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NLR: Second city no more. 

HUCKABEE'S NLR HOME
  • HUCKABEE'S NLR HOME

Well, what do you know! North Little Rock now has state politicians and maybe a president living there. I’ve lived in the town since I was 5 years old, so believe me that we never had any before.

After 10 years, Mike Huckabee has left the governor’s office in the state Capitol and his beautiful Governor’s Mansion just off Broadway in Little Rock, and moved to an attractive, five-bedroom, three-car garage, $525,000 house at 1134 Silverwood Trail. If you haven’t seen this neighborhood called Shady Valley, you’ve missed something because it’s maybe the fanciest in the city. (You turn west off John F. Kennedy Boulevard a short distance from Sherwood, which shows the ignorance of North Little Rock politicians who failed to put that growing assemblage into a part of North Little Rock rather than letting it become a town in 1948 when it had only 714 residents.)

Also, in November, Arkansas voters decided that the new lieutenant governor should be Bill Halter, who was born in North Little Rock. He lived there until he went to college, became a Rhodes Scholar, traveled the world and worked for the government in Washington for years. Now, he’s again living in North Little Rock with his wife and new baby. Halter is 45 years old and probably will run for governor in years to come.

I was almost certain the city had never had such prominent politicians, but to be sure, I asked Casey Laman, the best-known mayor of North Little Rock. He said no governor or lieutenant governor had lived in the city. Did he ever think of running for governor or some other office? “Never,” he said. “I just wanted to be the town’s mayor.” And he was mayor starting in 1958 for 16 years and was the man who turned North Little Rock into a real city.

Many North Little Rock people are pleased that Huckabee is living in their town. Often when we didn’t have much to say at the North Little Rock Rotary Club meetings, some of the members would compliment Huckabee as being one of the best governors in Arkansas history. Though a quirk of circumstance, he did manage to hold the office for 10 years, though governors now are limited to election to two four-year terms. (He finished Jim Guy Tucker’s unexpired term because he was then lieutenant governor.) And he did have some accomplishments, such as improving our public schools. That and his humor and Baptist-preacher viewpoint had made him a governor known throughout the country.

Most of Arkansas’s governors didn’t pay much attention to NLR, but Huckabee was always willing to come to North Little Rock to make a speech, give a prize or ride in a parade.

Everyone knows, of course, that Huckabee is from Hope, the same town where former President Clinton was born, and neither of them paid any attention to Little Rock or North Little Rock until they began to run for governor. In fact, looking through some books and old newspapers, I discovered that none of the 44 governors was born in Little Rock and few even lived there very long, except as governor.

Only a few had any connection with Little Rock before they started campaigning. Here are three of the governors who did: Jim Guy Tucker, born in Oklahoma, who went to elementary school when his parents moved to Little Rock; Homer Adkins, born in Jacksonville; who went to public schools in Little Rock and Frank White, born in Texarkana, who stopped being a Navy pilot at age 21 and came to Little Rock to marry a girl who lived there.

Starting in 1836, 21 of our 45 governors were born and lived previously in other states. Three each came from Texas and Kentucky. Two each came from Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Then one each came from Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina and Mississippi. The others were born somewhere in Arkansas like our 45th governor, Mike Beebe, whose hometown is Amagon, located 14 miles from Newport with a population of 108.

Now, Huckabee won’t spend many days in North Little Rock because he will be going around the country making speeches and selling his new book to get enough money to be chosen the Republican candidate for president in 2008. Some of the guys at Rotary are now laughing and saying that Huckabee has to know that he won’t be the Republican candidate for president, and he’s just trying to raise some money or be offered a big job.

I had another idea. I heard Huckabee’s speech at the Political Animals Club Dec. 6, and I asked him if maybe what he really wanted was to be nominated for vice president. Here’s what he answered:

“I’ve always said that it’s a job nobody wants but nobody ever turns down. If I make a decision to run at all, it won’t be for second place on the ticket. I’ve never seen a football team run out on the field and say that they were No. 2. You really don’t want to win the consolation prize.”

Anyway, we shouldn’t really be surprised if Huckabee does announce that he is a candidate for president. After all, Arkansas has sent a man to the White House, while 29 states never came close.

Huckabee and Bill Clinton aren’t the only two who wanted to try. In 1932, the wealthy William “Coin” Harvey, who lived in Benton County, was so scared of the Depression that he was selected by the Liberty Party as a candidate for president. Harvey built something like a pyramid in Monte Ne to hold all his writings, furniture and cars. Tourists could go and see until it was flooded when Beaver Lake was created.

In 1960, Gov. Orval Faubus was chosen by the National States Rights outfit to be its candidate for president because of his stand against integrating the public schools. Faubus, who was elected governor six times in Arkansas, got only 29,057 votes for president while Arkansas cast 216,329 votes for John Kennedy, the man who was elected. It was interesting to me that 169,972 voted for Faubus in Louisiana, 11,304 in Tennessee, 4,367 in Alabama and 326 in Delaware.

In 1968, Winthrop Rockefeller, then Arkansas’s governor, was nominated for president by the 18-member Arkansas delegation to the Republican convention. It was the first time in the nation’s history that two brothers were presented as a political party’s possible presidential candidates at the same time.

And then there was U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills of Kensett, the Arkansas Democrat who went to the House of Representatives in 1938 and became the most popular, fair and efficient member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which did a lot for Arkansas. Some of his fellow Democrats convinced him that he could be elected president, and so he got on television and went to 37 states to give speeches and try to get their support.

It seemed that the Democrats were going to consider Mills at the party’s meeting in Miami in 1972. So, for the first time, the two Little Rock newspapers sent reporters to a national Democratic convention — Ernest Dumas from the Gazette and Robert McCord from the Democrat. After we got there for a day or two, we discovered that the two Democratic leaders, Sen. Edward Kennedy and South Carolina Gov. John West, didn’t want Mills to run. So they pushed him aside, and at 4 a.m. July 14 the convention delegates chose Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota to be the nominee. As most people expected, Republican President Richard Nixon, despite some of his mistakes that had not yet been proven, easily beat McGovern.

Mills went to pieces over what happened in Miami. He began to drink heavily and started running around with Fanne Foxe, an Argentine stripper, and wound up in a hospital in Washington. He gave up his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee and asked Arkansans to give him one more term in 1974. Voters did and he retired two years later. He stayed in Washington, a sick and changed man. He died in 1992.

Anyway, some of us old-time citizens of North Little Rock are happy to have some state politicians in our town. Why now, maybe the editorial writers at the Democrat-Gazette won’t call us “Dog town” any more.

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