- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. President Clinton took his last ride on Air Force One to Arkansas yesterday, returning to what was once his home to marvel at the "mystery" of democracy that sent "a little boy on South Hervey Street in Hope, Arkansas, to the White House."
Addressing a joint session of the Arkansas General Assembly, Mr. Clinton talked for 55 minutes the speech was essentially the State of the Union address he wanted to make in Washington but decided not to about his accomplishments in eight years in Washington.
"I will leave office at noon on the 20th, amazingly grateful that somehow, the mystery of this great democracy gave me the chance to go from a little boy on South Hervey Street in Hope, Arkansas, to the White House."
"I'm quite sure there was more than a little luck in that, and good fortune. I'm absolutely positive that I may be the only person ever elected president who owes his election purely to his personal friends, without whom I would never have won."
The president lamented that felons are not allowed to vote in many places, and could not vote in the November presidential election, which Vice President Al Gore narrowly lost. Most felons who managed to cast ballots illegally in Florida voted for Mr. Gore.
The legislature gave a warm welcome to Mr. Clinton, applauding lustily as he stepped through the double oak doors of the legislative chamber and stood beneath the inscription "In God We Trust." He worked his way down the center aisle, beneath the brass chandelier with two of its eight globes burned out, shaking hands and hugging lawmakers, most of whom were elected after Mr. Clinton became president.
"I am honored that the last trip of my presidency is to come home to Arkansas and home to the legislature, where I spent so many happy days," he said. "Everything that I have been able to do as president is, in no small measure, a result of the life I lived and the jobs I had in Arkansas."
But the welcome was not unanimous in the place he once called home and where George W. Bush won the electoral votes in November. Without them, Mr. Bush would have lost. Many Arkansans think the president has gone, in the words of one Democratic legislator, "a little high hat." This is a dreaded accusation in Arkansas, where going "high hat" is almost a capital crime. Many Arkansans say they don't understand how a native son could become a New Yorker even before his presidency ends, and take his registration there as a keen personal affront.
The president was greeted with this accusation by Meredith Oakley, associate editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, in the state's leading morning paper: "Why on earth would Bill Clinton want to address the Arkansas Legislature?" she wrote. " … Clinton had blown that joint and, indeed, the whole state years ago. Why come back now?"
There has been particular grumbling here that when he leaves Washington on Saturday he will fly to New York City, not Little Rock, from whence he came, as custom dictates. Indeed, Arkansas is where Mr. Clinton first came to political power more than a quarter of a century ago. Having lost a congressional race in 1974, he was elected attorney general of Arkansas two years later and went on to win five of six gubernatorial races.
Ruminating here yesterday about his years in the White House, Mr. Clinton acknowledged that as soon as he took office, he "raised taxes to get the deficit down" and reverse what he called the economic "nightmare of the '80s."
The president boasted of the economy's "eight-year recovery," although his own White House pegs the start of the expansion at 10 years ago, or midway through the first Bush presidency.
Mr. Clinton lamented there are places in America, such as Indian reservations, "where you can't tell there has been an eight-year recovery." Although he has scoffed at suggestions from the incoming Bush administration that the nation is headed into a recession, the president acknowledged an economic downturn is "bound to happen some day."
The president, perhaps stung by former Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers' assertion, often quoted here, that the only thing Arkansas got from the Clinton presidency "was a bunch of subpoenas," boasted to the legislature of helping steer hundreds of millions in federal largesse to his home state with the help of native Arkansans like Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.
"Did this administration make a difference for Arkansas?" said Mr. Clinton. "Rodney said in this year's transportation budget, there's $592 million for Arkansas. That's more than your per-capita share."
He laid claim to a legacy of healing. "One of the most important contributions that our administration made to life in Washington in the last eight years was arguing that we had to find a way to be at peace with each other, and to work together across all of our differences," he said.
And although Mr. Clinton has been scolded in the West for unilaterally placing millions of acres off limits to ranchers, loggers and miners, he portrayed himself as being sympathetic to all sides of the debate.
"A lot of our differences are almost cultural," he said, citing "the people who live in the West as opposed to people who live in the East and their attitude about protection of public lands.
"Politicians just stay away from a lot of these issues because you're afraid, no matter which way you move and what you say, it will all blow up on you. And you can't get much done. But you lose votes no matter what you do."
Mr. Clinton devoted much of his speech to the election in Florida, which Mr. Gore lost by 537 votes. The president, who last week insisted that George W. Bush won only by stopping the counting of votes, continued with that theme yesterday.
The president, no doubt remembering where he was, paid tribute to the Second Amendment guns, the Baptist church and the Razorbacks are sacred here. But he argued that the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment should not be restored to felons. He boasted that "611,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers were unable to buy handguns because of the Brady law."


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