V: WR as Governor
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CHAPTER V WR as Governor ome legislators viewed the new Republican governor with great caution. Senator Lee Bearden of Leachville , second ranking in point of seniority, said, "Those who oppose Rockefeller's programs just on the basis of political party are making a sad mistake." Some listened to Bearden,but not many. One of his friends said Rockefeller got into politics because he thought he could do something for Arkansas, "and Lord knows, he tried. But with a Democratic legislature , he didn't have the chance ofa snowball in hell."Yet, he accomplished a good deal in spite of the Democratic lawmakers, at least in part because the legislators didn't dislike Rockefeller for his differences and his Republicanism as much as they might have resented some "traitor" to their system—a local product, in other words. After all, this man was a New Yorker, rich, a Republican, and a Rockefeller. He was supposed to be different. In his speech to the joint session after the first general assembly of his administration had been underway a few weeks, Rockefeller said that general revenues had increased by about 20 percent, but he warned that the dramatic jump was because of a double tax collection, owing to passage of the income tax withholding law. This was true, but Rockefeller had a difficult time convincing anybody. The windfall, he explained, would not reoccur. He outlined his fiscal policy to the lawmakers and urged them not to take actions that would undermine the programs and policies of the state, not only for that present biennium but for the next one as well. S 88 The Arkansas Rockefeller Rockefeller recommended increased allotments for the universities and colleges, a $5-per-month increase forwelfare recipients, a $500-a-year raise for teachers, and modest salary increases for employees of the cities and counties . The governor acknowledged that his requests were modest, but he reminded the legislators that "the only available alternative to the approach which I have suggested is an increase in taxes."1 He had their attention. Rockefeller urged that the lawmakers enable the state to use more of the balances in various state accounts, because with income tax collections such balances weren't required. The necessary legislation was provided. Rockefeller also asked for some other things, the most notable of which was the creation of a state administration department for coordinating a number of state functions. The legislators gave him that too. But even in that session, they became progressively less cooperative. And Rockefeller was learning fast that the governor's office wasn't allpowerful . In fact, he was most surprised at the limited powers available to him. He said that the legislators, acting in fear, worked increasingly to limit his power. Rockefeller laid the blame in part on his being a Republican. "It is an admission of defeat if you can't by persuasion appeal to most people," he said later. "I don't mind fighting a man on whatever level he wants to fight, as long as there is a basis forhis rationale. But when it's just purely and simply disruptive, divisive and sabotaging for partisan politics, I think that's about as frustrating a problem as any governor would face."2 But none of this was so evident as Rockefeller plunged into his first session with the legislature, full of enthusiasm and undaunted by charges that he and his staff were unprepared. The truth is, more could perhaps have been done in terms ofmechanics, but a great deal ofpreparation had been made in the short time between the gen- WR as Governor 89 eral election and WR'staking office. It could nevertheless be said fairly that the fledgling governor and his aides had tried to cover so much ground, to deal with so many needs they had been studying for the past three or four years that their efforts were spread too thin. The result was a lot of proposals, but a not very clear picture of the governor's program. At any rate, what was accomplished in that first session—January 9-March 10 and March 27-31—was nothing short of amazing. Among the administration measures that became acts were those providing free high school textbooks, establishing drivers' education in the public schools, creating a constitutional study commission, providing for the issuance of drivers' licenses on a staggered basis, prohibiting the issuance ofdrivers' licenses to persons legally classified as blind, providing for motor vehicle inspection as a prerequisite...


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