The Democratic Party of Arkansas is the affiliate of the Democratic Party in the state of Arkansas. It is responsible for promoting the ideologies and core values of the national Democratic Party in Arkansas.
Arkansas began its statehood with a strong Democratic dominance in politics. Before Arkansas became a state on June 15, 1836, its politics was dominated by a small group commonly called “The Family” or “The Dynasty” until the American Civil War. The founder of this party was James Conway, who was inspired by the death of his older brother, Henry Conway. Henry Conway was killed in a duel, that took place on October 27, 1827, by Robert Crittenden, former friend, that soon became his political opposition. In an act to avenge his brother’s death, he formed the first political party of Arkansas, “The Dynasty”. Many of the members in this group were related by either blood or marriage, and thus how it received the name, “The Family”. This group was closely allied with former President Andrew Jackson.
Following the Civil War, Arkansas was under Republican governance for the first time during the Reconstruction era. Republicans such as Governor Powell Clayton were appointed to state office, to the chagrin of Confederate veterans and sympathizers. The economic hardships of Reconstruction, and the political vengeance of Republicans during Radical Reconstruction, engendered strong support for the Democratic Party in Arkansas and across the South, known as the Solid South. Following the removal of the Radical Republicans in Arkansas in the late 1870s, the state entered an “unbroken tenure” of Democratic hegemony until until 1966, when Republican Winthrop Rockefeller won Governorship.
After Reconstruction, Democrats in Arkansas were known as Redeemers. This coalition was the Southern version of the Bourbon Democrat, and both factions were comparatively conservative and classically liberal. Redeemer politicians in Arkansas were typically prominent, landowning, white men of the former planter class, who retained control of soft and hard power through Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, and racial violence. Examples of Redeemers in Arkansas include Governor Jeff Davis.
The start of the 20th century marked a change in Arkansans, and the nation at large. Though more restrained in Arkansas, social activism and political reform grew throughout the Roaring Twenties. Generally, the period was marked by more individual candidates than the “factions” that defined politics in other Southern states, or a “ruling class” like The Family of early Arkansas. Arkansas Democrats reformed the state’s highway system, public schools, and prisons. However, the simultaneous good government movement, calling for more open and honest politicians, caught many of Arkansas’s early Progressive politicians before major reform could be enacted. Governor Tom Terral succeeded in constructing a new Arkansas State Hospital, but was primaried by John Martineau, who accused Terral of receiving kickbacks, after his first term. Governor Harvey Parnell managed to pass reform measures, but was blamed for the Great Depression, and left office extremely unpopular.
The Progressive Era in Arkansas was shorter-lived than across the United States. Though Arkansas and the nation voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt in great numbers in the 1932 presidential election, Junius Futrell won the gubernatorial election on a platform of retrenchment the same year. Within the state, the election represented a realignment in favor of the conservative wing of the party. Futrell was the most conservative governor elected in decades, with 1932 marking the end of the reform era in Arkansas.
Over the years, the Republican Party spread from it’s geographic base in the Ozarks, largely through individual conversion. Presidential elections became more competitive, though Arkansas was last to deny electoral votes to a Democrat by supporting George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election. Following that election, Arkansas only voted Democrat to support fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter, and former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, with US Senate and Representative races also becoming more competitive, and slowly flipping to Republican control.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Arkansans were very likely to split their ballots among parties, indicating a tradition of independence. The most notable example was the northwest part of the state’s support of George Wallace for President, Republican Winthrop Rockefeller for governor, and Democrat J. William Fulbright for Senate in 1968. The independence likely came from decades of identification as a Democrat meaning little, as elections were truly decided in Democratic primaries among the conservative and liberal factions. This era was marked by Arkansas Democrats willing to vote for Republicans when the Democratic candidate was unpalatable, when an attractive Republican was running, such as Rockefeller or Ronald Reagan, or to “punish” Democratic incumbents. For example, Frank White unseated Bill Clinton in the 1980 gubernatorial election, but he was reelected handily in 1982.
Although the Democratic Party of Arkansas is not as dominant as it once was, it still has a strong presence in the state. However, that began to change in the early 2010s.
With the election of Barack Obama as President and the leftward shift of the national Democratic Party, Arkansas Democrats have seen their influence gradually decline. The Republicans began to make serious inroads in 2010, and it continued until it finally in 2014, when Republicans captured all the statewide offices, both chambers of the state legislature, all the U.S House seats and both U.S Senate seats, putting the Democrats in the minority for the first time in state history.
Democrat Governors won the Gubernatorial elections in the State of Arkansas since 1941:
The Democratic Party of Arkansas has a platform standing on the following principles: law and order with justice, every citizen, regardless of religion or race, is entitled to an equal voice in government. Also, it advocates equal opportunity, fairness and justice, and progressiveness. It not only promotes these standards, but also takes action to achieve them. With these principles comes a list of 52 rules. The platform is filled with values such as ethics, education, economic development and opportunity, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure, environment and energy, health care, social security/medicaid/medicare, taxes, military/veterans and nation’s security, criminal justice, civil rights and civil liberties, and public service. Its position on these topics mirrors closely that of the national Democratic Party.