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Ed Bethune

Edwin Ruthvin Bethune, Jr.
Ed Bethune
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by James Guy Tucker, Jr.
Succeeded by Tommy F. Robinson
Arkansas Republican Party Chairman
In office
Preceded by Len E. Blaylock
Succeeded by Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1935-12-19) December 19, 1935
Pocahontas, Randolph County, Arkansas, USA
Political party Republican; nominee for attorney general, 1972, and United State Senate, 1984
Spouse(s) Lana Bethune
Children Two children
Residence Little Rock Arkansas
Occupation Attorney; former FBI agent
Religion Methodist
Bethune, considered a successful U.S. Representative at the time, was unable to ride the Ronald W. Reagan Republican sweep of 1984 in his effort to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator David Pryor.

Edwin Ruthvin Bethune, Jr., known as Ed Bethune (born December 19, 1935), is a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C., who was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas from 1979-1985. His last campaign was an unsuccessful challenge in 1984 to the second-term reelection of Democratic U.S. Senator David Hampton Pryor.


  • Early years, education, military, legal practice 1
  • Career 2
  • Political career 3
    • Campaign for state attorney general, 1972 3.1
    • Election to the U.S. House, 1978 3.2
    • Election of 1982 3.3
    • U.S. Senate campaign, 1984 3.4

Early years, education, military, legal practice

Bethune was born to Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Bethune, Sr., in Pocahontas in far northeastern Arkansas. He graduated in 1953 from Pocahontas High School. He was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps from 1954–1957, with service in South Korea.

After military service, Bethune obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. He received the Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1963 and was admitted to the Arkansas bar that same year.


That year he began his practice in Pocahontas. In 1972, while he was living in Searcy north of Little Rock, he practiced with former Arkansas Republican Party chairman Odell Pollard, who served as his political mentor. Bethune also was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

Immediately after admission to the bar, Bethune was a deputy prosecuting attorney in Randolph County from 1963-1964. He served as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1964-1968.

He was a prosecuting attorney for the First Judicial District of Arkansas from 1970-1971. He was chairman of the Ninth District Federal Home Loan Bank Board from 1973-1976.

Political career

Campaign for state attorney general, 1972

In 1972, Bethune was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Arkansas

Bethune's campaign manager for attorney general was James "Jim" Burnett (born 1948), a young lawyer from Clinton, Arkansas, who in 1982 was appointed by U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan as director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Despite the state's re-election margin for President Richard M. Nixon, the Arkansas GOP state-level ticket fared less well. Tucker defeated Bethune, 370,647 (60 percent) to 247,404 (40 percent). Bethune carried only three of the seventy-five counties, his home county of White, and Pulaski and Searcy counties. Bethune polled more than 48 percent in Garland County (Hot Springs) and at least 40 percent in fourteen other counties. It was his showing in the populous Pulaski County, also the home of Tucker, which convinced GOP leaders six years later to endorse Bethune as the Republican congressional nominee in an open-seat election. The man vacating the seat was the unsuccessful senatorial candidate that year, Jim Guy Tucker.

Election to the U.S. House, 1978

In his 1978 campaign for the U.S. House seat from the Second District in central Arkansas, based about Little Rock, Bethune endorsed the "supply-side" tax reduction plan offered by then U.S. Representative Jack Kemp, of New York and U.S. Senator William V. Roth of Delaware. Bethune defeated the Democrat Douglas Brandon, a state representative and the owner of a chain of Little Rock furniture stores. In the primary, Brandon had defeated Cecil Alexander. Bethune received 65,288 votes (51.2 percent) to Brandon's 62,140 (48.8 percent). He won only three of the nine counties in the district, but his margins in Pulaski, White, and Cleburne counties were sufficient to provide a 3,148-vote plurality over Brandon.

Once in the House, Bethune named Jerry Climer, his defeated ticket-mate from 1972, as his chief of staff. Climer remained with Bethune during his congressional tenure. Bethune made federal taxes and spending his chief concern. He became a close associate of Jack Kemp. A survey revealed that in 1981 and 1982, Bethune had supported the Reagan administration 82 percent of the time. But, he also showed independence. In 1982, he supported the 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the renewal of the federal legal services program, which supports defendants in both criminal and civil matters.

Bethune broke with his Arkansas GOP to support the reappointment of Democratic U.S. Marshal Charles H. Gray (1922–2003), a cousin of U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers. Republican Governor Frank D. White wanted to return Len Blaylock to the marshal's position which Blaylock had held in the administration of Gerald R. Ford, Jr.. Bethune said that Gray was "one of the top marshals in the country" and should remain in place. Republican State Chairman Harlan Holleman of Wynne in Cross County in eastern Arkansas, said that the reappointment "doesn't help to build a party. My business is building the party, and building strength and patronage is one of the ways to do it." Bethune prevailed, and Gray remained in place.

Bethune opposed Reagan's proposal to sell AWACS fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, which was against the advice of Israel. Bethune joined Senators Bumpers and Pryor to veto a proposal to override Arkansas' 10 percent interest ceiling for retail loans. Bethune opposed the establishment of the Congressional Sunbelt Caucus, as proposed by a Democratic colleague, Beryl Anthony of El Dorado in south Arkansas. He claimed that such caucuses are divisive and pit regional interests against one another. The Sunbelt Caucus was established with members from both parties representing states from California to Florida.

Bethune was chosen in 1979 as the president of the U.S. House Republican freshman class. He was reelected with ease in 1980—he polled 159,148 votes (78.9 percent) to 42,278 (21 percent) for his Democratic opponent, Jacksonville Mayor James G. Reid.

Election of 1982

In 1982, a year of widespread election of Democrats, Bethune had a harder race. He did not begin campaigning until the final three weeks of the contest, as he had been confident of winning a third term. His opponent was the Democratic former

In August 1982, supply-sider Bethune broke with the Reagan administration to oppose a series of tax increases billed as "loophole closings." Bethune warned that the tax increases, some $99 billion, would delay, not hasten economic recovery, which began in the spring of 1983. Bethune's Republican colleague, John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison from the adjoining Third Congressional District, joined in opposing the tax increases. Bethune, a member of the House Budget and Banking Committee, also charged that the 1982 tax hikes were of questionable constitutionality because they originated in the Senate Finance Committee, under then chairman Robert J. Dole of Kansas, rather than in the House, as required by the United States Constitution.

In a series of editorials, the Arkansas Gazette, claimed that Bethune "wants to have it both ways, taking credit for tax reduction but no responsibility for deficits." In its endorsement of George, the Gazette described the candidate as "a staunch Democrat who has defined with unmistakable clarity the leading economic and fiscal issues." The newspaper also criticized Bethune for his "pro-Pentagon" position and hostility to government social programs, which it insisted were essential to the well-being of Arkansans.

Bethune survived the challenge and gained re-election: 96,775 (53.9 percent) to George's 82,913 (46.1 percent). It was his last election victory.

U.S. Senate campaign, 1984

In 1984, Bethune sought the Senate seat against the incumbent Senator Pryor. He was decisively defeated although Reagan easily topped Walter F. Mondale in Arkansas. Pryor received 502,341 votes (57.3 percent) to Bethune's 373,615 (42.7 percent). Pryor's comfortable victory—it was the fifth time he had been on a statewide ballot—in a largely Republican year convinced the Arkansas GOP not to oppose him in 1990.

Bethune's House seat was gained by the Democrats, as Pulaski County Sheriff Tommy F. Robinson defeated Republican state Representative Judy Petty in her second bid for the same House seat. Robinson later switched to the Republican Party, but the seat returned to the Democrats with the 1990 election. They kept it until Tim Griffin won it for the GOP in the 2010 midterm election.

After leaving Congress, Bethune served from 1986-1988 as the Arkansas Republican Party state Chairman. He resisted suggestions that he run for governor in 1986, and the nomination went to Frank White.

In 1981, while he was still in the U.S. House, Bethune outlined his vision for the Arkansas Republican future: "I think it's essential to the life of our party that we attract diverse groups. . . . When [Winthrop] Rockefeller headed the party in Arkansas, we had a broader reach across the economic, social, and political spectrum than we have now, and we attracted blacks to our cause in greater numbers than we have today. I think we had a more balanced Republican Party then, and I think it's essential to the life of a party that

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