Fifty years ago today was Election Day 1966. It was a seismic election for Arkansas. Winthrop Rockefeller was chosen as Arkansas’ 37th Governor, defeating Jim Johnson. (An earlier version of this incorrectly listed Jim’s wife, Virginia. She would run for the Democratic primary in 1968, losing to Marion Crank.) In addition, Maurice “Footsie” Britt was elected Lieutenant Governor, Joe Purcell was chosen as Attorney General, and John Paul Hammerschmidt & David Pryor were both new faces in the Arkansas congressional delegation.
Rockefeller, Britt, and Hammerschmidt made waves as the first Republicans to hold those offices since Reconstruction. But perhaps more importantly, when joined by Pryor and Purcell, the five represented a new face and outlook on Arkansas politics. They were progressive and centrist. They saw a different role for government in social and moral questions.
This election set the stage for Arkansas of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a repudiation of the overtly racist Faubus-era political old guard. It was certainly not the end, however. In the 1968, 1970 and 1972 elections, Faubus and his cronies would try to reassert themselves in statewide races and would continue to see allies win local races.
But it would be the 1966 election which marked a turning point in Arkansas politics.