Decision to challenge incumbent Senator Fulbright, 1974
Bumpers explains his decision to challenge incumbent Arkansas Senator William Fulbright in the 1974 election. Bumpers entered the race in part because he believed the seniority system that had kept Fulbright in office for thirty years to be deeply flawed. His primary reason, however, was that he wanted to work within the federal government toward developing bureaucratic conditions more amenable to the political and social landscape of the 1970s.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Dale Bumpers, June 17, 1974. Interview A-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
Why did you decide to run for the Senate this time? We heard several theories on it.
- GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
Well, the theories you hear for the most part, at least from people who are , are subjective. You know, this is one of the unfortunately things about politics in this country that make it very unpleasant. And that is once you put yourself up in the limelight as a public official and you get into politics, people feel, as I said earlier, in this profession there is no loyalty [?]. The right to make any kind of subjective judgment about you that they want to. It may be phlegmatic, it may be without thought, and most of the time it is. And the only thing I resented about this campaign were those subjective judgments that were made about me by some of the strong supporters of Sen Fulbright. I never denigrated Sen Fulbright and if you go back and look, since I started running for governor, I never spent ten minutes checking under the background of an opponent. Because I want people to vote for me on what they think about me and my merits, or not vote for me because of something that they don't like about me. But I never picked up any votes. . . . In my opinion, I very seldom. . . . I don't think I've ever picked up a vote because of something I've said about my opponent. Simply because I've never talked about my opponent. Occasionally, when they get too raunchy, I respond. But you know, there are a lot of things that I have said in this campaign and was urged to say that I didn't because it wouldn't have been in keeping with the kind character I've displayed since I've been in public office. And secondly,
I thought it would have been highly divisive and would have simply further torn people in their allegiances. I recognize that an awful lot of people in this state were very torn in this campaign. You know, there were husbands and wives who almost divorced; one would be for me and one would be for Sen Fulbright. It was that kind of a campaign. Sort of like Alabama . But the truth of the matter is my decision to run was made very late. Almost at the last minute. It was based on a number of things. One, I genuinely feel that seniority is a basic problem in this country. Two, and it's tied directly to the first, Congress is simply going to have to reorganize itself and that includes seniority. Three, there is a certain unresponsiveness that develops over a period of time. It's based on doing things the same old way. Congress cannot respond to the complexities of this society because they're trying to use 1900 decision making processes in 1974. And it just simply will not and cannot work. And finally, having been a governor, the most desperate need I saw was to diminish-not necessarily dismantle-the so-called bureaucracy but at least recognize that Washington and the Washington bureaucracy can no longer effectively control the operations of this country on a day to day basis. They don't have that kind of expertise; they don't have that kind of planning process; they're not that close to the people. I'm one that believes that conceptually the president's new federalism is imminently correct. Unfortunately he's crippled and he couldn't sell a sick hen a mess of worms. But the concept of new federalism is good. Muskie's subcommittee on governments showed that nationwide people liked that government which was closest to them. Municipal, county, state, federal. In that order. Fortunately in Arkansas, incidentally, state level in that same survey-or at least the survey of the advisory committee on intergovernment relations-showed that in Arkansas state government had the most respect
of the people in this state. This is the reason I'm saying that the federal government is going to have to abandon some of the things that they've been doing in the past and defer to the states and give the states the money to do it. There are some things, such as defense, that obviously have to be done on a national basis. But the whole spectrum of human resources and social services, land use planning, health care, education, all of those things can best be done at the local level. Until the government recognizes that it's going to have to abandon its responsibility in those fields. . . . Either abandon some of its tax gathering powers or use its tax gathering powers to return the money to the states to do those things. The states, and the cities and the counties simply must have more flexibility if they're going to operate efficiently. And the way most of the guidelines come to us now, the flexibility isn't there. Those are all the reasons. But I felt that Sen Fulbright, having been there 30 years, I felt that he had been fairly insensitive to these things. I frankly felt that Sen Fulbright had not been. . . . I'm just one of those people who never felt that he is always right. That's another myth, incidentally. You know this is something the newspapers and particularly the Gazette and some of the eastern papers tried to peddle. And I don't want to try to take anything away from those instances where Sen Fulbright has been a visionary and he has been right. But one of these things about how he's always right is certainly a myth.