Bill Clinton re-elected as Governor of Arkansas
He helped Arkansas transform its economy and significantly improve the state's educational system.
He became a leading figure among the New Democrats. The New Democrats, organized within the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) were a branch of the Democratic Party that called for welfare reform and smaller government, a policy supported by both Democrats and Republicans. He served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 1986 to 1987, bringing him to an audience beyond Arkansas.
Clinton made economic growth, job creation and educational improvement high priorities. For senior citizens, he removed the sales tax from medications and increased the home property tax exemption.
In the early 1980s, Clinton made reform of the Arkansas education system a top priority. The Arkansas Education Standards Committee, chaired by Clinton's wife, attorney and Legal Services Corporation chair Hillary Rodham Clinton, succeeded in reforming the education system, transforming it from the worst in the nation, into one of the best. This has been considered by many the greatest achievement of the Clinton governorship. Clinton and the committee were responsible for state educational improvement programs, notably more spending for schools, rising opportunities for gifted children, an increase in vocational education, raising of teachers' salaries, inclusion of a wider variety of courses, and mandatory teacher testing for aspiring educators.
The Clinton's personal and business affairs during the 1980s included transactions which became the basis of the Whitewater investigation, which dogged his later presidential administration. After extensive investigation over several years, no indictments were made against the Clintons related to the years in Arkansas.
Democratic presidential primaries of 1988
In 1987 there was media speculation Clinton would enter the race after then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo declined to run and Democratic front-runner Gary Hart withdrew owing to revelations of marital infidelity. Clinton decided to remain as Arkansas governor (following consideration for the potential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for governor, initially favored, but ultimately vetoed, by the First Lady). For the nomination, Clinton endorsed Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. However, he gave the opening night address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, which was nationally televised, but it was criticized for length. Presenting himself as a moderate and a member of the New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party, he headed the moderate Democratic Leadership Council in 1990 and 1991.
After apologizing to voters for unpopular decisions he had made as governor (such as highway-improvement projects funded by increases in the state gasoline tax and automobile licensing fees), he regained the governor's office in 1982 and was successively reelected three more times by substantial margins. A pragmatic, centrist Democrat, he imposed mandatory competency testing for teachers and students and encouraged investment in the state by granting tax breaks to industries. He became a prominent member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that sought to recast the party's agenda away from its traditional liberalism and move it closer to the centre of American political life.
Clinton declared his candidacy for president while still governor of Arkansas.
Campaigning throughout the state, he assured the voters that he would address their needs, and he was re-elected in November 1982.
Again, his most important goal as governor was to enhance the quality of education in the state. He raised teachers' salaries and began a program of testing students after the third, sixth, and eighth grades. He also encouraged parents to participate in their children's education. His new educational standards ensured that every child in Arkansas, regardless of the size or wealth of his or her community or of family income level, would receive a quality education.
From August 1986 to August 1987, Governor Clinton served as chairman of the National Governors' Association. During that time, he led the governors' efforts to reform the welfare system and the educational systems of the states.
By the fall of 1991, Governor Clinton believed that the country needed someone with a new vision and plan, and he decided to run for President. He also felt that he had the experience and the best ideas for changing our country for the better. He wanted to strengthen the health care system, to improve the school system, and, most of all, to bolster the economy and create new jobs. He brought his message to the country by going door to door, holding one-on-one talks with people in town hall meetings, and appearing on various talk shows.
Clinton began practicing law in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and prepared for the 1982 governor’s race. He defeated former Attorney General Joe Purcell and former U.S. Representative Jim Guy Tucker for the Democratic nomination and easily defeated White to regain the office. He was re-elected in 1984, 1986, and 1990 (Arkansas adopted a four-year term for governors starting in 1986).
During the campaign of 1982, Clinton promised to make major strides in education, including a large investment of public money, but he avoided saying he would raise taxes. He was handed the opportunity to raise taxes when the Arkansas Supreme Court in the spring of 1983 ruled that the system of financing the public schools was unconstitutional because it provided unequal resources for school districts. Clinton called a special session of the legislature and proposed higher taxes and a large package of school laws, including a new formula for distributing the state’s dollars among school districts more equitably and a controversial law requiring all teachers and school administrators to pass a test of basic skills. The legislature raised the sales tax from three to four percent and approved most of his other legislation. The Arkansas Board of Education adopted tougher accreditation standards for schools, which were proposed by a study commission headed by the governor’s wife.
The regular legislative session of 1985 was devoted to economic development. The legislature approved almost all of Clinton’s program, which included changes in banking laws, start-up money for technology-oriented businesses, and large tax incentives for Arkansas industries that expanded their production and jobs. Arkansas was one of the best states in new job creation in the next six years, but most of the jobs did not pay high wages, and it remained one of the worst states in average income.
Clinton tried, rather unsuccessfully, in 1987 and 1989 to raise new taxes for education, but after a resounding victory in the 1990 election over a well-financed Republican opponent, Sheffield Nelson, and the defeat of several key legislative opponents, he had major success in 1991. He had called a news conference in 1988 to announce plans to run for president but changed his mind at the last minute, explaining that the campaign and the job would be too hard on his wife and daughter, Chelsea Victoria, who was eight. Although he had promised during the 1990 campaign that he would complete his four-year term, he decided to run for president in 1992. His education reforms and his leadership of several national organizations, including the National Governors’ Conference and the Democratic Leadership Council—a group of moderate Democratic officeholders and businesspeople who sought to alter the liberal bent of the national Democratic Party—strengthened his national stature and gave him important connections.