George E. Nowotny, Jr.

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George Edward Nowotny, Jr.

Arkansas State Representative for Sebastian County (Fort Smith}
In office
January 1, 1967 – December 31, 1972

Born October 18, 1932
New Braunfels, Comal County
Texas, USA
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Lura Duff Elliston (divorced)
(2) Dena Mae Logan Nowotny
Children From first marriage:

Edward Duff Nowotny
Addison D. Nowotny
George Nowotny, III

Residence Tulsa, Oklahoma
Alma mater University of Texas at Austin
Occupation Geologist; Banker

Real estate businessman

Religion Episcopalian

George Edward Nowotny, Jr. (born October 18, 1932), is a retired businessman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who from 1967 to 1972 served as a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from a district about Fort Smith in Sebastian County in far western Arkansas.

Nowotny was initially elected on the ticket with Winthrop Rockefeller, the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction. During his first term, Nowotny had only two House Republican colleagues, both from northwestern Arkansas, Danny L. Patrick, then a young educator from Madison County, and Jim Sheets, then of Siloam Springs in Benton County. After one term, Sheets was replaced by the long-serving Republican Preston Bynum.


Background

An Episcopalian and a lifelong Republican, Nowotny was born to George Nowotny, Sr., (1906-1996),[1] an insurance agent, and the former Margaret Voigt (1908-1993) in New Braunfels Comal County in the Hill Country north of San Antonio, Texas. This section of Texas is the most Republican historically, having been represented in Congress even during the 1920s by a Republican, Harry M. Wurzbach. In 1951, Nowotny graduated from New Braunfels High School; in 1955, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from the University of Texas at Austin. While in college, he received a medical discharge from the United States Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps. His first significant job was as a geophysicist for an oil company; the duties carried him into South America.[2]

In 1954, Nowotny married the former Lura Elliston (born 1933),[3] and the couple had three sons, Edward Duff Nowotny of Austin, Texas; Addison D. Nowotny, and George Nowotny, III[2] (wife Jane M. Nowotny), a lawyer in Los Angeles, California.[4]

Legislative politics

In 1967, Nowotny was appointed the first ever minority leader of the state House by Speaker Sterling R. Cockrill of Little Rock, oddly because the “N” in Nowotny was first alphabetically among the three Republican legislators.[5] Cockrill also named the first ever majority leader, a role that House Democrats had previously not bothered to designate. Rockefeller tapped Nowotny as the “Governor’s Representative” on the Arkansas Legislative Council. After Maurice Britt declined to seek a third term as lieutenant governor, Cockrill in 1970 switched parties to run for the second position on Rockefeller’s ticket.[6] Early in the 1967 legislative session, Nowotny, Danny Patrick, and Jim Sheets were photographed caucusing inside a telephone booth, a euphemism frequently employed to refer to the then mostly moribund Republican organizations in one-party southern states.[2]

As a Republican in the heavily Democratic body, Nowotny said that he could speak out on issues without fear of retribution because he was not slated for a committee chairmanship that might be jeopardized by his frankness or political unpopularity among colleagues. He described his agenda as “simply good government,” much in line with the Rockefeller platform. Nowotny led efforts for a state-funded home for the handicapped in Booneville in Logan County, where his son, Addison, is a resident of the facility. The facility had previously been a tuberculosis sanatorium.[2]

Though it had been defeated in the 1968 special legislative session, liquor-by-the-drink was reintroduced in the 1969 regular session despite the opposition of former Democratic gubernatorial nominee James D. Johnson, Johnson's wife, Virginia Morris Johnson, and many church groups. Liquor-by-the-drink was considered part of Winthrop Rockefeller’s “good-government” reforms: “to bring Arkansas’ liquor laws into the twentieth century, to end the hypocrisy in the existing law that allowed liquor to be sold by the gallon but not by the ounce and to permit the state’s citizens to decide for themselves, through local-option elections, whether or not to legalize the sale of mixed drinks.”[7] On the second attempt, the bill passed, and Rockefeller quickly signed it into law, having argued that its defeat would have hampered state tourism and convention businesses.[8]

Had Rockefeller not sought a third term as governor, Nowotny and Charles Taylor Bernard of Earle in Crittenden County, who had been the Republican nominee in 1968 against U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright,[9] had also considered running for governor as conservatives. Nowotny had informed Rockefeller in 1970 that he could not support a proposed increase in the Arkansas sales tax. Rockefeller had requested increases in personal income taxes, the extension of sales taxes to include services, and the removal of some sales tax exemptions for utilities and mass transit.[10] A rift developed within the staff over the advisability of Rockefeller’s running again. Those who wanted him to retire, such as Neal Sox Johnson of Nashville, Arkansas, the party's first paid executive director, stressed the advantage of leaving office undefeated, rather than facing repudiation by voters.[11][12]

On March 26, 1970, Nowotny announced that he would seek the gubernatorial nomination, but he soon withdrew in deference to Rockefeller.[13][14] Nowotny instead ran for his third and final term in the Arkansas House. He did not pursue a fourth term in 1972 because he endorsed candidate-imposed term limits, later made mandatory in the state. Nowotny was a delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida,[15] and he then managed the Arkansas reelection campaign for President Richard M. Nixon, the first Republican to win the state's electoral votes since Ulysses S. Grant, hence having marked a full century of Democratic hegemony at the presidential level.[16]

Nowotny in retrospect

For two years after his legislative service, Nowotny directed a Ford Foundation project of the National Legislative Leadership Conference designed to upgrade the operations of state legislatures. The survey area did not encompass Arkansas but six other states, including Louisiana, which in 1974 adopted a new state constitution to strengthen the legislative branch from domination by the governor and to streamline the operations;[17] in 1970, legislative pay was $100 per month plus $20 per diem for regular sessions and $6 per diem in special sessions. Regular sessions met for ninety days every odd year. Thereafter, Nowotny withdrew from politics though he remains a registered Republican voter in Oklahoma.[2][18]

Ernest Clifton Dumas of Little Rock, a journalist with the former Arkansas Gazette newspaper, recalls Nowotny from the hindsight of nearly four decades as having been “a bright guy, effective legislator, and not extremely partisan" at a time when few members of either house of the Arkansas General Assembly were Republicans.[19]

Little Rock journalist Douglas Smith, describes Nowotny as “a good legislator, progressive, and outspoken ... The Democrats didn’t like him though;they thought he was too pushy.”Smith recalls the Rockefeller legislators overall as having been more liberal in political philosophy than subsequent Arkansas GOP lawmakers, who inched closer to majority status in the second decade of the 21st century.[20]

After his divorce from his first wife, Lura, Nowotny wed the former Dena Logan Dills, a widow from Oklahoma. Since 1974, with the exception of five years in California, he and Dena have resided in Tulsa, In 1997, he retired from banking and real estate.[2]

References

  1. Social Security Death Index. ssdi.rootsweb.com. Retrieved on May 31, 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Statement of George E. Nowotny, Jr., Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2009, based on interview with Billy Hathorn, author of this article.
  3. First Generation. freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved on June 3, 2012.
  4. Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith. lbbslaw.com. Retrieved on May 31, 2012.
  5. Cathy K. Urwin, Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71 (Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1991), p. 81
  6. “Bob Cowley Riley”, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture; Cockrill was nevertheless handily beaten by the Democrat Bob Riley, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
  7. Urwin, Agenda for Reform, p. 122
  8. Urwin, Agenda for Reform, p. 123
  9. Jack Bass and Walter DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequence Since 1945(New York: Basic Books, 1976), p. 101
  10. Urwin, Agenda for Reform, p. 130
  11. Statement of Neal Sox Johnson, April 2010
  12. Urwin, Agenda for Reform, p. 174
  13. Urwin, Agenda for Reform, p. 178
  14. Arkansas Democrat, May 28, 1970
  15. [http:// political graveyard.com, List of delegates to the 1972 Republican National Convention]. politicalgraveyard.com. Retrieved on May 30, 2012.
  16. Bass and DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics, p. 87
  17. Interview with George Nowotny, Jr.
  18. In 1970, Arkansas legislative pay was $100 per month plus $20 per diem for regular sessions and $6 per diem in special sessions. Regular sessions met for ninety days every odd year.
  19. Statement of Ernest Dumas (born 1937), Little Rock, Arkansas, December 9, 2011
  20. Statement of Douglas Smith (born 1938) of Little Rock, December 12, 2011