Ken Coon

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Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Sr.
Born (1935-10-14) October 14, 1935 (age 81)
Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, USA
Residence Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas
Occupation Psychologist; Educator
Political party Republican; Arkansas gubernatorial nominee, 1974; lieutenant governor nominee, 1972; Republican state chairman, 1988-1990
Spouse(s) Sue Lynn Thompson Coon (born 1938, married 1956)

Catherine Lynn Coon

Kenneth Coon, Jr. (born 1962)

(1) Though he polled relatively few votes in his 1974 campaign for governor of Arkansas against David Pryor, Coon was part of the persistent organization which attempted to establish a two-party system in the heavily Democratic state.

(2) Before his political career, Coon was president of the Arkansas Junior Chamber.

(3) An original supporter of reformer Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Coon later worked in the early Ronald W. Reagan campaigns in Arkansas.

(4) In his later years, Coon became a licensed psychologist, professor, and motivational speaker.

(5) Coon once joked that he was "so honest that I might appear to be naive."

Kenneth Lloyd Coon, Sr., known as Ken Coon (born October 14, 1935), is a Little Rock educator, professional psychologist, and counselor who was also a pioneer in the development of the Republican Party in the U.S. state of Arkansas. He was the GOP state chairman from 1988—1990. Earlier, he was the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 1972, its executive director (1973—1975), and its gubernatorial candidate in 1974. He also ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1996 but lost in the primary.

Early years, family, education[edit]

Coon was born in Marshall, the seat of Harrison County in east Texas, to Loyd Wesley Coon (1912–1998) and the former Ida Mae Sparks (1916–1994). The senior Coon was a native of Brookhaven, Mississippi, but had moved to Marshall with his family when he was a youngster. Loyd Coon was a farmer and dairyman. The family moved to Calhoun, an unincorporated community in western Ouachita Parish near Monroe in northeastern Louisiana. Coon was among the thirty-one 1954 graduates of West Ouachita High School (then Calhoun High School). After high school, he served for five years in the United States Air Force, with overseas duty on the Greek island of Crete.[1]

In 1956, Coon married the former Sue Lynn Thompson (born 1938), also of Calhoun. They have two children, Catherine Lynn Coon (born 1957) of El Dorado, the seat of Union County in southern Arkansas, and Kenneth Coon, Jr. (born 1962),[1] of Mountain View, the seat of Stone County in northern Arkansas, and two grandchildren.

Coon attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree magna cum laude in biology. In 1962, he entered the master of science program in fisheries at Utah State University in Logan and received his degree in 1965.[1]

Jaycees state president[edit]

After receipt of the graduate degree in Utah, Coon took a job with a federal agency, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, in Dumas, the seat of Desha County in southeastern Arkansas. He then worked for a catfish farmer in Tuckerman in Jackson County and in 1968 was president of the American Fish Farmers trade association.[1]

While he was in Dumas, Coon joined the Arkansas Jaycees. He was charter president of the Tuckerman Jaycees from 1966-1967. The group is now known as the United States Junior Chamber. From 1971-1972, while in Fort Smith, Coon was the Arkansas state Jaycee president.[1]

Running for lieutenant governor, 1972[edit]

Recruited to run for office by both political parties, he chose the more difficult route in Arkansas: the fledgling Republican Party. It was not even until he ran for lieutenant governor in 1972 that his state party had even won its first presidential election since Reconstruction.

When he announced that he would seek the office of lieutenant governor, Coon was in his third year as a biology instructor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (then West Ark Community College) in Sebastian County in western Arkansas, the more politically conservative part of the state. He challenged Democratic incumbent Bob C. Riley (1924–1994), a political science professor from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, the seat of Clark County in south central Arkansas.[2] Having lost an eye in World War II, Riley wore a trademark black patch.[3] He claimed on several occasions not even "to know" Coon when the Republican entered the race.[4] Coon tried to tie Riley to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern of South Dakota after Riley urged Arkansans to cast straight Democratic ballots. "Arkansans just don't believe that being a Democrat is reason enough to vote for McGovern, as my opponent suggests."[5]

The gubernatorial contest featured incumbent Democrat Dale Bumpers of Charleston in Franklin County against Rockefeller's preferred successor, Len E. Blaylock of Perryville, who polled barely a fourth of the ballots. Bumpers had unseated Rockefeller in 1970.

Riley defeated Coon, 392,869 (62.8 percent) to 233,090 (37.2 percent). Coon won only three of the state's seventy-five counties: Pope, Searcy, and his home base of Sebastian. Coon almost won in frequently Republican Crawford County, where he received 49.6 percent of the vote.[6]

In addition to Coon and Blaylock, the other Republican statewide candidates lost in Arkansas that year, including Wayne H. Babbitt for the U.S. Senate, future U.S. Representative Edwin R. Bethune for attorney general, and Jerry Climer for secretary of state.

After the race for lieutenant governor, Coon succeeded Neal Sox Johnson, a businessman from Nashville, the seat of Howard County in southwestern Arkansas, as the party's paid executive director. It was his job to build up a party with little allegiance among the Arkansas electorate.[7] Johnson, meanwhile, accepted a federal position with the Farmers Home Administration in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and first Bush administrations.

Gubernatorial race, 1974[edit]

Coon first faced opposition within the Republican primary from Joseph H. Weston, the editor of the Sharp Citizen newspaper in Cave City in Sharp County in northern Arkansas, whose work had led to a change in state libel law.[8] Republicans tried to keep Weston off the state ballot on grounds that he was not a "registered" Republican. Though voters in Arkansas do not register by party, officials of the party must register their affiliation and become an automatic member of the Republican executive committee. The party opposed Weston because of his strident criticism of many elected officials, accusing most of "moral rot" and demanding mass resignations.[9]

In a statewide turnout of fewer than 5,000, Coon easily prevailed over Weston, 3,698 (81.9 percent) to 815 (18.1 percent).[10]

In his gubernatorial announcement, Coon outlined in generalities three reasons he was seeking to succeed Bumpers as governor:

(1) Belief in competition in government

(2) Deep concern for people

(3) Positive conviction that we can succeed in creating the kind of world the majority of us want.

Coon said that the Rockefeller and Bumpers administrations had succeeded because of their "lack of attachment to and connections with the ongoing political power structure in our state." Coon said that Arkansas was "an emerging state in the New South. We still have a long way to go. The work started in the last eight years is not complete . . . the job is not yet finished. He vowed if elected to focus upon (1) education), (2) constitutional revision, and (3) electoral reform.[11]

Coon and Nixon[edit]

The gubernatorial race was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, which caused the defeat of many Republicans nationwide who had no connection to the stunning developments. Coon made a bold proposal: U.S. President Richard Nixon should "for the good of the country... temporarily turn over his duties" to then Vice President Gerald Ford. Coon suggested that Nixon request an immediate trial on impeachment (then pending in the United States House of Representatives before the U.S. Senate, but he said that Nixon should not resign because the public needed the "absolute truth". Therefore, he maintained that a trial should be staged in the Senate once the House voted articles of impeachment.[12]

"With the President's own admission that he lied to the American people about previous Watergate statements, that he kept pertinent information from the House Judiciary Committee, the courts, as well as his own lawyer, and his admission that, it is a foregone conclusion that the House will impeach him, it might seem to some that he should resign.... However, we must remain calm and not overreact. Our system of government provides that a man, even the President is innocent until proven guilty," Coon said in a press release.[13]

Coon said that if Nixon resigned because of adverse poll ratings, the precedent would cause "irreparable damage" to the United States because "future presidents, if they made an unpopular decision, might also capitulate, leaving government solely in the hands of Congress." Coon's remarks came three days before Nixon resigned the presidency.[13]

Challenging David Pryor, 1974[edit]

Coon's gubernatorial opponent was former U.S. Representative David H. Pryor, originally from Camden, the seat of Ouachita County in southern Arkansas. Two years earlier, Pryor had lost the Democratic senatorial primary to the more conservative incumbent John L. McClellan, also of Camden. Pryor emerged as a powerful candidate for governor after he defeated both Bob Riley and former Governor Orval Faubus in the Democratic primary.[14] Pryor repeatedly refused to debate Coon.[15]

While he ran for governor, Coon was enrolled in a Master of Arts program in career counseling at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He recalled that his wife often sat in on the classes with a tape recorder while he was campaigning.[16]

Coon's campaign strategist was Odell Pollard, an attorney from Searcy in White County, who was state party chairman from 1966-1970. Pollard called upon nursing home owners to support Coon because of Pryor's earlier congressional actions to increase federal regulations on the facilities. "He [Pryor] demeaned the nursing homes just so he could get national publicity," alleged Pollard, who became Republican national committeeman upon the death of Winthrop Rockefeller in 1973.[17] Pollard served as national committeeman until 1976, when U.S. Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt assumed the position.

Coon filed a complaint with the Fair Campaign Practices Committee in Washington, D.C., that Pryor was "smearing" him. Pryor earlier had said that he might filed charges against Coon after Coon alleged that Pryor had received funds from Associated Milk Producers, Inc., which had also made an infamous illegal donation to U.S. Representative Wilbur Mills of Arkansas' Second Congressional District.[18]

Coon proposed a one-year moratorium on construction of the proposed state office complex at the capitol grounds in Little Rock because of spiraling costs.[15]

Arkansas voters chose Pryor for governor in an overwhelming vote in the Watergate year: 358,018 (65.6 percent) to Coon's 187,872 (34.4 percent). Coon won two of the three counties that he had carried for lieutenant governor in 1972: Sebastian and Searcy, and he polled at least 40 percent in twelve other counties. His defeat was nearly as bad numerically as had been Bumpers' margin over Rockefeller four years earlier. Coon's running mate for lieutenant governor, Leona Troxell of Rose Bud in White County north of Little Rock, was handily defeated by the Democrat former Attorney General Joe Purcell of Benton, the seat of Saline County.[19]

Educational counseling[edit]

Coon left the GOP executive director's position in the fall of 1975 to begin work on his Ed.D. in counselor education at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He completed the program in 1979 and worked for two years for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas. He was licensed as a counselor in 1980.[20]

Coon established his counseling and motivational speaking bureau, the Life Guide Center of Human Resource Development and Career Counseling.[21] He was licensed as a psychologist in 1985. He is also an adjunct professor of human resources development for the Little Rock campus of Webster University of St. Louis.[22]

Coon, a former Methodist,[1] is a member of the Church of Christ.[16]

Later political activities[edit]

In 1976, Coon favored the nomination of former California Governor Ronald Reagan as the GOP standard-bearer, rather than the unelected incumbent President Ford, the choice of most of the Arkansas Rockefeller Republicans. The Arkansas delegation to the national convention in Kansas City was led by the 1974 (and later 1984 as well) congressional candidate Judy C. Petty, the former Winthrop Rockefeller staffer pledged to Reagan in 1976. Petty claimed that the old Rockefeller coalition in Arkansas could not be revived because of the strength of Bumpers and Pryor. She therefore proposed a conservative coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats, many of whom had been backers of Orval Faubus.[23] In the general election in Arkansas, Ford barely polled a third of the ballots against the Democrat Jimmy Carter.[24] Coon similarly supported Reagan in 1980 and 1984.[16]

Coon resurfaced politically in 1981, not as a candidate, but as the appointee of newly elected Republican Governor Frank D. White to head the Arkansas Employment Security Division in Little Rock. He served until White was unseated after a single term in 1982 by Bill Clinton. Mrs. Troxell, his former ticket-mate, had held the same position for a time in the Rockefeller administration.[25]

Coon's chairmanship of the Arkansas party, which was considered quite successful overall, coincided with a heated 1990 Republican gubernatorial primary between then U.S. Representative Tommy F. Robinson, a controversial former Democratic sheriff known for shoot-at-the-hip remarks, and the more conventional Sheffield Nelson, also a former Democrat and the favorite of the business establishment. The Robinson-Nelson contest was believed to have so divided the minority GOP that once again it could not compete effectively, with Nelson as the nominee, against Governor Clinton.[26] The primary even split many Republican families. Coon himself insists that he has never told anyone how he personally voted in the Robinson-Nelson contest.[16] Clinton went on to defeat Nelson and then announced his presidential candidacy less than a year later even though he had pledged if reelected governor to have served a full four-year term from 1991 to 1995.

In 1996, Coon ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the Little Rock-based open Second Congressional District seat, which was ultimately won by the liberal Democrat Victor F. Snyder. Later GOP efforts to topple Snyder failed.[27]

In retrospect, Coon appears to have been something of a Republican transitional figure between the governorships of Winthrop Rockefeller (1967–1971) and the later Mike Huckabee (1994–2007).

Whitewater, David Hale, and Ken Coon[edit]

Coon was a tangential figure in the Arkansas Whitewater scandal of the 1990s. Judge David Hale made Coon an officer of the National Savings Life Insurance Company, a burial insurance firm. In 1998, Hale was scheduled to be tried in Arkansas state court for fraud in connection with the company, but his medical needs — a heart condition — halted the proceedings. In 1995, Samuel Dash, the ethics counsel to Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr informed Mark Stodola of the Pulaski County (Little Rock) prosecutor's office, that Stodola, a Democrat, could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice if he proceeded with charges against Hale. Dash told Stodola that Hale was cooperating in a federal investigation. Starr said that he would like to handle the insurance fraud matter at Hale's federal sentencing, but Stodola filed state charges against Hale.[28]

No charges were brought against Coon, who in 1974 had declared that he was "so honest that I might appear to be naive."[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ken Coon campaign card, 1972 race for lieutenant governor of Arkansas
  2. ^
  3. ^ Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, November 5, 1972
  4. ^ Pine Bluff Commercial, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, November 4, 1972
  5. ^ Arkansas Gazette, November 1, 1972
  6. ^ Arkansas Election Statistics (Little Rock: Secretary of State), 1972
  7. ^ Arkansas Outlook, Arkansas Republican Party newsletter, February 1973
  8. ^ "Joseph H. Weston, Publisher of an Arkansas Newspaper". The New York Times, November 19, 1983. November 19, 1983. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  9. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, May 18, 1974, p. 1294.
  10. ^ State of Arkansas, Secretary of State, Primary election returns, 1974
  11. ^ Ken Coon gubernatorial announcement statement, 1974
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, August 6, 1974
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1974
  16. ^ a b c d Statement of Ken Coon, 2007
  17. ^ Arkansas Gazette, November 1, 1974
  18. ^ Arkansas Gazette, November 3, 1974
  19. ^ Arkansas Election Statistics (Little Rock: Secretary of State), 1974
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, August 14, 1976, pp. 2187-2188
  24. ^ Arkansas Election Statistics, 1976
  25. ^ Arkansas Outlook, December 1980
  26. ^
  27. ^; Arkansas Times, July 5, 1996
  28. ^
  29. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 12, 1974, p. 2719
Party political offices
Preceded by
Sterling R. Cockrill
Republican nominee

for Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas
Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Sr.

Succeeded by
Leona Troxell
Preceded by
Len Everette Blaylock, Sr., 1972
Arkansas Republican gubernatorial nominee

Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Sr.

Succeeded by
Leon Griffith, 1976
Preceded by
Edwin Ruthvin "Ed" Bethune, Jr.
Arkansas Republican State Chairman

Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Sr.

Succeeded by
Sheffield Nelson and Asa Hutchinson, co-chairmen