Today, former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers turns 86 years old.
Bumpers is a political hero of mine because of his record of fighting for what he believed in, regardless of the political consequences, and his undying love and study of the U.S. Constitution. From observing Bumpers, along with former Senator David Pryor, I learned that politics and public service can be a noble profession.
In 1969, Dale Bumpers was a 44-year old unknown, small-town attorney and school board member from Charleston, Arkansas who had previously lost a race for State Representative. When he announced for Governor that year, he was a footnote candidate in a Democratic primary that featured former Governor Orval Faubus, Attorney General Joe Purcell and House Speaker Hayes McClerkin. Through his fantastic speech-giving abilities and smart use of TV advertising during the primary, he went on to defeat Faubus in the run-off and then defeated Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller in the fall of 1970.
Bumpers was a progressive Southern Democrat whose accomplishments as Governor in the areas of education and economic development are too numerous to mention here. His election as Governor created the path that later moderate-progressive Democrats, such as David Pryor and Bill Clinton, would follow. Clinton even went so far to steal Bumpers speech style and hand gestures, but nothing compares to the original. Watch video of Bumpers speaking and Clinton speaking and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
In 1974, Bumpers challenged and defeated incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator William Fulbright in the primary thus cementing his reputation as a political "giant killer." Bumpers served in the Senate until he declined to seek re-election in 1998.
In 1997, I was at the Lafayette Building in downtown Little Rock, the same site where Bumpers first announced for Governor, the day he announced his retirement. I remember feeling a great sadness because this noble man was retiring and our state was losing its last political giant. Bumpers, along with David Pryor, is the the only politician I wish would speak longer because of his rich story-telling abilities and sense of humor that often catches the listener by surprise.
I first experienced Bumpers quick wit when I was a 19-year old Young Democrat attending my first big political reception at the then-Excelsior Hotel. Before the event started, I was adjusting my tie in a hallway mirror when Bumpers strode by, quickly glanced in my direction and said, "Don’t worry, son, you’re perfect." Still cracks me up every time I think about it.
I wish more of today’s elected officials were like Dale Bumpers.
Happy Birthday, Senator Bumpers! Thank you for your service to our state and our country.
If you want to see Bumpers in his element, here is a link to University of Arkansas’ Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History. Bumpers (and Pryor) relive their political highlights at a banquet in Russellville. The video covers the whole evening, but it’s worth the watch.