpers’ 1972 gubernatorial campaign, Pryor’s first Senate race that same year against John McClelland, Pryor’s Arkansas Plan while governor, and his 1978 Senate race.
“In 1957, 13 years before the 1970s, Arkansas politics was nationally, internationally, discredited. It was known as a rural, populist, segregationist and backward. In 1992, 13 years after the 1970s, Arkansas politics produced a Rhodes Scholar moderate Democrat who became president of the United States,” Brummett said.
In the last decade – within the last few years, really – the state has experienced a partisan sea change. In 2010, none of the state’s federally elected office holders or state officers were Republican save 3rd Distric U.S. Rep. John Boozman (R-Rogers). Today, not a single federal or state officer is Democrat.
Schaffer, Bumpers’ nephew and an avowed Democrat, joined the Democratic governor and senator, and two left-leaning columnists to entertain that development against all this nostalgia for the 1970s. Was the progressive bridge of the 1970s finally buried by this recent ideological sweep?
“Is it still lingering at all, or is it over and are we in a new and different era? Ernest?” Brummett asked Dumas.
“ Yes, the last,” the columnist said.
“It’s completely over?” the moderator said.
“I think so,” he concluded.
“I think, too, that, what has changed is not necessarily just limited to the political parties and the base of each of our political parties, but I think what has also changed is the way people get their news, and it is a new day. It is just a new day,” Pryor pointed out.
The program came about because of a conversation Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummet and Central Arkansas Library System director Nate Coulter had after the passing of U.S. Rep. Ray Thornton in April, the second high profile Arkansas politician to pass away this year. (Bumpers died in January.) Pryor and Bumpers were among a class of progressive Arkansas Democrats that included President Bill Clinton who followed the transformative progressive leadership of Republican governor Winthrop Rockefeller.
The panel had a good time and put on a good performance for the capacity - mostly retirement-age crowd - inside the Ron Robinson Theater downtown.
Legacies and Lunch is a free, monthly program put on by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a department of the Central Arkansas Library System. The next one is Aug. 3 inside the main library’s Darragh meeting space. The topic is the Gridiron, the semi-annual sketch comedy show put on by the county’s lawyers and judges.