Friday, January 15, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Bumpers’ legacy (IV)

In 1974, Dale Bumpers, who died on New Year’s Day at the age of 90, talked to some friends about running for president in 1976. His friend Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia, made that race and won. But on the Saturday deadline he set for himself to make a decision about whether to run for a third two-year term, which would position him to run for president in 1976, or to run for the Senate against Sen. William Fulbright, he decided to run for the Senate.

A poll showed that Fulbright, after five terms, was likely to be beaten by someone, most likely by a conservative like former Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, who had lost narrowly to Fulbright six years earlier. Bradley D. Jesson of Fort Smith, his close friend and adviser, had spent the previous day with Bumpers and was shocked that he announced for the Senate. Jesson said Bumpers, much the better politician, would have defeated Carter with little trouble.

The race with Fulbright was over before it started. Fulbright waged a well-financed campaign, came home and campaigned in shirtsleeves but lost nearly 2 to 1. Bumpers never uttered the slightest criticism of him, other than to say that seniority was not all that it was cracked up to be. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd and other powerful senators came to Arkansas to campaign for Fulbright. They said Arkansas could not stand to lose Fulbright’s seniority.

But defeating a senator so revered in Washington and by his colleagues was costly to his career. He received the worst committee assignments in the Senate. The majority leader and Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington, a close Fulbright friend who chaired the committee making committee assignments, saw to it that Bumpers did not serve on any high-profile committee or one that dealt with major issues or constituencies.

His big committee was aeronautics and space. He chaired a subcommittee that conducted hearings on the shrinkage of the Earth’s ozone layer, which led to the world’s elimination of chlorofluorocarbons, the gases used in aerosol sprays that were burning up the ozone layer and subjecting people to cancer risks. Eventually, he got assigned to the Appropriations Committee, which enabled him to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Arkansas in capital improvements for parks, agricultural research, wilderness preservation and flood-control improvements. He delivered so much in agricultural improvements that the University of Arkansas named its College of Agriculture after him.

At lunch one day someone asked how he got the university to name the college after him. It was easy, he said. “I took your money and gave it to them.”

His work on the Appropriations Committee added 91,000 acres of forest land in eastern Arkansas to federal wilderness lands controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service being designated as national wilderness areas. Last year, Congress designated the 160,000 acres of wilderness along the White River as the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge.

Almost from his first days in the Senate, he fought with western senators and interests to end the virtual giveaway of mineral leases on millions of acres of federal lands to mining and oil-and-gas interests, which took away billions of dollars of minerals and paid the country as little as $2.50 an acre.

Finally, in 1994, he persuaded Congress to enact a moratorium prohibiting future patenting of federal land for which mining claims had not yet been made. He did succeed in 1987 in passing the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which began competitive leasing of public lands, such as those around Fort Chaffee near his home, for competitive market prices. It produced hundreds of millions of dollars a year for federal treasury.

Two of his biggest triumphs were to terminate the proposed Superconducting Super Collider and the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, massive experimental projects in Tennessee and Texas that were to cost the taxpayers billions of dollars. He unsuccessfully fought other big government projects, including the manned space station and weapons programs that he said the nation’s security did not need.

Although he was not a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor, he played a leading role in major international health developments. He led the fight to fund global polio vaccinations, which led to the eradication of polio in all but a few countries. On the Appropriations Committee, he pushed funding for cervical cancer screening and the Maternal and Child Health Program. In recognition of his and his wife’s work on immunizations, the National Institutes for Health after he left Washington dedicated the Dale and Betty Bumper Vaccine Research Center. —Ernie Dumas