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Frank Durward White (June 4, 1933 – May 21, 2003) was only the second Republican governor of the U.S.marker state of Arkansasmarker since Reconstruction. He served a single two-year term from 1981 to 1983. He is one of only two people to have defeated future President Bill Clinton in an election. The other is former U.S. Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrisonmarker.

Early years, family, education

White was born in Texarkanamarker in Bowie Countymarker, Texasmarker, as Durward Frank Kyle, Jr. His father died when White was six, and White's mother, the former Ida Bottoms Clark, married Loftin E. White of Highland Park, Texasmarker. He took his stepfather's name and became "Frank Durward White". After the death of the stepfather in 1950, the Whites returned to Texarkana. White enrolled in the New Mexico Military Institutemarker in Roswell, New Mexicomarker but was subsequently recommended to the U.S.marker Naval Academymarker in Annapolis, Marylandmarker, by then U.S. Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas. He graduated from the academy with a bachelor of science degree in engineering in 1956. He also excelled in the study of Spanish. Though he was a Naval Academy graduate, White became a pilot in the United States Air Force.

From his first marriage to Mary Blue Hollenberg, a member of a prominent Little Rock family, White had three children. In 1975, two years after his divorce, White married Gay Daniels, who survived him. Frank and Gay acquired custody of the children from his first marriage, but they had no children together.

White was baptized as a youth in the Christian faith at Beech Springs Baptist Church in Texarkana (Miller County, Arkansasmarker), later pastored by future Republican Governor Michael Dale "Mike" Huckabee. He and Gay attended the First United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock for a short time. They left the Methodist congregation and, with other couples, established the fundamentalist Fellowship Bible Church.

Business success

In 1961, having left the Air Force, White became an account executive for Merrill Lynch. He held that position until 1973, when he joined banker Bill Bowen in the management of Commercial National Bank in Little Rock. Bowen was a staunch Democrat who later opposed White politically though the two maintained a cordial business relationship.

White was appointed by Democratic Governor David Hampton Pryor to head the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. The industrial panel was originally created by Democratic Governor Orval Eugene Faubus and first directed by Winthrop Rockefeller, who in 1966 used his experience in the AIDC to get elected as Arkansas' first Republican governor in modern times. White left the AIDC after two years and became president of Capital Savings and Loan Association in Little Rock. Democrats later derided White's tenure at AIDC by pointing out that the number of industries which came to the state was much reduced from earlier and later years, a situation that Republicans attributed to a national recession.

Campaign 1980

Early in 1980, White switched from Democrat to Republican affiliation to run for governor. First, he defeated former State Representative Marshall Chrisman of Ozarkmarker, the seat of Franklin Countymarker, for the gubernatorial nomination. In a low-turnout open primary, White polled 5,867 votes (71.8 percent) to Chrisman's 2,310 (28.2 percent). Clinton also faced a stronger-than-expected challenger in his primary from the turkeymarker farmer Monroe Schwarzlose of Kingslandmarker in Cleveland Countymarker in south Arkansas. Schwarzlose's 31 percent of the primary vote foreshadowed that Clinton could be in trouble for the upcoming general election.

White hired Paula Unruh of Tulsamarker to manage the campaign. She decided to focus upon (1) Clinton's unpopular increase in the cost of automobile registration tags and by (2) the Carter administration's sending thousands of Cuban refugees, some unruly, to a detention camp at Fort Chaffee, outside Fort Smithmarker in Sebastian Countymarker in western Arkansas. Her decision paid big dividends, as White unseated Clinton. White received 435,684 votes (51.9 percent) to Clinton's 403,241 (48.1 percent). White won fifty-one of the state's seventy-five counties. A. Lynn Lowe of Texarkana, Clinton's Republican opponent in 1978, by contrast, had won only six counties.

Two years as governor

White appointed numerous Arkansas Republicans to state positions. Former gubernatorial nominee Ken Coon was named to head the Arkansas Employment Security Division. Another former gubernatorial candidate, Len E. Blaylock of Perry Countymarker was named appointments secretary. Blaylock, who had a reputation as an extremely competent administrator, screened applicants for state positions. Former State Representative Preston Bynum of Siloam Springsmarker in usually Republican Benton Countymarker in northwestern Arkansas, became White's chief aide. Harold L. Gwatney, an automobile dealer in Jacksonvillemarker, was named to the coveted position of adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard. White also depended on the advice of his legislative counsel, State Representative Carolyn Pollan of Fort Smith. New to the legislature with the White administration was Judy Petty of Little Rock, who had waged a nationally watched campaign against former U.S. Representative Wilbur D. Mills in 1974.

White was far more conservative than Rockefeller. He signed a law which would have permitted the teaching of creationism in Arkansas public schools. The law was subsequently overturned in 1982 in the court case McLean v. Arkansas. White rejected the court's claim that "creation science" involves the "teaching of religion in the public school system. I think it is a theory, just like evolution is, and if we're going to have true educational freedom, then I think we deserve equal treatment."

A similar law was signed in Louisianamarker by Republican Governor David C. Treen, and it too was struck down by a Supreme Court decision, Edwards v. Aguillard, in 1987.

He also opposed the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and refused to include the issue in a call for a special legislative session in November 1981 to consider the measure. He declined to meet with ERA proponent and former Rockefeller staffer Leona Troxell of Rose Budmarker in White Countymarker, the longtime Arkansas GOP national committeewoman, who wanted to lobby White on the issue.

White also created a controversy within his own party in 1981, when he called Faubus out of retirement to head the scandal-plagued Arkansas Veterans Affairs Department. The selection was recommended by Blaylock and endorsed by Third District U.S. Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt. Other Republicans, such as Mrs. Troxell, questioned if there was a return to "machine" politics as practiced in the Faubus administration. Even state party Chairman Harlan "Bo" Holleman of Wynnemarker in Cross Countymarker in eastern Arkansas, had reservations about the selection. Blaylock, however, explained that Faubus was uniquely qualified to head the veterans department and quickly rectified problems in the agency.

White took up the cause of Arkansas truckers and haulers and obtained higher weight limits to the economic benefit of truckers, much to the consternation of highway safety advocates.

White also clashed with U.S. Representative Edwin Bethune over the reappointment of the Little Rock-based federal Marshal Charles H. Gray, a cousin of U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers. White wanted to return Blaylock to the marshal's post that he had held during the Ford administration, but Bethune wanted to retain Gray on the grounds that the Democrat was "one of the top marshals in the country." Bethune won the day, and the Reagan administration reappointed Gray. Bethune still campaigned actively for White in 1982 and said that the governor's election was "the best thing that ever happened to this state."

David Vandergriff, a conservative attorney from Fort Smith, said that the rightist faction gained full control of the Arkansas GOP in 1981: "The Reagan Republicans didn't run off the Rockefeller Republicans, but they left for whatever reasons ... A lot of the Rockefeller Republicans disappeared when he left office, and those that remained have continued to fall by the wayside." In 1982, for instance, Bob Nash, the assistant director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, not only opposed White but worked frantically for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill Clinton.

Losing in 1982 and 1986

White was unable to secure a hold on the governorship. Chrisman challenged him again in the 1982 primary. Clinton then defeated him in the general election: 431,855 (54.7 percent) to 357,496 (45.3 percent). White won only nineteen counties in the 1982 rematch, which occurred in a nationally Democratic year.

After his defeat, White supported the selection of a former Rockefeller supporter, Morris S. Arnold, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rockmarker, to succeed the temporary state party Chairman Robert "Bob" Cohee, originally of Baxter Countymarker. Cohee had become acting chairman on the death of Holleman in March 1982 and had resigned a federal position to work all year for White's unsuccessful reelection. Arnold defeated Cohee, but the Republican State Central Committee would not disclose the secret-ballot vote. Arnold did not serve the full two-year term and was succeeded by first vice-chairman Robert "Bob" Leslie.

Arkansas gubernatorial terms became four years with the 1986 general election. In 1986, Faubus unsuccessfully challenged Clinton for Democratic renomination. White defeated former Lieutenant Governor Maurice L. Britt in the Republican primary. In the second White v. Clinton race, Clinton again easily prevailed, once again having benefited from a nationally Democratic year.

State banking commissioner and death

From 1998 to 2003, White served as Arkansas Banking Commissioner, an appointment from Governor Huckabee.

White died of a heart attack in Little Rock on May 21, 2003, just a few weeks before his 70th birthday and is interred there in the historic Mount Holly Cemeterymarker.


  • Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.
  • Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture entry: Frank White
  • Arkansas Gazette, August 5, November 13, 22, 1981; October 29, December 5, 1982
  • Who's Who in the South and Southwest, 18th edition (1982-1983), p. 803
  • Arkansas Election Statistics, 1980 and 1982 (Little Rock: Secretary of State)
  • Shreveport Times, January 7, 1982

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