Arkansas Business' 25 Clintonites (25th Anniversary)

Ah, the Clinton years! The passing of time has replaced "Clinton fatigue" with a kind of bittersweet nostalgia for the days when Arkansas and Arkansans were front and center on the international stage.

Yes, scandal abounded - some of it real - but the United States also saw prosperity and relative peace. Bill Clinton's polarizing effect seemed extreme at the time but now seems to be situation normal in American politics. And his outsized flaws made for interesting reading and TV viewing during the '90s, though much of it R-rated.

Here we remember, in alphabetical order, some of the players in the Clinton saga.

1. Diane and Jim Blair
Diane Blair, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, was a close friend of the Clintons, particularly Hillary, having known them for decades. Blair's husband, Jim, was general counsel for Tyson Foods Inc. until his retirement in 2000.

Although the couple didn't join the Clintons in Washington, the Blairs, particularly Jim, came under the same white-hot scrutiny as almost every Clinton associate.

A 1994 New York Times article questioned the help Jim Blair gave Hillary in a 1978 commodities trade that netted her almost $100,000. The Wall Street Journal then went after Blair's finances, seeking to unseal a 1979 lawsuit Blair filed claiming he was defrauded of millions of dollars after the collapse of the cattle futures market.

No wrongdoing was ever found.

Diane Blair retired from the university in 1997 and died June 26, 2000, just days after a visit from the president, first lady and their daughter, Chelsea.

2. Herby Branscum& Robert Hill
Herby Branscum Jr., a Perryville lawyer, and Robert M. Hill, also of Perryville, were the only two targets of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to win acquittal in the $52 million, seven-year investigation of a failed real estate venture, Whitewater Development Corp.

Branscum, appointed by Gov. Clinton to the Arkansas Highway Commission in 1991, caught the eye of Robert Fiske Jr., the first independent counsel, in 1994. Fiske started looking into the Clintons' finances and couldn't stop. He wanted to know about a $180,000 loan the Perry County Bank (now part of Farmers & Merchants Bank of Stuttgart) made to the Clintons for Bill Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial campaign. Branscum was a co-owner of the bank, along with Hill, and a former chairman of the state Democratic Party whom Clinton had reappointed to the state Banking Commission in '91.

Starr replaced Fiske in August 1994. Starr followed up on Fiske's investigation of the bankers. In 1996, a federal grand jury indicted Branscum and Hill on charges of violating bank laws by funneling money to various Arkansas political campaigns, though Clinton's was the only one named.

Partisan politics, Branscum and Hill said. A federal jury acquitted the two bankers on four of the 11 counts and deadlocked on the rest.

3. Joycelyn Elders
Can you say condoms, children? I knew that you could.

Dr. Joycelyn Elder's honesty was her downfall. She headed the state Health Department under Clinton, and her support for school-based health clinics, abortion rights and sex education in schools offended many.

She didn't alter her views after Clinton named her U.S. Surgeon General in 1993. At a '94 United Nations conference on HIV-AIDS, Elders, in response to a question about the promotion of masturbation as an alternative to sexual intercourse, said: "I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught. But we've not even taught our children the very basics."

A firestorm of criticism predictably ensued, and Clinton fired her.

Elders is retired now and living in Little Rock, though she remains much in demand as a speaker.

4. Gennifer Flowers
The Little Rock singer caused quite the frenzy when, during Clinton's first presidential campaign, she told the tabloid Star that she had had a 12-year affair with the candidate. She even had tapes of their conversations, she said.

Flowers flung open rumors about Clinton's libido that had been making the rounds in Arkansas for years. She was the first woman to go public about claims of a liaison with the man who would become president. She wouldn't be the last.

The story proved to have "legs," as we say in the business. On Jan. 26, 1992, Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared on "60 Minutes," where Bill denied the affair with Flowers. The couple acknowledged having had problems in their marriage, but even under repeated questioning, Clinton refused to say whether he'd ever had an extramarital affair.

In the interview Hillary denied being "some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette," except she did stand by her man. Hillary's support was widely credited for saving Clinton's campaign. He came in a strong second in the New Hampshire primary a few weeks later and dubbed himself "the Comeback Kid."

Clinton later admitted having had sex with Flowers but denied the 12-year affair.

Flowers now lives in New Orleans, according to her Web site,, where she describes herself as an "actress, comedienne and singer."

5. Vince Foster
If so much about the Clinton years played out as vicious farce, Vince Foster's death was a tragedy. Foster, another native of Hope and partner in the Rose Law Firm, fatally shot himself on July 20, 1993, in a Virginia park near Washington, D.C. He was barely six months into his position as the president's deputy legal counsel.

The highly respected lawyer felt the pressures of the political fray in Washington too keenly. He'd told friends and family of his unhappiness. On the day before he died, he'd received a prescription from his Little Rock doctor for an antidepressant. Critical editorials in The Wall Street Journal pained him.

Before he died, Foster wrote: "I was not meant for the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport."

It was perhaps inevitable that conspiracy theories would arise about Foster's death; however, a number of official reports, including one by Kenneth Starr, concluded Foster's death was a suicide.

6. David Hale
David Hale was a Pulaski County municipal judge. He was also a crook, something he admitted on the stand in one of his two trials.

His Capital Management Services, a lending company, received money from the Small Business Administration. The SBA seized the company Sept. 14, 1993, and, 10 days later, Hale and two associates were charged in federal court with defrauding the federal agency.

Hale resigned as judge and accused Jim Guy Tucker, then governor of Arkansas, and Bill Clinton of pressuring him for illegal loans, adding fuel to the Whitewater fire. He also said he made a loan to Susan McDougal.

In March 1994, the former judge pleaded guilty to two felony charges involving Capital Management. He agreed to the plea in exchange for cooperating with the first independent counsel, Robert Fiske Jr., in his investigation of Whitewater Development Corp.

Hale testified in the 1996 fraud trial of Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, during which he attempted to link Jim McDougal and Clinton in illegal financial dealings. Defense lawyers said Hale was just trying to please Kenneth Starr, who had replaced Fiske as independent counsel.

In 1999, a jury convicted Hale in a separate case in which he was accused of lying to insurance regulators. In testimony during that trial, Hale admitted that he frequently broke the law. "He said he committed perjury, stole from the federal government, and 'dummied up' records. 'It was a total scam,'" he said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's report.

Hale spent some time in prison, but in 2001, Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his sentence for lying in the insurance case.

7. Kaki Hockersmith
This Little Rock interior designer was called on by the Clintons to spiff up the White House, probably the most important decorating job in the world. Like everything having to do with the Clintons, controversy ensued.

Hockersmith went Victorian on the Treaty Room and the Lincoln Sitting Room. Victorian is not a restrained style. Victorian is velvet and gilt surfaces and dark wood.

Here's The New York Times take:

"In the cozy Lincoln Sitting Room, where Richard M. Nixon used to light fires in the summertime and confer with Henry A. Kissinger, the biggest surprise was Ms. Hockersmith's decision to go with the same coffered wallpaper and draperies she used in a recent Arkansas Designer Showhouse."

Oh my gosh! She used the same wallpaper that she'd used in Arkansas ! Unfortunately, she faced much worse.

After Vince Foster committed suicide, a torn-up note was found in his briefcase. It said the White House usher's office "plotted to have excessive costs incurred, taking advantage of Kaki and HRC." HRC was Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the note appeared to signal that Foster was concerned about how the public, or the press, would perceive the redecorating expenses.

Hockersmith's original cost estimates had risen while the project was under way, with the work ultimately costing at least $400,000. Only $50,000 in taxpayer funds was set aside for refurbishment. Hillary Clinton said private donors would cover the expense.

8. Webb Hubbell
Hubbell is the poster child for "how are the mighty fallen," having had it all and thrown it away with both hands. A little research, however, shows that he apparently has landed on his feet.

Webster L. Hubbell, a partner with Hillary Clinton in the Rose Law Firm, a former Little Rock mayor and former chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, followed his friends to D.C. to take a post with the Justice Department as associate attorney general. He underwent a bruising confirmation process, partly because of his membership in the formerly all-white Country Club of Little Rock. It was a sign of trouble to come, though few probably knew it at the time.

As did so many, Hubbell came under a microscope as part of the all-encompassing Whitewater probe. But Hubbell did, in fact, have a skeleton or two in his closet: overbilling during his tenure at the Rose firm. He pleaded guilty to two felonies, and federal Judge George Howard sentenced Hubbell to almost two years in prison.

It wasn't over. In 1998, he was indicted twice. The first indictment named Hubbell, his wife, Suzy, and two associates, accusing them of tax evasion. The second accused Hubbell of concealing evidence in the Whitewater investigation. In 1999, Hubbell pleaded guilty to concealing evidence, a felony, and a misdemeanor count of tax evasion, and Kenneth Starr dropped the charges against the other three. This time, Hubbell didn't get prison but was sentenced to a year of probation, and Starr agreed to leave him alone. The U.S. Supreme Court later erased the misdemeanor charge of tax evasion.

Clinton said in 2004 that he regretted not granting Hubbell a pardon.

These days, Hubbell works for the McLaughlin Co. in Washington, D.C., an insurance and risk management company. He has a blog called "Webb Says," A February entry discussing the Madoff case notes: "The author of this is employed by Creative Risk Management and The McLaughlin Company who are both proud to say we did not have one client invest with Madoff."

9. Paula Jones
Jones, a one-time state worker, said in 1994 that back in '91, Gov. Clinton made "unwelcomed sexual advances" in a room at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock and that these constituted sexual harassment. The White House denied it. End of story - not.

Jones filed a federal lawsuit full of explicit details. The fomer denizen of Lonoke got the full media treatment. An ex-boyfriend sold Penthouse photos of her posing topless. Jones' family feuded over her truthfulness. It was a Jerry Springer show, except tawdrier.

In his deposition for the suit, Clinton was asked about his relationships with a number of women, including one Monica Lewinsky. He denied having sex with Lewinsky. This denial was the basis for Kenneth Starr's accusation that the president committed perjury. Impeachment followed.

Long, long, long story short: Before her sexual harassment suit went to trial, the judge ruled that Jones couldn't show that she'd been damaged and dismissed her lawsuit. Jones appealed to the 8th Circuit, but in November 1998, she agreed to settle her suit against Clinton for $850,000.

Where is she now? Press reports say she's planning to play herself in a movie about Clinton called "The Blue Dress."

10. William H. Kennedy III
Kennedy came from the Rose Law Firm to help his friends in Washington as associate White House counsel. It didn't take long for the Pine Bluff native to land in hot water.

In the spring of 1993, Kennedy went to the FBI, alleging financial improprieties at the White House travel office, leading to an FBI investigation. The administration then fired all seven employees - Travelgate was born.

Kennedy had sought to pressure the FBI, and Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, then White House Chief of Staff, reprimanded Kennedy.

In early '94, Kennedy was blamed for a backlog in security clearances for administration officials. Then the press reported that Kennedy had failed to pay Social Security taxes for the family's nanny, waiting to make good once he thought he might be found out. He received a demotion. Also in 1994, Kennedy was in the middle of a bitter divorce. In November 1994, he resigned.

His troubles didn't end there. Like almost every other Arkansan, he was called to testify before the federal grand jury investigating Whitewater.

Kennedy returned to the Rose firm, but by 2006, he had joined Cooper Communities Inc. of Rogers as general counsel.

11. Bruce R. Lindsey
Bruce Lindsey has been described as Bill Clinton's "consigliere." It's a description he doesn't like - shades of "The Godfather" - but one we can't improve on.

Lindsey, a lawyer with Wright Lindsey & Jennings, is the keeper of secrets. He served his boss in Washington as senior adviser and, later, deputy counsel, though newspaper reports of the time often referred to him simply as "Clinton confidant." As counsel, he was in the middle of almost every presidential scandal, including Clinton's impeachment. Lindsey kept his cool despite the flurry of accusations, some of which were directed at him.

He returned to his home state in 2002 to work at his old law firm (the "Lindsey" in the name is for his father) and is also CEO of the Clinton Foundation.

And if Lindsey ever decided to write a tell-all that really told all, we guarantee it would shoot straight to the top of the bestseller lists.

12. Jim McDougal
McDougal is in some ways a tragic figure, though he participated in, even courted, his own downfall. As much as anyone, McDougal sparked the investigation that consumed the Clinton presidency and, in its voracious way, ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment.

Raised in Bradford in White County, McDougal was a politico. He met Bill Clinton while both worked for Sen. J. William Fulbright. He served on Clinton's staff during the governor's first term, during which he persuaded the Clintons to enter a little Marion County real estate venture with him and his wife, Susan. It was called Whitewater, and it never made a dime. In fact, it lost money.

McDougal left politics to invest in more real estate and buy a bank and then an S&L, Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Its collapse in the late '80s brought federal fraud charges against McDougal, but he was acquitted.

Apparently feeling abandoned as Clinton pursued his presidential ambitions in 1992, McDougal went to Clinton rival Sheffield Nelson. Nelson referred McDougal to a New York Times reporter. The storyline that will not die, one provided by a man diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disease, was born.

In 1996, in the first of the Whitewater trials, McDougal was convicted of multiple fraud counts tied to Madison Guaranty. He brought down his ex-wife, Susan McDougal, and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker with him.

McDougal died in 1998, while serving prison time in Texas. He was 57.

13. Susan McDougal
"The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk" confounded Kenneth Starr's investigators. Caught up with her ex-husband in Whitewater, Susan McDougal being led from the federal courthouse in a miniskirt, handcuffs and shackles provided one of the most enduring images of the investigation.

It was September 1996 and McDougal had refused to testify before the grand jury investigating Whitewater. She claimed that the investigators wanted her to lie in order to implicate the Clintons in illegal acts and that she knew of no wrongdoing. Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright found McDougal in contempt of court and sent her to jail.

She'd been convicted, in May, of four felonies tied to loans from David Hale and sentenced to two years in prison.

One of her lawyers, Bobby McDaniel of Jonesboro, said in court filings that McDougal's Belgian mother "indicated that if she could stand up to the Nazis and Hitler, Susan could stand up to Kenneth Starr. Susan has elected to not testify and has not, and will not, change her mind."

McDougal served a total of 18 months on the civil contempt charge. In May 1998, the Whitewater grand jury charged her with two counts of criminal contempt of court and obstruction of justice. A Little Rock jury acquitted her of the obstruction of justice charge and deadlocked on the contempt charges. Clinton pardoned McDougal before he left office. Today, she speaks out on prison reform and works for Ivan Smith Furniture in her hometown of Camden.

14. Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty
Perhaps the original FOB, Mack McLarty served as Clinton's chief of staff in the White House. But, as more than one pundit noted, he was just "too nice." His nickname became "Mack the Nice," an insult in Washington, D.C.

Raised in Hope, McLarty came from a family of car dealers. He served one term in the Legislature and was Arkla's CEO from 1983 until 1992. After stepping down as the president's chief of staff in 1994, he remained an adviser and was named special envoy for the Americas.

McLarty re-entered the private sector in 1998. He worked to expand the family business, McLarty Cos., where he's chairman, and heads McLarty Associates, a consulting firm based in Washington. He also is a partner in RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Partnership in Little Rock.

15. Sheffield Nelson
Nelson, the Republican defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton in the 1990 race for governor, helped put Jim McDougal in touch with The New York Times reporter who wrote the first story about Whitewater.

And so it started.

Nelson, former chief of Arkla Inc., said in 1999 that The Times ' Jeff Gerth, who was trying to reach Jim McDougal for an interview, had contacted him. McDougal, Nelson said, just happened to contact him within a few weeks of Gerth's call, and Nelson referred McDougal to Gerth. Nelson denied Susan McDougal's 1999 testimony that Nelson had arranged for Jim McDougal to be paid for speaking about Whitewater.

When the Office of the Independent Counsel closed up shop in Little Rock in 2000, even Nelson was glad to see it go.

16. Skip Rutherford
Although a senior staffer for the Clinton/Gore campaign and the Clinton transition team, Rutherford, a longtime PR guru and civic leader, had the good sense not to join his friends in D.C., choosing instead to wield his influence on behalf of the Clintons in his home state.

As chairman of the William J. Clinton Foundation, he spearheaded the building of the Clinton Presidential Library, a boon both to Arkansas tourism and to the redevelopment of downtown Little Rock and no easy task.

Rutherford, a Batesville native, is now dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. In this capacity, he continues to serve both Clinton and the state.

17. Rodney Slater
The Marianna native's loyalty to Bill Clinton was reciprocated, and Slater was able to emerge from the Clinton years with a bright future ahead of him.

Slater was an assistant state attorney general who left that job to stump for Clinton in 1982, when he successfully sought reinstatement to the State House. Clinton made him one of his chief aides.

Clinton appointed Slater to the powerful Arkansas Highway Commission, the first African-American to sit on the commission. He was elected chairman in 1992. He was a senior campaign adviser for Clinton in '92, and after Clinton won his presidential race, Slater made his way to Washington as head of the Federal Highway Administration. In 1997, he became U.S. transportation secretary, leading a department with a budget of $38 billion.

Toward the end of his term, Slater talked about running for a statewide office, but after Clinton left the White House, Slater joined Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, one of the nation's most powerful lobbying firms, where he's achieved partner status. He's also a partner in James Lee Witt Associates, a risk management firm.

18. Socks the Cat
Socks, a black and white cat, entered the Clinton household in 1990 and moved with the family to the White House. Socks started receiving fan mail shortly after Clinton was elected president, and it just kept coming. Bill Clinton got a dog, a chocolate lab, in 1997, but Buddy and Socks never hit it off. Socks thought Buddy was "stupid, vapid and obsequious," sources said.

After the Clintons left the White House in January 2001, Socks lived with Bill Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, in Hollywood, Md. In 2002, he served as grand marshal of the Little Rock Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade. He was said to be pleased by the fuss.

Socks died a few weeks ago, his reputation unsullied by any serious controversy.

19. Kenneth Starr
Although not an Arkansan, Independent Counsel Starr, the lead prosecutor in the Whitewater investigation, had more ties to the state than necessitated by his single-minded pursuit of Bill Clinton.

Starr was born in Texas, the son of a Church of Christ minister, and raised there and in Oklahoma. He attended what was then Harding College but transferred to George Washington University to further his political ambitions.

As more than one writer noted, the Republican Starr pursued Clinton with the same intensity that Inspector Javert harried Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."

Starr even lived in Little Rock for a time during the Whitewater years.

He now is dean and a law professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif. He was scheduled to deliver in early March final arguments before the California Supreme Court in lawsuits over that state's gay marriage ban, which Starr supports.

20. George Stephanopoulos
Maybe we're stretching it here, but the young (30) and eager George did live in Little Rock for a time during Clinton's first presidential run. Stephanopoulos, who had been an aide to House Speaker Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., arrived in town in October 1991. A few months later, he was dealing with the fallout from Gennifer Flowers' allegations.

Stephanopoulos managed to hang on as other campaign workers fell to the side, evolving into Clinton's campaign communications manager. Along with James Carville, the Ragin' Cajun, and longtime Clinton aide Betsey Wright, Stephanopoulos commanded "The War Room" in the old Arkansas Gazette building.

They won their war, but, as in any war, there were casualties. Stephanopoulos went to the White House, serving in several capacities, but left the administration at the end of Clinton's first term, tired and disillusioned. His 1999 memoir, "All Too Human: A Political Education," was a New York Times best-seller and, some thought, a betrayal of the man who took him to the top.

Stephanopoulos now is chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and anchor of ABC's Sunday morning program, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

21. Harry Thomason & Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Hampton native Harry Thomason went to Hollywood and made a name for himself as a TV producer. Together he and his producer wife, Linda, created shows like "Designing Women" and "Evening Shade." The couple became close friends of the Clintons and helped them raise big money in Hollywood for Clinton's presidential campaign.

Together they produced the 14-minute film "A Man From Hope," chronicling Clinton's rise from adversity. The film was shown at the Democratic National Convention. The Thomasons were inaugural co-chairmen as well.

Harry Thomason, however, took it on himself to become involved in the affairs of the White House travel office, complaining about a lack of competitive bidding for charter flights. He just happened to own an interest in an air charter company, though he denied having any interest in getting White House business.

In 1993, the entire travel office was fired, which probably wouldn't have been a big deal if William H. Kennedy III, a White House lawyer, hadn't talked to the FBI about alleged financial improprieties in the office. Travelgate didn't fully die until 2000, when Independent Counsel Robert Ray, Kenneth Starr's successor, decided not to prosecute anyone.

The Thomasons remained friends and staunch defenders of the Clintons, and Harry wrote and directed "The Hunting of the President," based on the best-seller by Joe Conason and Little Rock's own Gene Lyons.

22. Jim Guy Tucker
Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton were political rivals, something the national media never really got straight. Nonetheless, Tucker - Marine, lawyer, prosecutor, Arkansas attorney general, congressman, lieutenant governor, successful businessman and governor of Arkansas from December 12, 1993, to July 15, 1996 - was tarred with the Whitewater brush and paid dearly for it.

Tucker's problem was that he'd done business with David Hale, who'd also done business with Jim and Susan McDougal.

Tucker was indicted twice in 1995 on charges stemming from his involvement with Hale.

Tucker went on trial the first time in 1996, along with the McDougals, and on May 8, 1996, he was convicted of two felony fraud charges, which forced him out as governor.

In the middle of this turmoil, Tucker, suffering from chronic liver problems, was literally fighting for his life. In August 1996, Judge George Howard, taking Tucker's ill health into consideration, sentenced him to four years of probation. In December 1996, he got a liver transplant. 

In February 1998, Tucker pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge related to the first indictment.

Tucker, 65, is now a businessman in Little Rock and a co-owner of the Arkansas Twisters.

23. David Watkins
Watkins, Hope native, founder of a Little Rock ad agency and a longtime friend and supporter of Clinton, signed on to his presidential campaign just as he had for previous campaigns. And when Clinton won the White House, Watkins followed, becoming assistant to the president for management and administration, overseeing, among other things, Air Force One and office assignments.

He became enmeshed in Travelgate and then in 1994 was accused of using a military helicopter to travel to a golf course. He was fired. He was the first of the Arkansans brought to D.C. to lose his job, according to press reports.

In an interview, Watkins called Clinton "the greatest seducer I've ever met."

24. James Lee Witt
Witt, unlike so many, came out of his tenure in the Clinton administration with his reputation intact, in fact, heightened.

Witt moved smoothly from the state's Office of Emergency Services, which he headed, to director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was a troubled agency when he took over and not so troubled when he left in 2001.

He dealt with floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes but said the disaster that affected him the most was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

The former Yell County judge opened James Lee Witt Associates in D.C. in 2001.

After Hurricane Katrina and FEMA's bungled response, Witt was often cited as someone who actually knew what he was doing. A Sept. 12, 2005, article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said: "During the Clinton administration ... FEMA Director James Lee Witt gained Cabinet-level status and, using the agency's grant programs, built relationships with state and local emergency managers. The agency's image soared."

Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, Witt's name circulated as a possible choice to head FEMA again, but there were hurdles. After Katrina, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco hired James Lee Witt Associates to help with the recovery effort. A 2007 NBC News investigation accused Witt's firm of "profiteering" in its cleanup work. The company vigorously denied the allegations.

25. Betsey Wright
She was Clinton's top aide during his years as governor, loyal, protective and shrewd. A lifetime in politics had made Betsey Wright, a Texas native, tough and wary.

Wright came to Arkansas in 1980, helping Clinton salvage his political career after his defeat by Frank White, and became the governor's chief of staff. She left his employ in 1989 without much explanation, but she'd taken extended leaves before.

She was elected head of the state Democratic Party in 1990 and left in 1991, about the same time that Clinton signaled he'd be running for president. She said both she and the party were broke.

Wright moved on to a fellowship at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard but became a campaign aide when Clinton made it official, rising to deputy campaign chairman. In this role, she sought to defuse every Clinton critic, paying special attention to what she called the "bimbo eruptions."

When her man won, Wright became a Washington lobbyist, but continued to defend him. By 1997, she was back in the state, in rural northwest Arkansas, working as a political consultant.

Wright has a new cause now: abolition of the death penalty.

(Click here to see all the stories in our anniversary edition. Or click here to flip through each page of the edition in this special free electronic version.)