Ken Coon

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Kenneth Lloyd "Ken" Coon, Sr.

(Arkansas psychologist
and politician)

Ken Coon of Arkansas.JPG

Born October 14, 1935
Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, USA
Political Party Arkansas Republican gubernatorial nominee, 1974; nominee, for lieutenant governor, 1972; Republican state chairman, 1988-1990
Spouse Sue Lynn Thompson Coon (born 1938, married 1956)

Two children:
Catherine Lynn Coon
Kenneth Coon, Jr.

Religion Church of Christ

Notes:

(1) Though he polled relatively few votes in his 1974 campaign against David Hampton Pryor, Coon was part of the persistent organization which attempted to establish a in the once heavily Democratic state.

(2) Before his political career, Coon was president of the Arkansas Jaycees.

(3) An original supporter of reformer , Coon later worked in the early campaigns in Arkansas of Moderate Republican Winthrop Rockefeller though Coon himself was more conservative than Rockefeller.

(4) In his later years, Coon became a licensed psychologist and motivational speaker in the capital city of Little Rock.

(5) Coon once joked that he was "so honest that I might appear to be naive."

Kenneth Lloyd Coon, Sr., known as Ken Coon (born October 14, 1935), is a psychologist in Little Rock who was also a pioneer in the development of the Republican Party in Arkansas. He was the GOP state chairman from 1988 to 1990. Earlier, he was the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 1972, its executive director (1973-1975), and its candidate for governor in 1974. He also ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1996 but lost in the primary.

Background

Coon was born in Marshall, a small city in Harrison county in east Texas, to Loyd Wesley Coon (1912-1998) and the former Ida Mae Sparks (1916-1994). The senior Coon was a native of Brookhaven, Mississippi, but had moved to Marshall with his family when he was a youngster. Loyd Coon was a farmer and dairyman. The family moved to Calhoun, a community west of Monroe, Louisiana. Coon was among the thirty-one 1954 graduates of West Ouachita (then Calhoun High School). After high school, he served for five years in the United States Air Force, with overseas duty on the Greek island of Crete.

In 1956, Coon married the former Sue Lynn Thompson (born 1938), also of Calhoun. They have two children, Catherine Lynn Coon (born 1957) of El Dorado in Union County in southern Arkansas and Kenneth Coon, Jr. (born 1962). Coon attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, at which he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. In 1962, he entered the master's program in fisheries at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and received his degree three years later.

Jaycees state president

After receipt of the graduate degree in Utah, Coon took a job with a federal agency, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, in Dumas in Desha County in southeastern Arkansas. He then worked for a farmer in Tuckerman in Jackson County and in 1968 was president of the American Fish Farmers . While in Dumas, Coon joined the Arkansas Jaycees . He was charter president of the Tuckerman Jaycees from 1966 to 1967. The group is now known as the Junior Chamber International. From 1971 to 1972, while living in Fort Smith, Coon became the Arkansas state Jaycee president.

Running for lieutenant governor, 1972

Recruited to run for office by both political parties, he chose the more difficult route in Arkansas: the fledgling Republican Party. It was not even until he ran for lieutenant governor in 1972 that his state party had even won its first presidential election since Reconstruction.

When he announced that he would seek the office of lieutenant governor, Coon was in his third year as a biology instructor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (then West Ark Community College) in Sebastian County in western Arkansas, the more politically conservative part of the state. He challenged Democratic incumbent Bob Cowley Riley (1924-1994), a professor from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia in Clark County in south central Arkansas.[1] Having lost an eye in World War II, Riley wore a trademark black patch.[2]

Riley claimed on several occasions not even "to know" Coon when the Republican entered the race.[3] Coon tried to tie Riley to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern after Riley urged Arkansans to cast straight Democratic ballots. "Arkansans just don't believe that being a Democrat is reason enough to vote for McGovern, as my opponent suggests," Coon said.[4]

The gubernatorial contest in 1972 featured incumbent Democrat Dale Bumpers, challenged by Len Blaylock of Perryville in Perry County, who polled barely a fourth of the ballots. Bumpers had unseated Winthrop Rockefeller two years earlier by a large margin. At this time, Arkansas had two-year gubernatorial terms.

Riley defeated Coon, 392,869 (62.8 percent) to 233,090 (37.2 percent). Coon won only three of the state's seventy-five counties: Pope, Searcy, and his home base of Sebastian. Coon almost won in frequently Republican Crawford County, where he received 49.6 percent of the vote.[5] In addition to Coon and Blaylock, the other Republican statewide candidates lost in Arkansas that year, including Edwin Ruthvin Bethune of Searc in White County, and Jerry Climer for secretary of state.

After the campaign for lieutenant governor, Coon succeeded Neal Sox Johnson of Nashville in Howard County in southwestern Arkansas, as the party's paid executive director. It was his job to build up a party with little allegiance among the Arkansas electorate.[6]

Gubernatorial race, 1974

In his gubernatorial announcement, Coon outlined in generalities three reasons he was seeking to succeed Bumpers as governor:
(1) Belief in competition in government
(2) Deep concern for people
(3) Positive conviction that we can succeed in creating the kind of world the majority of us want.

Coon said that the Rockefeller and Bumpers administrations had succeeded because of their "lack of attachment to and connections with the ongoing political power structure in our state." Coon said that Arkansas was "an emerging state in the New South. We still have a long way to go. The work started in the last eight years is not complete … the job is not yet finished." He vowed if elected to focus upon (1) education), (2) constitutional revision, and (3) electoral reform.[7]

Coon's gubernatorial opponent was former U.S. Representative David Hampton Pryor, originally from Camden in Ouachita County in southern Arkansas. Two years earlier, Pryor had lost the Democratic senatorial primary to the more conservative incumbent, John McClellan, also of Camden. Pryor emerged as a powerful candidate for governor after he defeated both Bob Riley and former Governor Orval E. Faubus in the Democratic primary.[8] Pryor repeatedly refused to debate Coon.[9]

While running for governor, Coon was enrolled in a Master of Arts program in career counseling at the in Conway. He recalled that his wife often sat in on the classes with a tape recorder while he was away campaigning.

Coon's campaign strategist was former state party chairman Odell Pollard, an attorney from Searcy in White County. Pollard called upon nursing home owners to support Coon because of Pryor's earlier congressional actions to increase federal regulations on the facilities. "He [Pryor] demeaned the nursing homes just so he could get national publicity," alleged Pollard, who became Republican national committeeman upon the death of Winthrop Rockefeller in 1973.[10] Coon filed a complaint with the Fair Campaign Practices Committee in Washington, D.C., that Pryor was "smearing" him. Pryor earlier had said that he might filed charges against Coon after Coon alleged that Pryor had received funds from Associated Milk Producers, Inc., which had also made an infamous illegal donation to U.S. Representative Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas' 2nd congressional district.[11]

Coon proposed a one-year moratorium on construction of the state office complex at the Capitol grounds in Little Rock because of spiraling costs.[12]

Arkansas voters chose Pryor for governor in an overwhelming vote in the Watergate year: 358,018 (65.6 percent) to Coon's 187,872 (34.4 percent). Coon won two of the three counties that he had carried for lieutenant governor in 1972: Sebastian and Searcy, and he polled at least 40 percent in twelve other counties. His defeat was nearly as bad numerically as had been Bumpers' margin over Rockefeller four years earlier. Coon's running mate for lieutenant governor, Leona Troxell, of Rose Bud in White County north of Little Rock, was handily defeated by the Democrat, former state attorney general Joe Purcell, former of Benton in Saline County south of Little Rock.[13]

Coon and Nixon

The gubernatorial race was overshadowed by the Watergate affair, which caused the defeat of many Republicans nationwide who had no connection to the stunning developments coming from Washington, D.C. Coon made a bold proposal: U.S. President Richard Nixon "should for the good of the country... temporarily turn over his duties" to then Vice President, Gerald Ford. Coon suggested that Nixon request an immediate trial, but he said that Nixon should not resign because the public needed the "absolute truth". Therefore, he maintained that a trial should be staged in the U.S. Senate once the United States House of Representatives voted articles of impeachment. Coon said in a press release:

With the President's own admission that he lied to the American people about previous Watergate statements, that he kept pertinent information from the House Judiciary Committee, the courts, as well as his own lawyer, and his admission that, it is a foregone conclusion that the House will impeach him, it might seem to some that he should resign.... However, we must remain calm and not overreact. Our system of government provides that a man, even the President is innocent until proven guilty.

Coon said that if Nixon resigned because of adverse poll ratings, the precedent would cause "irreparable damage" to the United States because "future presidents, if they made an unpopular decision, might also capitulate, leaving government solely in the hands of Congress." Coon's remarks came three days before Nixon resigned the presidency.

Educational counseling

Coon left the GOP executive director's position in the fall of 1975 to begin work on his Ph.D. (then Ed.D) in counselor education at the at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He completed the program in 1979 and worked for two years for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas. He was licensed as a counselor in 1980.

Coon established his counseling and motivational speaking bureau, the Life Guide Center of Human Resource Development and Career Counseling. He was licensed as a psychologist in 1985. He is also an adjunct professor of human resources development for the Little Rock campus of Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Coon, a former Methodist is a member of the Church of Christ.

Later political activities

In 1976, Coon favored the nomination of former Governor Ronald W. Reagan of California as the GOP standard-bearer, rather than the unelected incumbent President Ford, the choice of most Rockefeller Republicans in Arkansas. The state delegation to the national convention in Kansas City was led by the 1974 (and later 1984 as well) congressional candidate Judy C. Petty, the former Winthrop Rockefeller staffer pledged to Reagan in 1976. Petty claimed that the old Rockefeller coalition in Arkansas could not be revived because of the strength of Bumpers and Pryor. She therefore proposed a conservative coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats, many of whom had been backers of Orval Faubus.[14] In the general election in Arkansas, Ford barely polled a third of the ballots against the successful Democrat Jimmy Carter.[15] Coon similarly supported Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

Coon resurfaced politically in 1981, not as a candidate, but as the appointee of newly-elected Republican Governor Frank D. White to head the Arkansas Employment Security Division in Little Rock. He served until White was unseated after a single term in 1982 by former Governor Bill Clinton. Mrs. Troxell, his former ticket-mate, had held the same position for a time in the Rockefeller administration.[16]

Coon's chairmanship of the Arkansas party, which was considered quite successful overall, coincided with a heated 1990 Republican gubernatorial primary between then U.S. Representative Tommy Robinson, a controversial former Democratic sheriff known for shoot-at-the-hip remarks, and the more conventional Sheffield Nelson, also a former Democrat and the favorite of the business establishment. The Robinson-Nelson contest was believed to have so divided the minority GOP that once again it could not compete effectively, with Nelson as the nominee in 1990 against Governor Clinton, who appeared on an Arkansas ballot for the last time as a candidate for governor. The primary even split many Republican families. Coon himself insists that he has never told anyone how he personally voted in the Robinson-Nelson contest.

In 1996, Coon ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the Little Rock-based open 2nd congressional district seat, which was ultimately won by the liberal Democrat Victor F. Snyder. Later GOP efforts to topple Snyder failed.[17] In retrospect, Coon appears to have been something of a Republican transitional figure between the governorships of Winthrop Rockefeller (1967-1971) and the later Mike Huckabee (1994-2007).

Whitewater, David Hale, and Ken Coon

Coon was a tangential figure in the Arkansas Whitewater affair of the 1990s. Judge David Hale made Coon an officer of the National Savings Life Insurance Company, a burial insurance firm. In 1998, Hale was scheduled to be tried in Arkansas state court for fraud in connection with the company, but his medical needs — a heart condition — halted the proceedings. In 1995, Samuel Dash, the ethics counselor to Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, informed Mark Stodola, a Democrat with the Pulaski County prosecutor's office, that Stodola could face obstruction of justice if he proceeded with charges against Hale. Dash told Stodola that Hale was cooperating in a federal investigation. Starr said that he would have preferred to handle the insurance fraud matter at Hale's federal sentencing, but Stodola filed state charges against Hale.[18]

No charges were brought against Coon, who in 1974 had declared that he was "so honest that I might appear to be naive."[19]

References

  1. Riley, Bob Cowley. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  2. Arkansas Gazette, November 5, 1972,
  3. The Pine Bluff Commercial, November 4, 1972.
  4. Arkansas Gazette, November 1, 1972.
  5. Arkansas Election Statistics (Little Rock: Secretary of State), 1972.
  6. Arkansas Outlook, Arkansas Republican Party newsletter, February 1973.
  7. Ken Coon gubernatorial announcement statement, 1974.
  8. Pryor, David Hampston. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  9. Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1974.
  10. Arkansas Gazette, November 1, 1974.
  11. Arkansas Gazette, November 3, 1974.
  12. Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1974.
  13. Arkansas Election Statistics (Little Rock: Secretary of State), 1974.
  14. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, August 14, 1976, pp. 2187-2188.
  15. Arkansas Election Statistics, 1976.
  16. Arkansas Outlook, December 1980.
  17. Jonathan D. Salant (July 5, 1996). ALL POLITICS: Special Election Report - Arkansas. cnn.com. Retrieved on October 26, 2019.
  18. Whitewater, David Hale, and Ken Coon. netmagic.net. Retrieved on July 8, 1997; no longer on-line.
  19. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 12, 1974, p. 2719.