Two things that state Sen. John Paul Capps loves—besides his family—are radio and helping people.
So when, after 44 years, he is out of a job representing the people of Searcy, Beebe, north Pulaski County and the Jacksonville area in Dist. 29, the 76-year-old Capps says he’ll still do what he can to help out.
Area residents will lose about three-quarters of a century of able representation in January when term limits strike down Capps and his Lonoke County counterpart, Sen. Bobby Glover, in one fell swoop. They’re both Democrats.
The veteran Searcy politician will be replaced by Rep. Jonathan Dismang of Beebe, Glover by Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, both Republicans.
Capps grew up in the same town as Gov. Mike Beebe and they also grew up together politically, so it is little wonder the governor turned to him for leadership not only on the recent Blue Ribbon Commission on long-term road and highway funding but on other issues.
“I was always interested in politics since being a small boy,” Capps said recently, taking a break from packing the contents of his office at the state Capitol.
He served 18 consecutive terms as a state representative, starting in 1963—the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated, ending because of newly introduced term limits at the end of 1998.
Capps worked in radio from the mid-1950s. In the 1970s, “I built my own station in Searcy—80 AM and 85 FM, selling out in 1999.”
He returned full time and happily, he says, to radio, while Mike Beebe served as the area’s state senator.
State Rep. Pat Bond of Jack-sonville announced her intent to run for state Senate from the district in 2002. Capps said many folks came to him and asked him to run, and although he and Bond were friends, he said, with his wife’s encouragement, he ran and beat Bond.
He described it as a very civil race, with no name calling or dirty tricks.
Capps served 36 years in the state House of Representatives, serving as speaker of the House, and another eight years in the state Senate.
“It’s so different, the way the House and Senate operate now,” he said.
When Capps ran for House speaker, he hadn’t even had a chairmanship to his credit, but he pledged an open and transparent process.
Capps served under nine governors. The first was the legendary and incendiary Orville Faubus.
“He was very powerful,” Capps remembers.
“He was a good governor in so many ways. It was a different day and time and he’ll always be known for (calling out the National Guard to prevent desegregation at) Little Rock Central.”
Capps served one term in the House with David Pryor, later governor and senator.
“We became good friends and remain so,” he said.
“Huckabee had some good ideas, but would become impatient and was prone to anger legislators,” Capps recalled.
“I had excellent relations with Bill Clinton,” he said. “I was House Speaker. He made some mistakes.”
He said Clinton was an excellent governor.
“Mike Beebe’s at the top. He understands government, people and he had the right kind of experience tempered with compassion and concern.”
TALE OF TWO HIGHWAYS
It’s all about connectivity for Capps.
“I’ve pushed two highway systems,” he said. “One’s asphalt, the other is high tech—the Internet,” he said.
“I’ve always been a strong advocate for education and highway improvement,” Capps said.
Of what accomplishments is he proudest?
“I worked on merging Little Rock University (now UALR) into the state university system,” he said.
“I supported the (mammoth, multimillion dollar) expansion of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital,” he added.
He wrangled state Senate support for a 5 percent mixed-drink tax to pay for it, which was a vital component of the tax voters approved in 2007.
Capps also worked on insurance reform, getting changes enacted that prohibited insurance companies from raising rates on the driver or owner of a car who was not cited in an accident.
When Gov. Mike Huckabee’s idea to streamline vehicle licensing and stopping the requirement that all vehicles or drivers have liability insurance, the bill failed, and rightly so, Capps says.
But then he and state Sen. Dave Bisbane took the good elements—the other elements of that bill—and when Huckabee refused to promote it, they pushed through the legislation streamlining the process.
He said Huckabee–who had no legislative experience before becoming governor–could be quite prickly when he didn’t get his way.
By contrast, Beebe had served as state representative, state senator and attorney general before being elected governor and was “probably the most qualified governor of all.”
Capps is also responsible for the state law that requires businesses operating in Arkansas to notify “everybody” if there is a breech of security resulting in possible identity theft.
The idea was suggested by his daughter, an out-of-state attorney familiar with the problem. His legislation “became a model for I don’t know how many states,” he said.
He introduced “Connect Arkansas,” a broadband initiative to try to bring broadband to all parts of Arkansas.
“I’m as proud of that as anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s the basis for all broadband expansion in the state. It’s one of the most important things we can do to get every nook and cranny connected.”
Among his few regrets, Capps said broadband connectivity is not as far along as he would have wished.
“We have to have high-speed broadband across the state. Other than that, there’s not a lot of unfinished business I’m leaving behind.”
After voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the state legislature to meet annually instead of biennially, Capps said he helped write the rules for the first fiscal session—the off-year meeting of the General Assembly.
“We met and put it together, Sen. Bob Johnson and me and legal counsel. There was nothing in the new law to say what you could (and couldn’t) do.
“In Jacksonville and north Pulaski County, the people there have been very very nice to me. I have enjoyed representing them. I’m grateful to the leaders, the chambers of commerce and I have compassion for their plight.
Jacksonville and north Pulaski County need their own school district, he said.
“I’m going to be actively retired,” he said. “I’m curious about everything.
“I’ve always wanted to help people—to be an ombudsman, removing bureaucratic obstacles,” Capps added.
He said he’s going to miss his friends at the Capitol, but won’t miss being a legislator, and he’ll miss not being able to help on statewide problems.
He said he’s displeased with the political rancor at the national level.
“It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we don’t care who gets the credit,” he said, quoting an old political saw.
Now that he’s finished serving, “no more elected office for me. I have lots to do that’s been stacking up on me. I’m not good with a rocking chair.”