I come to the floor today to honor the memory of former Congressman Jay Dickey, who passed on April 20. When Jay Dickey roamed the halls of Congress, you knew there might be mischief afoot-and what merry mischief it was. Jay was opinionated, colorful, zany. And now that he's passed, the warm laughter of memories once again echoes in these cold, marble halls, as we reflect on his life. He died last Thursday after a battle with Parkinson's-a battle he fought, like every other, with determination and gusto. I, for one, will miss his counsel and friendship-as will the people of Arkansas whom he loved so deeply. Jay was an Arkansas original.
He was born and bred and, in the end, breathed his last in his hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He shared a lot in common with the mighty pines of south Arkansas-he stood tall and proud of his community's heritage. He was a pillar of the community. A lawyer and a businessman, he left his mark-as an entrepreneur, starting franchises throughout the state; as an advocate, representing his city and later taking on such famous clients as coach Eddie Sutton. Unlike the proverbial tree in the forest, now that Jay Dickey has fallen, the whole state has taken notice.
But of course, a man's accomplishments are only a window into his character; you had to know Jay personally to get a sense of all the fun there was inside him. It was as if his feet had sunk deep into the soil and soaked up all of the Natural State's richness: its humor, its earnestness, its strip-the-bark-off candor. I got to know Jay in my first political campaign. We'd never met and I was a political newcomer. But Jay spent many hours getting to know me and ultimately supported my candidacy, which helped to put me on the map.
Of course, Jay shared a lot of candid advice, too. After attending one of my early town halls, Jay and I went to lunch down the road at Cracker Barrel. I asked him how I did.
Jay replied, "Ya did good, ya did good. . . . But you gotta cut it down some. Ya see that baked potato there? That's a fully loaded baked potato-it's got cheese, sour cream, bacon, onions. Your answers are like that fully loaded baked potato! Make 'em like a plain potato."
And that's just one of the countless stories that added to his legend. This was the man who offered a ninth-grader a college-level internship because he thought the kid had potential. The man who answered any phone in his office that rang twice-just to keep his staff on their toes. The man whose dog once drove his truck into a radio station in Hampton because he left the truck running during an interview to keep the dog cool-and somehow that dog put it in gear. The man who kept a picture of Jesus on his wall, and who, when meeting a new client, would point to the picture and say, "Have you met my friend?"
Yes, the first great joy of his life was his faith, but the second great joy was politics. Jay was the first Republican elected to Congress from south Arkansas since Reconstruction-and he won in 1992, the very same year Arkansas elected our Democratic governor as president.
And despite being who the Democrats must've viewed as the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country, he held on to that seat for almost a decade. Arkansans knew good stock when they saw it. He lost only by the narrowest of margins in 2000 with President Bill Clinton campaigning for his opponent, then-state senator Mike Ross. True to form for Jay, he and Mike would become friends after that race, speaking regularly about issues and their faith.
Jay's time in office won't be remembered as a historical oddity, an anomaly, or a one-off-because unconventional though it was, it was also a forerunner of things to come. It was an early sign of a coming political realignment, as the small towns that dotted rural America-towns where few people had ever even seen a Republican, never mind voted for one-were starting to cast their votes up and down the ballet for the Grand Old Party.
In other words, Jay Dickey was a trailblazer-or perhaps, a bulldozer. He smashed through history and precedent and grooved a path in rough terrain for the rest of us to follow.
For that, he has my thanks-and the thanks of the people of Arkansas. And for his humorous, quirky, unparalleled example, he has the thanks of the U.S. Congress-which today is a little sadder for his passing but also a little brighter for his memory.