Former President and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton spoke more like a proud father than a politician as he rallied a crowd of rowdy Democrats in Little Rock on Saturday (May 3) at a fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross.
The event, held at the Little Rock Marriott's Grand Ballroom, featured Clinton, Ross and former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who spoke about how he felt that Ross would follow in the footsteps of many Democratic governors before him, including Clinton.
"In the same vein as former governors (Sid) McMath and (Dale) Bumpers and (Bill) Clinton and (Jim Guy) Tucker and our current Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, from strength to strength, he campaigns as he has served — to promote programs and initiatives, to create an environment of opportunity for all, to demand responsibility and a contribution from all and to create a sense of community, a sense of place, a sense of belonging among all Arkansans,” Slater said.
Ross, who spoke briefly before introducing Clinton, said the attributes highlighted by Slater were engrained in him by his family in his hometown of Prescott and around the state.
"My family collectively taught me the values growing up of faith, family, hard work, personal responsibility," he said. "And I think those values served me well for the 10 years I served with people like Mike Beebe in the Arkansas State Senate, and I think they served me well for the 12 years that I served in the United States Congress and I just want you to know that those same values will serve as my moral compass as I do my best to hopefully lead this state for the next eight years."
Ross, who served as a driver during one of Clinton's many races for governor in the 1980s, said the lessons learned on the road all those decades ago taught him values that he will bring to the governor's office.
"When I was 20-years-old, I had the privilege to drive this man around this state. We had a one-car motorcade. It was him, me and a Chevy Citation. We didn't have cell phones. I had to always make sure I had change in my pocket so we could use a pay phone to check in the office," he said. "Let me tell you what I learned in that year and a half from this man right here. I learned that politics and public service can still be good, it can be noble. You can get involved, you can run for the right reasons, and you can really make a difference in people's lives. And he has been a friend and a mentor and someone to help guide me throughout my time in the Congress. I just think the world of him and I love him. I'm honored that he's here."
Clinton, who began his remarks by sending condolences to the victims of the state's recent tornadoes that killed 15 and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Mayflower, Vilonia and other communities across the state.
When he shifted to recalling the 20-year-old Ross, the former President said he just had one goal during the year and a half that Ross drove him across the state.
"When Mike Ross was driving me around, I thought, 'You know, I'm going to see if I can't wear this boy out.' I still tried with all the young people that worked with me and he never wore out. And all these years I've known him and watched him and I know a lot about this race and I know a lot about the history of Arkansas politics and government."
He also explained how even before the stock market crash of 2008 and the resulting Great Recession, the economy was already lagging, saying that in his view the state and several parts of the nation were experience "trickle down economics," segueing into a discussion of the tax cut plans proposed by Ross and Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Asa Hutchinson, who faces a primary with North Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman on May 20, explaining that Ross's proposed phased-in tax cuts would be the best plan for Arkansans.
"In my opinion, his tax plan is better than his opponent's, both because it's fairer and because it's better economics over the long run," he said. "When people are working and they can't put food on the table and they can't buy their kids clothes for school and they're worried about paying their bills every month, it affects how they do at work. It affects everything about their environment."
Clinton also praised Ross' plan to implement universal pre-K, explaining that the work his wife — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, herself a potential presidential contender in 2016 — was doing with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on expanding educational opportunities has opened his eyes.
"(A child) from a low income family that doesn't get a lot of education and doesn't go to school until the normal time without pre-school, that child — listen to this — would have heard 30 million fewer words spoken."
He said much of the basis for future learning throughout life begins during school and said there was no better way to close the gap between the less educated in the state "than universal pre-K."
The oft-controversial topic of the Private Option — the state's use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans — was also discussed, with Clinton praising the program and saying that Ross' tax cut plan was made to help those who needed the assistance provided by the Private Option.
Ross's history of sometimes crossing the aisle and voting with the Republicans during his time in Congress was praised by Clinton, who said bi-partisanship was something sorely needed in the next governor and referring to the records of Hutchinson and Ross.
"You don't have to take the candidate's words for it," he said, referring to claims by both that they would be able to work effectively with the General Assembly, regardless of which party has the majority following the November election. "You actually have a long record for both of them and only one of them has consistently, even in the heated partisanship of Washington, D.C., proved that he would get up every single day and ry to find a way to get the show on the road by getting people together across the party lines, and that's Mike Ross."
Clinton concluded by telling the crowd that in his mind, the choice for the next governor of Arkansas was "not rocket science," adding that he would do his part to make Ross the next occupant of the Governor's Mansion.
"I am immensely proud of the man Mike Ross has become. I am proud of the life he's lived, the public service he's rendered. But the most important thing is he is by light years our best choice for the governor of Arkansas."