Each year, we invite readers to contribute nominations to our Arkansan of the Year feature. We list many of those here, along with other people who made a difference in Arkansas in 2005.
BRAD JESSON and DAVID NEWBERN. These former state Supreme Court justices were special masters on the Lake View school case. They produced the detailed report on legislative shortcomings that prompted the Supreme Court to reopen the case and counsel the legislature to take another run at school adequacy. Their report was calm, detailed and thoroughly persuasive (though Gov. Mike Huckabee took notable exception to their accurate finding that he had absented himself from the school battle in the legislative session).
The IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER. It’s alive! In the Big Woods of Arkansas. The news was a worldwide sensation and another occasion to remember the hardy environmentalists who saved that valuable wetland from Corps of Engineers ruin.
SEN. BOB JOHNSON. The Bigelow lawmaker was widely credited with hijacking control of the Senate with his shadowy Brotherhood, a cabal that rammed through expanded machine gambling at Oaklawn and Southland race tracks, spawned a greedy pork fest and very nearly ruined Little Rock’s water supply.
DAVID MATTHEWS. The former legislator, as the attorney for the Rogers School District, was the go-to guy for school districts who argued, successfully, that the legislature hadn’t done enough for schools.
MITCH MUSTAIN. The best high-school quarterback in America led Springdale High to an undefeated state championship and distressed Hog lovers everywhere by backing away from an initial commitment to play college football at the University of Arkansas. His decision remains up in the air at press time.
JIM HARVEY. The chief executive of Central Arkansas Water is a quiet, soft-spoken engineer who’s spent a working lifetime mostly outside the limelight. But when Deltic Timber made its power grab to develop land in the watershed of Lake Maumelle, Harvey provided steely leadership in an intensely political confrontation. Good government and clean water won over the special interests. For once.
WALTER HUSSMAN. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher remains the dominant media figure in the state. He scooted aside his partners in Northwest Arkansas newspapering to set up a mano-a-mano war for the golden Northwest between his publishing empire and that of the Little Rock-based Stephens family. Did we mention a partner he shunted aside was named Walton? Any way you slice it, Republicans control daily newspaper circulation in Arkansas.
SENS. BLANCHE LINCOLN and MARK PRYOR. The linkage is unavoidable. The moderate Democrats from Arkansas found themselves courted, praised and scorned on hot issues ranging from the filibuster to abortion to Supreme Court nominees. That they were not wholly predictable was probably their greatest strength and made them players in several national issues. Arkansas TV stations, beneficiaries of ad campaigns aimed at these senators, should be thankful.
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE. He kept his weight off. He completed two marathons. He began running for president. His bond issues were flops, however. And he showed too great an appreciation for premature memorialization.
LT. GOV. WIN ROCKEFELLER. With quiet dignity, he quit a race for governor to receive a bone marrow transplant and undergo an arduous period of treatment. He’ll be missed in 2006, when the likely match of Attorney General Mike Beebe and former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson promises to be bloody.
WALTER KIMBROUGH. The young and energetic new president of Philander Smith College brought an engaging new viewpoint to the historically black institution, not to mention a provocative lineup of visiting lecturers.
LAURIE TAYLOR. The Fayetteville mother set off a contentious debate on content of high school library books after objecting to the explicit nature of some books in her hometown.
The BLOGS. Arkansas niche blogs are popping up on the left and right and, though still far behind national counterparts developmentally, they already show signs of influencing public debate and, occasionally, keeping the MSM (that’s mainstream media to the blog-uninformed) a bit more honest.
JIMMY MOSES and RETT TUCKER. The real estate developers are transforming downtown Little Rock and creating a “new downtown” in the River Market neighborhood with a third high-rise condo project, this one the biggest yet.
ALICE WALTON. The Wal-Mart heiress is the driving force behind a newly announced museum, Crystal Bridges, which will bring some of the most famous works of American art to a new showplace in Bentonville, home of the discount store empire. (Walton is not technically an Arkansan any longer, having moved to no-income-tax Texas.)
HOUSE SPEAKER BILL STOVALL. Backbone, brains and plenty of political skill made him one of the most formidable speakers in memory. He stood up to a fearsome lobbying combine on the Deltic water bill when many lesser legislators would have crumbled.
LU HARDIN. His amiable personality and marketing savvy have helped the former senator lead the University of Central Arkansas, booming in enrollment, construction and prestige as it lures top scholars with generous grants in aid.
PAT HAYS. The North Little Rock mayor has been making things happen in Pulaski County’s second city. The Bass Pro Shops development is still just talk, but a new baseball stadium for the Arkansas Travelers, a riverside apartment project, unparalleled recreational venues and Main Street redevelopment are just a few of the bright spots on his resume.
The STEPHENS FAMILY. A new events center at UALR and a new baseball field in North Little Rock are the latest tangible evidence of the financial empire’s impact on the community. Will Warren Stephens finally unlimber his Main Street redevelopment plan in 2006?
DAVID GEARHART, vice chancellor for university advancement at the University of Arkansas, led the UA’s “Campaign for the 21st Century,” which raised $1 billion for the UA, including the $300 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, the largest gift ever made to a public university.