Friday, April 07, 2017

TOP STORY >> Bethune recalls years in politics

Leader staff writer

Former Rep. Ed Bethune visited Cabot High School on Friday, talking to advanced-placement history students in the media center. He also donated a plate signed by Vice President George Bush to the Cabot Public Schools Museum of American History.

Bethune, 81, was elected in 1978 to represent the Second District in Congress.

He was the first Republican to hold the Second District seat in 104 years. He served three terms in Congress. In 1984, he ran for Senate and lost to David Pryor. Bush campaigned for him at an event at the Old Statehouse. Each supporter at the rally received a plate as a souvenir.

Bethune encouraged students to keep collecting artifacts for the museum and continue making it special.

“Show and tell is very important. It resonates with people more than reading a book about it,” he said.

Bethune was raised in Pocahontas. After high school, he joined the Marines. After his enlistment ended, Bethune went to University of Arkansas Law School. After graduating he joined the FBI and became a special agent working on bank robberies and hijacking cases. He served in the FBI for four years.

Bethune then had a 40-year career as an attorney.

Bethune said when he got started in politics, the state was dominated by Democrats. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican, told him the state needed a two-party system and political competition.

“I ran for attorney general and got smeared. Jim Guy Tucker was the prosecuting attorney in Little Rock. He was my opponent and from Pulaski County. I was from Searcy. When the race was over, I carried White and Pulaski counties, where they knew us best. He beat me in the 73 other counties in the state because they voted for the party,” Bethune said.

“When I got into the (congressional) race in 1978, there were no Republican elected official in the nine counties of the Second Congressional District. Since then times have change,” he said.

Bethune talked about his memoir “Jackhammered: A Life of Adventure.” The book is about self-reflection, identity and the choices he made in life. It also includes the story about him and his wife, Lana, sailing to Portugal in a 31-foot sailboat in 1990.

They didn’t make it. They ran into a nor’easter and were rescued 265 miles southeast of Nantucket in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bethune was asked if he supported the missiles strike against Syria.

“I think it was the right thing to do. I led the effort in Congress to stop the production of chemical weapons when I was there. They are terrible weapons. They were used in World War I, which America entered 100 years ago (on Thursday). They don’t make any sense. The use of chemical weapons degrades combat on both sides of the field. It is so dangerous to the people who use them and a terrible thing to do to another human being,” he said.

Bethune lives with his wife in Little Rock. They have been married 58 years. They have a son and a daughter.