by Max Brantley
People began assembling as early as 8 a.m. and dignitaries began taking the stage at 12:05 p.m. No telling what the elaborate event cost, but whatever expenses were required, the airport's lofty parking charges should recoup some of them.
The construction project — a new ticket lobby and baggage handling system — cost $67 million.
Political names were plentiful, including Rodney Slater, Vic Snyder, Jim Guy Tucker, James Lee Witt, Mark Pryor, John Boozman, Tim "Pipeline" Griffin, Jim Dailey, and Dale Bumpers. Airport Commission Chair Kay Kelley Arnold was emcee(she worked many years ago on Bill Clinton's staff). In opening remarks, she said the airport was "truly blessed" by the leadership of airport director Ron Mathieu.
Sen. Pryor gave a shoutout to the $20 million in stimulus money former U.S. Rep. Snyder helped land for the airport. That kind of spending is out of fashion with the current Republican delegation, though they did attend and praise flowed in all directions from those on the program.
Hillary Clinton, warmly introduced by Gov. Beebe, recounted her arrival at the airport as a young woman coming to Arkansas to meet her boyfriend and the journey that followed. It led to her time at the Rose Law Firm, where her work included representing the Little Rock Airport Commission.
Hillary Clinton introduced the man from Hope, Hot Springs, Fayetteville and Little Rock, a young man who, she has often recounted, caught her attention at the Yale Law School talking about the size of watermelons in Arkansas. He paid tribute to members of Congress and the Airport Commission, lavishing attention on those on the opposite side of the political fence. He recalled flying from the airport to college and the idea he could go somewhere else, learn something else "and not lose my attachment to home." The connectedness was ever present. Clinton remembered legislation Arnold had helped pass in 1979 and he undoubtedly could have told a similar personal story for every person in the hangar. "Everyone is inherently interesting," Clinton said. And if there's any better explanation for his political skill and enduring popularity it's the nearly palpable evidence that he's utterly sincere in this belief.
Clinton said he'd love to see Little Rock become an international airport. It's a symbol of the ability to embrace the diverse, but shrinking world, at the same time thinking, "We can always come home." He said he was "profoundly grateful" that the airport was named for him, particularly since they had included "the airport's lawyer." The program ended shortly after 1 p.m.
Fox 16 carried it live. Thanks to them.
Full range of Brian Chilson's photos today here on Facebook.