August 14, 2000
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this morning, Arkansas's 47 delegates and alternates climbed aboard shuttle busses for the short ride from their downtown Los Angeles hotel to the Staples Center and the opening of the Democratic National Convention, but for these delegates, the highlight of the convention may come tonight, when the podium belongs to a man many of them have known intimately for nearly 30 years, Bill Clinton.
JAMES LEVI PHILLIPS, Arkansas Delegate: Being there and having the President and being personal friends with him, as everybody here is, that is something you just don't get in a lifetime.
KWAME HOLMAN: In 1992 and again in '96, Arkansas's was the envy of all the state delegations. It had choice seating on the convention floor and was a focus of media attention. This week, the limelight has dimmed considerably. Delegate Jean Hervy says that's appropriate.
JEAN HERVEY, Arkansas Delegate: Knowing my colleagues from Arkansas and the kind of people they are, we will make sure that Tennessee is in the spotlight. Monday night, Arkansas will get attention, because the President's speaking; from Tuesday through Thursday, Tennessee should have it.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Arkansas's favorite son remained in heavy demand since he arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, appearing at receptions, rallies, and fund-raisers across the city. The President also managed to spend time with his home state delegates at a private reception last night.
KWAME HOLMAN: How would you sum up your feelings right now that your fellow Arkansan, as President Clinton of the United States, is leaving office after these eight years?
SAM BOYCE, Arkansas Delegate: Well, sad. We're sad to see the President leave, of course. He's going to continue to be extremely popular in Arkansas.
JEAN HERVEY: I have sort of a bittersweet feeling. It's sad to see him leave the administration, but, on the other hand, exceedingly happy about the accomplishments that this President has been able to bring to this country, the changes that he's made. And he's - on the night of his election the first time he talked about making America. His cabinet looked like America. And, you know, I can stand here today and say he did that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some of these politically active Arkansans also spent part of the last several years defending their state against a barrage of attacks, primarily the result of the Whitewater investigation and the convictions of some key Arkansas figures associated with Bill Clinton.
AUBRA ANTHONY, Arkansas Delegate: The criticisms of Bill Clinton often went toward trying to find some wrongdoing on the part of him or anyone else on his staff. The pressures were terrible at the beginning; the criticisms came from every direction. I think everyone in Arkansas felt misportrayed as being somehow people with low moral standing and so forth. And I think it really took a toll on everyone. I saw a number of people who went to Washington to do good and public service finding themselves spending most of their time answering subpoenas and trying to figure out how they were going to pay their lawyers.
KWAME HOLMAN: And this week there's been more criticism of the President for taking a high profile in the run up to this convention, possibly at the expense of Al Gore.
JEAN HERVEY: Just the fact he's President is going to take some attention, you know. Let's be real about it. When you look at what he has done for eight years, the Vice President has been a part of that, and I think that's a plus because it could be that we would be looking at a vice presidential candidate that no one has any knowledge about, and that's not true in this campaign because Vice President and President Clinton have been a two team, not a one team.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some Democrats also worry voters will link the President's personal problems to Al Gore.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton has already said, "don't blame Al Gore for what happened in the Monica Lewinsky scandal." Does he need to say more about that?
SAM BOYCE: Absolutely not. I don't think he has to say anything more about that. That issue is past. I mean, let's face it, look at the thing. It was set up by the Republican Party strictly for their punches that they could take against Clinton, hopefully to try to hurt the Democratic Party, and I don't think they've done it. I think it's obvious. He's carried forth after that was over. So impeachment is not an issue with Al Gore.
JEAN HERVEY: He said it, and that's enough, but being who he is, he'll probably say it again, because there may be people that didn't see him or hear him when he said it the first time. And knowing him the way I do, he will want folks to be able to see him say that, that Al Gore should be, you know, his own person, that they shouldn't blame him. And he may say that, and if he does, I'll applaud it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ultimately, says Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry, President Clinton's legacy after leaving office will be positive.
REP. MARION BERRY, (D) Arkansas: I think that the President will be treated very well by history regardless of how this election turns out. I think his accomplishments are remarkable on their own merit, and I think he'll be treated just fine by the historians. I don't have any doubts that he'll eventually get credit for a lot more than he's getting credit for now.
SAM BOYCE: Remember what they said about Harry Truman-- "oh, he's terrible." Now he's one of the four or five greatest presidents ever, you know. Clinton will be at the very top.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Arkansas delegates took their seats this afternoon to prepare to place Al Gore's name at the top of their party's marquee later this week, and toward that same end, President Clinton will meet his Vice President in Michigan tomorrow to perform a symbolic handoff of the leadership of the Democratic Party.