Former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, the long-time and popular Congressman of Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District and one of only two Republicans to defeat Bill Clinton in an election, has died. He was 92.
Hammerschmidt defeated Democrat and popular U.S. Rep. Jim Trimble in 1966 to capture the seat. He held the District until retiring in January 1993. For most of his years in Congress, Hammerschmidt was the only Republican in the Arkansas Congressional Delegation.
Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, said Hammerschmidt was an “advocate and mentor” to many people across the state and nation. Lindsey served on the Northwest Arkansas Council in its early years, and worked closely with Hammerschmidt on council goals – which included construction of Interstate 49 through western Arkansas, construction of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA), and construction of the two-ton water system that now serves Benton and Washington counties.
“The whole bedrock of what Northwest Arkansas is rests on his shoulders. … From the time the council started in 1990, John Paul was always a leading advocate for the Third District, and in fact the entire state,” Lindsey said.
Continuing, Lindsey noted: “Arkansas has lost a great statesmen and the people of Arkansas have lost a good friend. We will miss him and we will miss all the many things he did to help Arkansans have a better and full life.”
Lindsey said Hammerschmidt was largely responsible for securing in 1991 more than $100 million to begin work on the interstate between Alma and Fayetteville. He was “instrumental in getting Federal Aviation Administration awards” of at least $70 million for work to begin on XNA. Lindsey also said Hammerschmidt secured $50 million in funds to begin the expansion of U.S. 412 across north Arkansas.
“As we liked to call him, he was Arkansas’ third Senator,” Lindsey said.
Hammerschmidt was born May 4, 1922 in Boone County, Ark., and graduated from Harrison High School in 1938. His family was in the lumber business.
He attended The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., in 1938-1939, and the University of Arkansas in 1940 and 1941. After his Congressional career, Hammerschmidt would complete a master’s program at Canbourne University in London, England.
During World War II, Hammerschmidt was a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew cargo planes over the famous but treacherous “Burma Hump” in southeast Asia. He remained a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves between 1945 and 1960. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, three Battle Stars, the China War Memorial Medal (by the Republic of China), and the Meritorious Service Award. He retired from the Air Force reserve as a major.
His private sector work included being president of Hammerschmidt Lumber Co. in Harrison, president of the Arkansas Lumber Dealers Association, and president of the Southwestern Lumberman’s Association.
Hammerschmidt also served on the Board of Directors of Southwestern Energy Co., Little Rock-based Dillard’s, First Federal Bank, the University of the Ozarks (Clarksville, Ark.), and the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Airports Authority Board.
He was a delegate to the National Republican Convention in 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984. His other political service includes being a member of the Harrison City Council.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a former Third District Congressman, said:
“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.”
U.S. Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., a former Third District Congressman, issued a statement on Hammerschmidt:
“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.”
Former Gov. 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. When I was Governor, I called upon him many times for advice and counsel and he was the creator of the mechanism of our highway construction program. Arkansas has lost one of its most treasured senior statesmen. Janet and I will forever be grateful for the kindnesses that he and Ginny extended to us.”
Former President Bill Clinton on John Paul Hammerschmidt:
“I am saddened by the passing of John Paul Hammerschmidt. I learned a lot about people and politics when we ran against each other in 1974. The biggest factor in his victory was how hard he worked to help the people he represented with their individual problems. His casework was legendary, and he kept it up throughout his long career. I hope his legacy will prompt more officials to keep the human element of public service in mind. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his many friends across Arkansas and the nation.”
State Treasurer Dennis Milligan, a former state GOP chairman:
“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.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, current Third District Congressman, said:
“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.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also issued a statement regarding Hammerschmidt, who was her campaign chairman.
“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.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said:
“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.”
Lt. Governor Tim Griffin today issued the following statement regarding Hammerschmidt:
“I am saddened by the passing of my longtime friend and Arkansas legend, Congressman Hammerschmidt. He will always be remembered for his remarkable and strong leadership. Even though he was elected by only a portion of Arkansas as a Member of Congress, he was a leader for all of Arkansas and recognized nationally as such. He was a trailblazer and will be missed greatly. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Fourth District Cong. Bruce Westerman also joined the chorus praising Hammerschmidt:
“I am saddened to hear of Congressman Hammerschmidt’s passing. His long tenure in the United States Congress paved the way for those of us in office today, showing how to not only serve our constituents but also how to lead even when he was the sole Republican in the Arkansas delegation. Hammerschmidt’s conservative values continue to be a guide to those of us who have followed in his footsteps and I will be forever in his gratitude for being a long-time champion of conservative values and of Arkansas. My thoughts are with his family and many friends at this difficult time.”
Second District Cong. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said:
“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.”
From former Second District Cong. Ed Bethune:
“John Paul was my mentor from the moment I got to Congress in 1978. He loved this country and gave his entire life to making it a better place for all mankind. Lana and I shared many special moments with John Paul and Ginny. I pray that, in time, the young people of this country will learn about them and about their selfless dedication to the business of serving others. We need more people like John Paul and Virginia Hammerschmidt. Lana and I extend our condolences to the family and to John Arthur in particular. His love for his father and the care he gave him in his last days is a model for others to follow. God Bless you John Paul. Rest in Peace my good and honorable friend.”