From the collection of the Old State House Museum
James "Jim" Guy Tucker was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on June 13, 1943, while his father was on assignment there for the Social Security Administration. His family, which had a long-standing political history in Arkansas, later returned to Little Rock, where Tucker attended public schools. He graduated from Hall High School in 1961.
Tucker then attended Harvard College, graduating in 1964. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1962, as a member of its officer program, but during final medical exams in 1964, his history of gastrointestinal problems disqualified him. He went to Vietnam as a civilian war correspondent, and worked there during most of 1965, and again for four months in 1967. The news articles he wrote provided material for his book Arkansas Men at War published in 1968. During this period Tucker also received a teaching fellowship at American University in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1966, and he graduated from the University of Arkansas School Of Law in Fayetteville in 1968. He was admitted to the Arkansas Bar that same year.
From 1968 to 1970, Tucker was a member of Little Rock's renowned Rose Law Firm. In 1970, he was elected prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District. In 1972, at the age of 29, and again in 1974, he was elected Arkansas Attorney General. Tucker married Betty Allen Alworth on November 8, 1975. Betty had two children from a previous marriage, Lance and Kelly, and the Tuckers had two daughters, Anna and Sarah. Tucker won election to the U. S. Congress from the Second District in 1976. He served on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Speaker's Task Force on Welfare Reform. In 1978 Tucker, Governor David Pryor and Fourth District Congressman Ray Thornton all ran for the U. S. Senate seat vacated by the death of John McClellan. Pryor defeated Tucker in a run-off.
Tucker was appointed by President Carter as Chairman of the White House Conference on Families in 1979, and served in that position while practicing corporate law in Arkansas and Washington D.C. Following Bill Clinton's 1980 defeat for re-election as governor, Tucker ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1982, but was defeated by Clinton. Tucker then became a partner in the law firm of Mitchell Williams Selig and Tucker in Little Rock.
During the 1980s Tucker was active as a corporate trial lawyer. At the same time, he and his wife acquired and built cable television companies in Arkansas, Texas and Florida, and later in London, Wales, France and Indonesia.
In 1990 he came out of political retirement to win the office of Lieutenant Governor, just recently expanded to a four-year term. Because Governor Bill Clinton was widely expected to run for president, the lieutenant-governorship made Tucker his heir apparent. Under then-existing Arkansas constitutional provisions, the lieutenant governor assumed gubernatorial powers and responsibilities when the governor traveled beyond the boundaries of the state. As a result, starting in 1991 and throughout 1992, Tucker routinely served as acting governor while Clinton campaigned for the White House.
Tucker was sworn in as governor on December 12, 1992, upon Clinton's resignation to begin preparations as president-elect. Tucker immediately called a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly to deal with a crisis in the state's Medicaid funding. At his request, the Legislature created a state Medicaid trust fund financed by a soft drink tax to meet the existing shortfall and avoid future recurrences of the problem.
In January 1993, while Tucker was in Washington attending Clinton's presidential inauguration, State Senate President and acting Governor Jerry Jewell, acting under the same state constitutional provision that had complicated Clinton's campaign, used his temporary gubernatorial authority to pardon two high-profile convicts and extend executive clemency to three others. In response, Tucker proposed a constitutional amendment that was recommended to the voters by the 1993 General Assembly and passed in 1994; the amendment eliminated the provision which removed a governor's powers when he crossed state borders.
Faced with significant budget shortfalls in 1993 due to an economic downturn, Tucker focused on major budget revisions, reforming the school finance formula, equalizing school millage rates, reducing the number of state school districts and duplication in state college programs, and developing more business-friendly workers compensation laws. Later that year, Tucker suffered a massive hemorrhage related to a degenerative liver disease. However, he recovered sufficiently from his health problems by 1994 to run for election as governor and defeated Republican Sheffield Nelson with nearly 60% of the vote.
In an August, 1994 special legislative session and subsequently in the 1995 regular session, Tucker drew on his experience as a former prosecutor and attorney general to successfully champion the creation of a Department of Community Corrections and an overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system. He also recommended and obtained new mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes, tougher parole standards, and additional prisons. However, two of his major proposals, a comprehensive highway bond issue and a proposed new state constitution, were later defeated by voters in a 1995 special election.
In the summer of 1995, Tucker became entangled in Federal independent counsel Kenneth Starr's "Whitewater" investigations, which were originally intended to investigate possible illegal financial dealings by President Clinton. Tucker; former municipal judge and small-business financier David Hale; James McDougal, a former banker and some-time investment partner with Tucker; and McDougal's wife, Susan McDougal, were charged with fraud and conspiracy to illegally obtain a small-business investment loan for a mid-1980s real estate investment. Hale pled guilty and testified against Tucker and the McDougals. In a trial complicated with contradictory testimony, Tucker and the others were convicted on May 28, 1996. Tucker appealed on several grounds, but his appeals were eventually denied by the U.S Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
After the trial, Tucker announced that he would step down as governor on July 15, following the filing of post-trial motions. However, after receiving information regarding possible juror misconduct, Tucker announced on the day of his planned resignation that he would not step down until the court could hear and act on his motions to set aside the verdict. State legislators had gathered at the Capitol along with supporters of Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee, who was to be sworn in as governor later that day. Tucker's action caused a huge uproar, even among fellow Democrats. After considering the political fallout of the situation, Tucker formally resigned a few hours later and issued apologies to Arkansas citizens and Governor Huckabee.