EDITOR’S NOTE - This is the first in a series of stories e
EDITOR’S NOTE - This is the first in a series of stories examining the records of the candidates for president.
Undated (AP) _ By RON FOURNIER Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Bill Clinton was 32 and the nation’s youngest governor when he took office in 1979 and told fellow Arkansans, ″We can fashion a life that will be the envy of our nation.″
At 45, Clinton now is the country’s longest-serving governor and a Democratic presidential candidate. Arkansas has fallen short of the lofty vision he set out in his first inaugural speech, but some progress is evident.
Clinton’s education reforms have helped lower the state’s dropout rate. Manufacturing jobs have risen despite declines nationally, and more women and minorities than ever serve in state government.
Still, Arkansas lags on many counts. It is one of the nation’s poorest states and gets low ratings in environmental studies. Its unemployment level is above average while its student test scores, teacher salaries and per-pupil spending are below average.
″If you look at the broad brush of things, he’s done a credible job,″ said Tom McRae, Clinton’s opponent in the 1990 primary. ″But I think in his case, more was promised and more was expected.″
University of Arkansas political professor Bob Savage rates Clinton’s performance as ″a seven or eight″ on a scale of one to 10, and cites education as a particular strength.
Clinton, who was rated the nation’s most effective governor this year by the chief executives of other states, says he’s done as much as possible for Arkansas ″in the absence of a national vision and national leadership.″
He wants to supply that vision himself, modeled on what he has done in Arkansas. He says he wants to promote greater investment in education, pursue conservative spending policies, and prod government, businesses and individuals to take more responsibility for their conduct.
Clinton says programs aimed at the middle class, similar to those adopted by Arkansas in recent years, will help the Democrats recapture the White House. Before embarking on his presidential quest, he traveled the country as chairman of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, preaching a centrist message to the party’s disaffected.
Many of the proposals in his presidential platform have Arkansas roots:
-He wants guaranteed college loans for Americans willing to repay the money or provide a public service. In Arkansas, lower-and middle-class high school students with passing grades who stay out of trouble are guaranteed $1,000 college scholarships under a 1991 law.
-He wants apprenticeship programs for Americans not going to college. In Arkansas, sales tax increases will provide $3 million over two years for such a program.
-He wants parents to be responsible for their children. In Arkansas, child support enforcement has been toughened and a new law presumes that the man listed on a baby’s birth certificate is its father.
-He wants national spending tied to growth in the economy. In Arkansas, the conservative budget system that predates Clinton forbids spending beyond what state fiscal experts predict will be collected in taxes.
Clinton lost his first re-election bid in 1980, but won the office back two years later and has held it ever since. He’s made education improvements one of his top priorities and emerged as a national leader on the issue.
The results have been mixed. While the state still lags in per-pupil spending and other areas, all Arkansas school districts now offer advanced math, science and foreign language courses; student test scores are up; the dropout rate is down, and more high school graduates are going to college.
The state Legislature has approved 27 significant tax increases during Clinton’s tenure, with most of the new revenue earmarked for education. Arkansas’ per capita tax burden, however, remains lower than all but a dozen states.
Clinton made dozens of trade missions to recruit industry and sponsored laws that foster small, minority-run and technology-driven businesses. The number of manufacturing jobs in the state grew by 11.2 percent from 1980 to 1990 while the comparable national figure declined 6 percent.
Clinton has had less success at lifting his state’s residents out of poverty.
Some 19.6 percent of Arkansans lived in poverty in 1990, a slight drop from 21.5 percent a decade earlier, according to the Census Bureau. But only three states - Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico - had higher poverty rates last year.
On the environmental front, Clinton won reforms this year to get more citizens involved in pollution control and to organize the state solid-waste system.
The governor says he tried to push for environmental reforms early in his tenure ″but nobody was there.″ During his first term, he drew the wrath of the timber industry when he called for limits on clear cutting.
Clinton hopes to attract black voters nationally this year by pointing to a strong civil rights record at home.
He has appointed more blacks and women to state boards, commissions and cabinet posts than any other Arkansas governor. He earned 85 percent of the black vote in 1990 and backed an unsuccessful attempt to push a civil rights bill through the Legislature this year.
At the same time, he surprised some supporters by halting a small ″race norming″ program that adjusted state employment test results to benefit minority applicants.
Clinton said the program was small and a product of directives from the Reagan administration. He said critics were using it to make cheap political attacks against him.
But some said the move was an attempt by Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council to woo white voters back to the Democratic Party.