Dale Bumpers

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Dale Bumpers
Dale Bumpers.jpg
United States Senator
from Arkansas
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1999
Preceded by William Fulbright
Succeeded by Blanche L. Lincoln
38th Governor of Arkansas
In office
January 12, 1971 – January 3, 1975
Lieutenant Bob C. Riley
Preceded by Winthrop Rockefeller
Succeeded by Bob C. Riley
as Acting Governor
Personal details
Born Dale Leon Bumpers
(1925-08-12) August 12, 1925 (age 90)
Charleston, Arkansas
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Betty Flanagan Bumpers
Alma mater University of Arkansas
Northwestern University Law School
Religion Methodist[citation needed]
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps[1]
Years of service 1943-1946

Dale Leon Bumpers (born August 12, 1925) is an American politician who served as the 38th Governor of Arkansas from 1971 to 1975; and then in the United States Senate from 1975 until his retirement in January 1999. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Senator Bumpers is currently counsel at the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Arent Fox LLP, where his clients include Riceland Foods and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.


Dale Bumpers was born in Charleston in Franklin County in west central Arkansas near Fort Smith. He attended public schools and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946 during World War II. Bumpers graduated from Northwestern University Law School in Evanston, Illinois, in 1951. From his time in Illinois, he became a great admirer of Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. Bumpers was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1952. He started practicing law in his hometown in that same year and served as Charleston city attorney from 1952 to 1970. He served as special justice[citation needed] of the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1968.

Governor of Arkansas[edit]

Bumpers was virtually unknown when he announced his campaign for governor in 1970. Despite his lack of name recognition, his oratorical skills, personal charm, and outsider image put him in a runoff election for the Democratic nomination with former Governor Orval Faubus. Two other serious candidates were Attorney General Joe Purcell of Benton in Saline County and the outgoing Speaker of the Arkansas House, Hayes McClerkin of Texarkana. Bumpers barely edged out Purcell for the runoff berth but then easily defeated Faubus. In the general election, he swamped the incumbent moderate Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. It was a Democratic year nationally, and the tide benefited Bumpers. Like Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Reubin O. Askew in Florida and John C. West of South Carolina, Bumpers was often described as a new kind of Southern Democrat who would bring reform to his state and the Democratic Party. His victory over Rockefeller ushered in a new era of youthful reform-minded governors, including two of his successors, David Pryor (later a three-term U. S. Senator) and future U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In the 1972 Democratic primary, Bumpers easily defeated two opponents, including the highly regarded State Senator Q. Byrum Hurst of Hot Springs. In the general election, he swamped the Republican Len E. Blaylock of Perry County even as Richard M. Nixon was handily winning Arkansas in the presidential race.

U.S. Senate elections[edit]

Bumpers was elected to the United States Senate in 1974. He unseated the incumbent James William Fulbright in the Democratic primary by a wide margin and then overwhelmed the Republican lawyer and banker John Harris Jones (born 1922) of Pine Bluff. Jones had run earlier as a Democrat for the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas's 4th congressional district in 1956 against Representative William F. Norrell, in 1961 against Norrell's widow, Representative Catherine Dorris Norrell, and in 1966 for the open seat vacated by the resignation of Oren Harris, when he challenged fellow Democrat David Hampton Pryor of Camden and Republican A. Lynn Lowe of Texarkana.

In the 1974 Senate race, Jones accused Bumpers of excessive spending as governor, citing the construction of a $186 million state office complex. Bumpers not only ignored Jones but instead campaigned mostly for the young Democrat Bill Clinton, who failed in that heavily Democratic year to unseat Republican U.S. Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt in Arkansas's 3rd congressional district. Bumpers polled 461,056 votes (84.9 percent) to Jones's 82,026 (15.1) percent, the weakest Republican showing since the insurance executive Victor M. Wade of Batesville lost to Fulbright in 1944.

Time magazine wrote that "many to their sorrow have had trouble taking Bumpers seriously ... Dandy Dale, the man with one speech, a shoeshine, and a smile."[2]

In 1980, Bumpers comfortably survived the Ronald W. Reagan victory in Arkansas by defeating a Democrat-turned-Republican, William "Bill" Clark. Bill Clinton, however, lost in the Reagan landslide, temporarily unseated by the Republican Frank D. White. In 1986, Bumpers defeated later U.S. Representative Asa Hutchinson, the Republican nominee. In 1992, after besting state Auditor Julia Hughes Jones with 64% of the vote in the Democratic Primary, he defeated future Governor Mike Huckabee in the general election. The next year, Jones switched to the GOP and unsuccessfully ran for Secretary of State in 1994. In 1998, when Bumpers retired, the Democratic choice, former Congresswoman Blanche Lambert Lincoln comfortably defeated the Republican nominee, Fay Boozman, a state Senator who was later the Arkansas Department of Health director under Governor Huckabee. In 2010, Lincoln was soundly defeated for reelection by Congressman John Boozman, the brother of the man she defeated in 1998.

Senate tenure[edit]

Bumpers was elected to the Senate four times, beginning with his huge victory over Fulbright, the veteran chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bumpers chaired the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship from 1987 until 1995, when the Republican Party took control of the Senate for a dozen years following the 1994 elections. Bumpers served as ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources from 1997 until his retirement. In the Senate, Bumpers was known for his oratorical skills and for his prodigious respect for the Constitution of the United States. Bumpers never supported any constitutional amendment.

Bumpers decided to not seek the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, despite support from many colleagues, including Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, who ultimately also contested the 1988 nomination. Initially named as one of Walter Mondale's top potential choices for his vice presidential running mate in '84, he took his name out of the running early in the process.

Bumpers stated that his main reason for not running was fear of "a total disruption of the closeness my family has cherished." Many observers felt that Bumpers perhaps lacked the obsessive ambition required of a presidential candidate, especially one who would have started out the process with low name identification. Another factor often mentioned was Bumpers' key vote in killing labor law reform in 1978, a vote that angered organized labor and had clearly not been forgotten by labor leaders nearly a decade later.[3]

Clinton impeachment[edit]

After his retirement from the Senate, Bumpers, a self-declared close friend of President Clinton, acted as defense attorney during Clinton's impeachment trial. He gave an impassioned closing argument during the Senate trial.

Quotes from the closing argument of the White House presentation, January 21, 1999:[4]

H. L. Mencken said one time, "When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money' – it's about money." And when you hear somebody say, "This is not about sex" – it's about sex.

Nobody has suggested that Bill Clinton committed a political crime against the state. So, colleagues, if you honor the Constitution, you must look at the history of the Constitution and how we got to the impeachment clause. And if you do that and you do that honestly according to the oath you took, you cannot – you can censure Bill Clinton, you can hand him over to the prosecutor for him to be prosecuted, but you cannot convict him. And you cannot indulge yourselves the luxury or the right to ignore this history.

The American people are now and for some time have been asking to be allowed a good night's sleep. They're asking for an end to this nightmare. It is a legitimate request.


In 1995, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville founded the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences in his honor.[5]

In 2014, the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas was renamed "Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge". At a dedication ceremony, Daniel M. Ashe, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said:

The Service is proud to recognize the many contributions Senator Bumpers has made to give many future generations the same opportunity to enjoy Arkansas’ natural beauty as we have had. He is a giant among conservationists and a visionary who followed an unconventional path to set aside some of Arkansas’ last wild places. It is fitting that he will be forever linked with the White River.[6]


Bumpers and his wife Betty were both known for their dedication to the cause of childhood immunization. The Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institutes of Health was established by former President Clinton to facilitate research in vaccine development.[7]

Early in his legal career, the Charleston School Board asked his advice on how it should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which found the segregation of public schools on the basis of race to be unconstitutional. Bumpers advised the school board to comply with the decision immediately. In July 1954, the board voted to desegregate it schools, and on August 23, 1954, the school year began with eleven African-American children attending schools in Charleston. This prompt action to desegregate public schools was rare—the Charleston School District was the first in the eleven states that comprised the former Confederacy to integrate their public schools following the Supreme Court decision.[7]

Bumpers in fiction[edit]

In the 1977 Jeffrey Archer's novel Shall We Tell the President?, Bumpers was elected as the Vice President of the United States in a ticket headed by Ted Kennedy during the 1984 election. In the next version of novel, Archer replaced Kennedy with the fictional character of Florentyna Kane, and Bumpers with the real-life Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bumpers, Dale (1925– )". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  2. ^ "Bumpers: Watch that Killer Smile", Time, November 18, 1974, p. 10
  3. ^ Barone, Michael and Ujifusa, Grant (1985), The Almanac of American Politics 1986, National Journal Inc., pp 66
  4. ^ "Statement by Dale Bumpers at Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing". PBS. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  5. ^ "Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences". University of Arkansas. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  6. ^ "Dale Bumpers White River". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. April 22, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center". National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 2007-04-22.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NIH" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).


Further reading[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Winthrop Rockefeller
Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Bob C. Riley
Acting Governor
Preceded by
Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.
Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee
Succeeded by
Christopher "Kit" Bond
United States Senate
Preceded by
J. William Fulbright
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Arkansas
Served alongside: John Little McClellan, Kaneaster Hodges, Jr.,
David Pryor, Tim Hutchinson
Succeeded by
Blanche Lincoln
Party political offices
Preceded by
Marion H. Crank
Democratic Party nominee for Governor of Arkansas
1970, 1972
Succeeded by
David Pryor
Preceded by
J. William Fulbright
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Arkansas (Class 3)
1974, 1980, 1986, 1992
Succeeded by
Blanche Lincoln