Marshall Ney Chrisman, Jr. (born May 1, 1933), is a businessman from Ozark in Franklin County in northwestern Arkansas, who served as a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives for a single term from 1969 to 1970. He ran unsuccessfully against Frank D. White for governor in the Republican primary elections in 1980 and 1982.
Chrisman was born in Coal Hill in neighboring Johnson County to Marshall Chrisman, Sr. (1892-1955), a coal miner, and the former Elva Lee Faucett (1898-1979). In 1951, he graduated from Coal Hill High School and then briefly attended the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. In 1953, he was drafted into the United States Army and served briefly in the Korean War until his discharge in 1955. Chrisman then returned to Coal Hill, where over the years he has been engaged in construction, cable television, and coal mining. It had been mining that had prompted Chrisman’s paternal grandparents to relocate from Kentucky to Arkansas during the 1890s. From his first marriage to the former Thelma Laverne Tipton of Hartman in Johnson County, Chrisman had three sons, the late Steven Lee Chrisman, Joseph "Jody" Chrisman of Ozark, and Mark Wayne Chrisman of Newport, Arkansas. After the first marriage ended in divorce, Chrisman in 1972 wed the former Karon Lee Carpenter; the couple has a daughter, Marsha Leney Chrisman.
In 1969, Representative Chrisman worked reluctantly with Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, the first Arkansas Republican chief executive since Reconstruction, to pass a local option bill to permit liquor in private clubs, then a controversial proposal that later lost much of its political divisiveness. At first, he voted against the measure because he represented two counties with prohibition, Johnson and Franklin. Then he reversed himself after constituents at the Clarksville Country Club in Clarksville, Arkansas, urged him to back the bill. A second legislator also switched sides, and the measure passed, fifty-one to forty-nine, without the need for House Speaker Hayes McClerkin of Texarkanas to break a tie. Chrisman said that he did not regret switching his position though his Democratic opponent, Sterling Hurley of Johnson County, effectively employed the issue to unseat him in 1970.
Rockefeller’s proclaimed “good-government” ideas included higher taxes or “closing loopholes” to bring more revenues to fund the state budget. A study from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation concluded that exemptions from the state sales tax were then twice the amount of the actual revenue generated, and the number of new exemptions had increased over the years. Benefiting, accordingly, were International Paper Company, filmmakers, farm equipment dealers, horse breeders, and coin-operated carwashes. Having recognized the need for more revenues, Rockefeller used the slogan, “Arkansas Is Worth Paying For.”
Before the 1969 legislative session, Rockefeller argued that his reelection the previous November had meant that a slim majority of voters had approved of tax increases. He proposed to spend half of the new revenues sought on education, 12 percent on health and welfare, 10 percent on local government, and the remainder on state employee salaries and streamlined services. “There are no frills in what I am proposing . . . no luxuries . . . no monuments to me as an individual . . . I implore every member of the General Assembly as I have myself: Listen to the voice of the people . . . not to the selfish interests.” Ernest Dumas, then with the since defunct Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock noted that the Rockefeller revenue package was essentially dead-on-arrival in both houses of the legislature though parts of it were enacted piecemeal in the subsequent administration of the Democrat Dale Bumpers. Dumas describes Rockefeller as the “most liberal governor in Arkansas history” in light of his attempts to increase taxes to augment the size and scope of state government as well as steadfast support for civil rights and opposition to capital punishment.
Chrisman recalls that he voted against Rockefeller-supported tax hikes proposed in the name of “good government” in the amounts of $93 million in 1969 and $113 million in 1970: "I always opposed tax increases like Republicans are supposed to do." Chrisman said that he admired Rockefeller, met with him numerous times at the estate at Petit Jean Mountain, and flew on the governor’s Falcon jet. He described Rockefeller as “the richest man I ever knew ... but insecure”. Chrisman recalls a private conversation that he once had with Rockefeller, who confessed to having “no true friends.” When Chrisman told Rockefeller that he was his friend, Rockefeller replied, “No, you are a colleague and an associate. That is not a friend.” Chrisman said that he felt particularly disappointed in 1971 when no longer a legislator, he could only watch as the Democrats passed without discussion a bill to create the state Department of Finance and Administration. Rockefeller had urged a department of that kind, but legislators would not establish the comprehensive agency until Bumpers succeeded Rockefeller.
Governor Bumpers then implemented a governmental reorganization plan which consolidated sixty-five state agencies into thirteen. The department heads formed a cabinet answering directly to the governor. By his fourth year in office Bumpers had a 91 percent approval rating and was headed to the United States Senate to succeed J. William Fulbright, whom he handily unseated in the 1974 Democratic primary.
After his legislative term, Chrisman served as the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party but was required to vacate that position when he entered the 1980 gubernatorial primary against Frank D. White. Chrisman said that he considered White too new to the Republican Party, for White had served from 1975 to 1977 as a Democrat under Governor David Pryor in Rockefeller’s former position as the executive director of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. Chrisman called White as an “opportunist” who was attempting to take advantage of the opposition that had unexpectedly surfaced to Governor Bill Clinton’s 1979 proposal to double automobile license fees. Most Republican leaders preferred White, the president of Capital Savings and Loan Association in Little Rock, because he was better known statewide than Chrisman and had a more polished public relations style. White claimed that his own late conversion to the GOP was intended to revive the two-party system in post-Rockefeller Arkansas and to provide a formal vehicle to oppose Clinton’s fiscal policies. In the extremely low-turnout Republican open primary election of 1980, White defeated Chrisman, 5,867 votes (71.8 percent) to 2,310 (28.2 percent). Chrisman won his own Franklin County plus Ashley, Johnson, Madison, and Marion counties. Eight counties cast 76 percent of the total; Benton, Washington, and Pulaski alone accounted for 56 percent of GOP ballots.
In 1982, Chrisman renewed his primary challenge to White, whom he called “a do-nothing governor” who did not consult the county Republican executive committees regarding patronage. When he paid his $1,500 filing fee, the crusty Chrisman described the atmosphere at state headquarters as so cool that he had to “scrape the icicles off me when I left.” Chrisman challenged conventional wisdom when he declared that factory jobs paying low wages were not the solution to long-term economic woes in Arkansas. The since defunct Arkansas Gazette lauded Chrisman’s call for tax increases though he had held the line on higher revenues as a fiscal conservative in the Rockefeller administration: “Already Mr. Chrisman has set a refreshing example for the campaign in both parties by actually addressing a substantive issue. He said the state needed to raise taxes to improve education, drug rehabilitation, and other public services, and he promised a statewide work-release system for the prisons.” Chrisman specifically proposed increasing the sales, tobacco, and alcohol taxes, a position opposed by both White and Clinton. A third candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Connie K. Voll (born 1945) of Lonoke is a native of Searcy, Arkansas, a graduate of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, and then a nutritionist and management consultant in Little Rock. Voll was the first woman in either party to have sought the governorship since Virginia Morris Johnson of Conway in Faulkner County, the wife of former gubernatorial nominee James D. Johnson, had unsuccessfully contested the 1968 Democratic nomination for the right to run against Rockefeller. White won re-nomination with 11,111 votes (83.2 percent); Chrisman received 10.6 percent of the vote but led only in Madison County. Voll obtained the remaining 6.2 percent but received only four votes in her own county. Four counties, Benton, Pulaski, Searcy, and Washington, counted at least one thousand Republican primary votes. Noticeably, not a single Republican primary ballot was cast in Conway County, the home of Winthrop Rockefeller, who had died nine years earlier in 1973.
Chrisman and Clinton
Chrisman said that he still voted for White over Clinton in both general elections, and though inactive in the party, he continues to support most Republican candidates. Chrisman said that he respects Clinton as the only native Arkansan to become president and opposed Clinton’s subsequent impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Blair and Barth explain the attitude shared in 1998 by Chrisman and the majority of Arkansas voters: “While other white southerners were troubled both by Bill Clinton’s perceived liberalism on cultural issues and his sexual behavior, their Arkansas counterparts’ angst was partly counterbalanced by the sense that one of their own was being attacked unfairly by outsiders.” A poll in 1996 showed that Arkansas critics of the Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr outnumbered defenders, 49 to 19 percent. Speculation persists that Republican U.S. Representative Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff may have lost his seat in 2000 to the Democrat Mike Ross of Prescott because Dickey had voted to impeach Clinton. Clinton had once appointed Dickey a special justice for a case before the Arkansas Supreme Court. Echoing the thinking of Ernest Dumas, Bill Clinton also had described Rockefeller’s reformist years as “the beacon that showed us out of the dark ages of Arkansas politics.”
- Hess Cemetery: Marshall N. Chrisman. arkansasgravestones.org. Retrieved on May 30, 2012.
- Statement of Marshall Chrisman, Ozark, Arkansas, June 2009
- Diane Divers Blair (1938-2000) and Jay L. Barth (born 1939), Arkansas Government and Politics, 2nd ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), p. 202
- Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71 (Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1991), p. 112
- Irwin, p. 117
- Statement of Ernest Dumas, December 2011
- Bass and Walter DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics : Social Change and Political Consequence Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976), p. 95
- Governor Frank D. White obituary notice. firebirds.org. Retrieved on January 5, 2012
- Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, May 17, 1980, p. 1324
- Congressional Quarterly, May 17, 1980, p. 1324
- Arkansas Secretary of State, Election Statistics, May 25, 1980
- Arkansas Gazette, March 20, 1982
- Arkansas Gazette, March 4, 1982
- The Lagniappe, Louisiana Tech University yearbook, 1970, p. 85
- Arkansas Gazette, March 31, 1982
- Sarah E. Blair, “Virginia Lillian Morris Johnson”, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1167; Virginia Johnson (1928-2007) lost the 1968 gubernatorial nomination to House Speaker Marion Crank of Foreman in Little River County in southwestern Arkansas.
- Arkansas Election Statistics, May 25, 1982
- Blair and Barth,Arkansas Politics and Government, p. 340
- Blair and Barth, pp. 340-341
- “Jay W. Dickey, Jr. (1939 - )”, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=D000312, accessdate= December 1, 2011.
- Blair and Barth, p. 46