Tucker pa­pers on dis­play at UALR

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD

As he pre­pared for a news con­fer­ence after his May 28, 1996, con­vic­tion on fed­eral charges, then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker didn’t have to speak off the cuff.

He’d been given two pages of talk­ing points, care­fully crafted and neatly typed, that in­cluded the ques­tions he was likely to face and the re­sponses he might want to de­liver.

The an­swers de­nied all guilt (“All I do know is I’m to­tally in­no­cent”) and crit­i­cized in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Kenneth Starr for launch­ing “a se­lec­tive prose­cu­tion, driven by Bill Clin­ton be­ing Pres­i­dent.”

At the top, in all caps, the post-trial memo stressed

one key piece of ad­vice: “RE­MINDER: TAKE ONLY A ‘FEW’ QUES­TIONS — POS­SI­BLY SIX.”

Be­neath the 10 typed ques­tions, an 11th had been jot­ted down.

If asked whether the “peo­ple of Ark[ansas] de­serve an­swers?” the 43rd gov­er­nor should re­ply: “Cer­tainly. That’s why I have an­swered hun­dreds of ques­tions. Check your press clip­pings.”

Vis­i­tors to the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock’s Cen­ter for Arkansas His­tory and Cul­ture can ex­am­ine the orig­i­nal copy of the doc­u­ment or a draft of Tucker’s July 15, 1996, res­ig­na­tion state­ment.

They’re con­tained in Box 603, Fold­ers 7 and 8, of the Jim Guy Tucker pa­pers, which have been metic­u­lously or­ga­nized and cat­a­loged by the cen­ter.

The col­lec­tion also in­cludes re­search on Tucker’s Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

The for­mer gov­er­nor’s pa­pers went on dis­play ear­lier this year and are open to the pub­lic. The project was funded, in part, by a grant from the Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Publi­ca­tions and Records Com­mis­sion.

Tucker, 74, gave the col­lec­tion to the cen­ter in 2012, and says it is in good hands.

“They have done an ex­cel­lent job. I mean, they have re­ally done a good job,” he said in an in­ter­view.

Tucker — also a for­mer pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney, state at­tor­ney gen­eral, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and con­gress­man — said there are sev­eral rea­sons why UALR was se­lected to get the pa­pers.

“I had seen that [for­mer Gov. Winthrop] Rock­e­feller had left his pa­pers there and some other gov­er­nors. And it was in Lit­tle Rock. And they asked. And I had stored them orig­i­nally at UALR when I left of­fice,” Tucker said.

The pa­pers were ini­tially hap­haz­ardly kept, he said.

“As I left of­fice so quickly, there was no ad­vance plan­ning or any­thing. We just shipped every­thing over,” Tucker said. “I never had a chance to sort through very much of what we sent out there.”

Go­ing through the pa­pers was no easy task, ac­cord­ing to Deb­o­rah Bald­win, the cen­ter’s di­rec­tor.

“It was a tremen­dous amount of work be­cause this col­lec­tion … was over 700 boxes,” she said. And it’s been grow­ing ever since, she noted.

“It was orig­i­nally con­ceived of as strictly the gov­er­nor’s pa­pers, but he’s added pa­pers from his other po­lit­i­cal of­fices and, since we’ve started the project, he’s added ad­di­tional fam­ily pa­pers,” she said.

As a re­sult, vis­i­tors and schol­ars can pe­ruse more than 100 years of Tucker fam­ily his­tory.

At last count, the col­lec­tion oc­cu­pied 1,087 doc­u­ment boxes and stretched 542.8 lin­ear feet.

There are six video­cas­sette boxes, seven au­dio reel boxes, two video reel boxes and two CD boxes, ac­cord­ing to Gar­ret B. Kre­mer-Wright, a re­search and schol­arly com­mu­ni­ca­tions ar­chiv­ist at the cen­ter.

The col­lec­tion in­cludes James Guy Tucker Sr.’s World War I jour­nal and James Guy Tucker Jr.’s news­pa­per ac­counts from Viet­nam.

There are also fam­ily pho­tos, cam­paign ads and cor­re­spon­dence from friend and foe alike.

“This is the kind of col­lec­tion that we love. It’s or­ganic, it’s alive, it’s added to, it pro­vides con­text for al­most any topic that you’re in­ter­ested in,” Bald­win said.

Pe­ri­od­i­cally, Tucker will drop off an­other box of items for the cen­ter to process, she said.

The two slim files marked “res­ig­na­tion” share space in a box with doc­u­ments on the Red River Army De­pot and the Arkansas Ju­di­cial Re­tire­ment Sys­tem.

Tucker said more res­ig­na­tion-re­lated items will prob­a­bly be added in the fu­ture.

“What I’ve got on it is prob­a­bly still buried in the files over at a stor­age ware­house that we have,” he said. “I ex­pect you’ll see ma­te­rial on that be­fore I’ve to­tally fin­ished.”

He’s al­ready do­nated but­tons and bumper stick­ers and fu­neral home fans em­bla­zoned with cam­paign logos; an au­to­graphed photo from Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, Tucker’s stu­dent ID card from Har­vard and his press cre­den­tials from Viet­nam.

Twenty-two boxes are de­voted to mem­o­ra­bilia, of­fi­cials say.

In­cluded in the col­lec­tion are items about Tucker’s grand­fa­ther, Guy B. Tucker, a for­mer El Do­rado city mar­shal.

That Tucker was in­volved in a deadly shootout with a Repub­li­can fam­ily in 1902 and opened fire on one of the fam­ily mem­bers again in 1903, fa­tally wound­ing the man. Ac­quit­ted of mur­der, Tucker moved to Lit­tle Rock, where he went on to serve as state com­mis­sioner of mines, man­u­fac­tures and agri­cul­ture, and as a mem­ber of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Guy B. Tucker ran un­suc­cess­fully for sec­re­tary of state. His son, James Guy Tucker Sr., served briefly as state au­di­tor.

But James Guy Tucker Jr., an Ok­la­homa City na­tive who grew up in Lit­tle Rock, fared bet­ter, win­ning a race for state at­tor­ney gen­eral at age 29 and a seat in Con­gress by the time he was 33.

After a nar­row loss in a race for U.S. Se­nate in 1978 and a land­slide de­feat in the 1982 gov­er­nor’s race, he won the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor’s of­fice in 1990, ris­ing to gov­er­nor upon the elec­tion of Bill Clin­ton to the pres­i­dency. Tucker won elec­tion to a full term in 1994, only to give it up after his White­wa­ter-re­lated con­vic­tion.

Tucker was con­victed of con­spir­acy and mail fraud in con­nec­tion with a fraud­u­lent bank loan. He was sen­tenced to home de­ten­tion, pro­ba­tion and com­mu­nity ser­vice. He was also fined $25,000 and re­quired to pay resti­tu­tion.

Hal Bass, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Oua­chita Bap­tist Univer­sity in Arkadel­phia, said his­to­ri­ans will be sift­ing through Tucker’s pa­pers for decades to come.

The process is a lit­tle like pan­ning for gold, he said. “You sift through a lot of stuff to find a nugget or two, but that’s what aca­demics do.”

They “of­ten­times give rise to new un­der­stand­ings, new in­ter­pre­ta­tions of what hap­pened,” he said. “If you want a full ac­count of a gov­ern­men­tal ac­tor’s life, I think it’s nice and in­deed es­sen­tial to have ac­cess to the doc­u­men­tary record.”

Tucker’s time as gov­er­nor is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing be­cause of the way he ar­rived and the way he de­parted, Bass said.

“I think those be­gin­ning and [end­ing] events ob­scure what was a very suc­cess­ful gov­er­nor­ship. I think Tucker was a fine chief ex­ec­u­tive, and I would as­sume that the doc­u­ments would re­in­force that be­lief. But that’s why you study them,” he said.

Some of the boxes fo­cus on Viet­nam. Honor­ably dis­charged, for med­i­cal rea­sons, from the Ma­rine Corps Re­serve, Tucker had two stints over­seas. While there, he in­ter­viewed Arkansas ser­vice­men from across the state and wrote about their lives for news­pa­pers large and small.

He saved pho­tos, in­ter­view notes and billing records, plus in­for­ma­tion on his book, Arkansas Men at War.

There’s a lot of in­for­ma­tion from his late 20s, when he was a pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney.

At one point, he went un­der­cover, briefly spend­ing time as a pris­oner at the state pen­i­ten­tiary. The “Pen­i­ten­tiary Com­mit­ment” pa­per­work, which iden­ti­fies him as James Gus Turner, are in the file.

Each of Tucker’s cam­paigns is chron­i­cled, with polling data, donor lists and talk­ing points care­fully pre­served.

There’s also plenty of po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion.

A file on U.S. Rep. Wil­bur Mills in­cludes plenty of em­bar­rass­ing news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. Head­lines like “She’s Still in Love, but Mills Re­jected Her, Strip­per Says” and “Strip­per Says Mills Caused Preg­nancy.”

There are also plenty of Clin­ton clip­pings, such as “Panel ques­tions ex­penses for nurse for Clin­ton’s baby” and “Clin­ton us­ing more ve­hi­cles de­spite or­der.”

The files also in­clude a Sept. 14, 1981, let­ter from a Demo­cratic Party of Arkansas of­fi­cial to Tucker vig­or­ously deny­ing that the party ap­pa­ra­tus would be work­ing to en­sure a Clin­ton vic­tory in the pri­mary.

“I, for my­self, strongly re­sent any im­pli­ca­tion that the Demo­cratic Party is noth­ing more than a ‘tool of Bill Clin­ton,’” wrote Doug Wallace, the party’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the time.

In ad­di­tion, the col­lec­tion con­tains memos out­lin­ing a strat­egy for de­feat­ing “BC” — Bill Clin­ton — in the 1982

Demo­cratic pri­mary.

In one, dated Sept. 21, 1981, po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Wil­liam Hamil­ton warns Tucker that it would be a “tough race” — but winnable — if Tucker could come up with a half-mil­lion-dol­lar war chest.

“You will need the $500k … [to] build your own im­age, con­trast with BC, pos­si­ble heavy neg­a­tive on BC, sus­tain­ing your own pos­i­tive against Clin­ton, etc.,” Hamil­ton wrote.

To win, “You will have to reach a tra­di­tional, con­ser­va­tive, gen­er­ally ru­ral type of voter you haven’t ap­pealed to be­fore,” he wrote. “You can’t sim­ply be ‘less worse’ than BC.”

A Jan. 11, 1982, memo from Hamil­ton’s firm called for Tucker to launch “a neg­a­tive at­tack on Clin­ton in the last four to six weeks of the cam­paign.”

To de­feat Clin­ton it would be nec­es­sary “to demon­strate Tucker’s straight­for­ward, out­spo­ken strong lead­er­ship style — not the more fuzzy ap­proach to de­ci­sions which Clin­ton has demon­strated to many,” he wrote.

Tucker’s cam­paign jabs ev­i­dently an­noyed his ri­val. One head­line in the col­lec­tion reads: “He’s ‘Done Noth­ing but Dump on Me,’ Clin­ton Com­plains in Re­marks on Tucker.”

But ul­ti­mately, Tucker’s cam­paign fell short. He fin­ished third, be­hind Clin­ton and for­mer Lt. Gov. Joe Pur­cell.

Asked about the Hamil­ton memos, Tucker said he’d for­got­ten about them and didn’t re­al­ize they had been in­cluded.

“I know a lot of folks have the staff and the re­sources to have their boxes and stuff edited thor­oughly be­fore they de­liver them, and I have not been able to do that very much. What was in there was what was in there,” he said. “I tried to glance at it, but I’m sure there’ll be sur­prises, and un­doubt­edly there’ll be some­thing that’s em­bar­rass­ing at some point. I tried to avoid putting let­ters from old girl­friends in there.”

Tucker said he trusts the cen­ter to de­ter­mine what’s worth keep­ing.

Of­fi­cials there say they are thank­ful that Tucker has en­trusted them with his pa­pers.

“This is a whole life. In fact, it’s beyond his life and it’s other fam­ily mem­bers and his fa­ther and other peo­ple he worked with,” said Bald­win.

“This is a very, very rich col­lec­tion. We’re re­ally lucky to have it. His­to­ri­ans will love this col­lec­tion for years to come,” she said.


AP file photo

Jim Guy Tucker and his wife, Betty, face the me­dia May 28, 1996, at the state Capi­tol after his con­vic­tion on fed­eral charges.

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