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William Jefferson Clinton

Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Bill Clinton was born in a place called Hope on August 19, 1946. That much of his biography is familiar to most Americans. He was actually born William Jefferson Blythe IV, but his namesake father was killed in an automobile accident three months before his birth.

He was raised briefly by his grandparents while his mother received her nursing education in New Orleans. When he was four his mother Virginia married Roger Clinton and the three moved to Hot Springs. His stepfather's alcoholism forced the young boy to mature early and while a young teenager he was sometimes forced to intercede to prevent the physical abuse of his mother, though he took his stepfather's surname at age 15.

Clinton excelled in public school. In 1963 he was selected as a delegate to Boys Nation where he got to shake the hand of John F. Kennedy. This ignited a passion for politics. He went on to attend Georgetown University and spent two years at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He then attended Yale Law School where he met Hillary Rodham.

Clinton returned to Arkansas and entered the faculty of the law school where he was soon joined by Hillary Rodham. In 1974 he challenged Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, who was regarded as invincible. Clinton garnered 48.5% of the votes, which marked him as the rising star in Arkansas politics. In October of 1975 Bill and Hillary were married.

In 1976 Clinton became Attorney General of Arkansas, carrying 69 of the 75 counties in the Democratic primary that ensured his election. Though the authority of the office was weak, Clinton milked it for all it was worth. This meant acting as a relentless foe of the utilities, the traditional powers behind the throne in Arkansas politics. Clinton's most persistent effort was not against homegrown monopolies, however, but Ma Bell. When the telephone company attempted to raise the cost of pay phones to 25¢, Clinton led the charge which defeated the measure.

In 1978 Clinton made a bid for the governor's office. Though his opponents branded Clinton a "Slick Willie," devoid of principles, Clinton showed fortitude in countering the "tax revolt" moving into vogue nationally in 1978, defeating his four opponents. While running for governor he also helped defeat an initiative which would have eliminated the sales tax on food and drugs.

In the legislative session Clinton put forth an ambitious agenda. This included the beginnings of education reform, an impressive array of health care improvements, and measures to improve the state's roads. In the face of intensive lobbying by the trucking industry and the Highway Commission, Clinton agreed to additional fees for automobile titles and licenses as part of the measure's funding. This would soon come back to haunt him.

Though daughter Chelsea was born in February of that year, there was evidence that Clinton's vaunted luck began to sour in 1980. Spring brought a series of devastating tornadoes, followed by a drought, and a national recession. Other problems included 120,000 Cuban refugees being housed at Fort Chaffee. The problem was compounded by the miserly approach to the problem adopted by the Carter administration which refused to provide either adequate funding or security. The result was a series of riots which had to be quelled, largely at state expense.

Meanwhile Arkansans were renewing their car tags at the new rate. Though the new tax was small when viewed as an annual revenue increase, the fact it was paid in one lump sum made it highly visible and extremely annoying. This, coupled with what many considered the aloofness and arrogance of the young governor, bred resentment.

Signs that Clinton was in trouble came in the Democratic primary when his opponent Monroe Schwarzlose, a turkey farmer and otherwise weak challenger, scored surprisingly well. In the general election Clinton ran headlong into a well-financed Republican challenger and felt the full impact of Ronald Reagan's coattails.

Republican Frank White defeated Clinton in one of the major upsets in Arkansas political history.

Next: Frank Durwood White