Former legislator dies | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 2, 2007

Former legislator dies

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2007 at 9:44 AM

Former House Speaker Ray Smith, a Hot Springs lawyer, died yesterday at 83. Funeral arrangements are by Gross Funeral Home. He was brilliant (Phi Beta Kappa, Washington and Lee, 1950), a legislative fiscal authority, a protector of Hot Springs' legislative interests and, notably, a symbol of courage at a time in Arkansas when such men were in short supply. From a Time magazine account of Arkansas, 1959:

To the heady tune of applause and rebel yells, Arkansas' Governor Orval Eugene Faubus went before a joint session of the state legislature in the colonnaded capitol in Little Rock with the air of a man who was sure that things were going his way. He had called the legislators into special session to pass a set of carefully lawyered bills designed to grant him sweeping new powers—to close down schools threatened by mob violence or by federal troops sent to secure integration, to transfer state funds from any closed school to any new segregated private schools, to provide, a general kickoff appropriation of $100,000—and he knew the legislators were with him. Governor Faubus, a darkly handsome and composed man when enjoying the smooth of life, set a quiet, deliberate tone as he read his prepared address. Said he: "It must be remembered that the Federal Government is the creature of the states and possesses only those powers delegated to it by the states . . . We must either choose to defend our rights against those who would usurp them or else surrender." Without further ado the legislature gave Orval Faubus almost absolute power over Arkansas' schools and schoolchildren. The votes on the key Faubus bill: senate, 33-0; house, 94-1.

That one vote was Ray Smith's. For that vote, Smith received the Edmond G. Ross Award, named for a Kansas senator who sacrificed his political career by casting the deciding vote against President Andrew Johnson's impeachment.

On the jump, Ernest Dumas adds more notes on Smith's career.

Ray Smith Jr.was one of the lonely heroes in government of that dark era. His vote against giving Faubus extraordinary power over the schools in 1959  — the only one in the 135-member legislature — was not the only courageous vote.

From 1957 on, his was one of the few votes cast against the stampede of segregationist and McCarthyist legislation of the time, to punish speech and association, the state sovereignty commission, etc. Sometimes he was joined by the late Gayle Windsor of Little Rock and Sam Levine of Pine Bluff and, in the case of the sovereignty commission, by the great civil libertarian (!) Mutt Jones.

But Smith was highly respected in the legislature for his grace, humor and knowledge. The vast majority of the House members signed pledges to vote for him for speaker in 1965 if Witt Stephens did not return. Stephens didn’t. Faubus and the powers could not let Smith be the speaker while he was still governor and they put the screws to representatives. It was a somber and sorrowful chamber the first day of the 1965 session when most House members, staring at their desks, reneged on their pledges and voted for J.H. Cottrell. Faubus was that powerful. Smith became speaker six years later when Dale Bumpers became governor. 

-- Ernest Dumas

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