Kerry’s guest last week was James “Skip” Rutherford. He is a long-standing figure in Arkansas politics, working as a key adviser on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and later serving as president of the Clinton Foundation and as dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Rutherford also led the effort to plan the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park, which would garner him several awards.
Rutherford attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he became editor of the Arkansas Traveler student newspaper during his senior year in 1971–1972.
After graduation, Rutherford took a position as public relations director at McIlroy Bank & Trust in Fayetteville. He volunteered in 1978 in David Pryor’s first senatorial campaign. After the election, Rutherford worked from 1979 to 1983 as director of Senator Pryor’s Arkansas office in Little Rock. In 1983, Rutherford left Pryor’s office to work for Mack McLarty, CEO of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company. That same year, Rutherford founded the Political Animals Club, a nonpartisan organization of political activists and community leaders who meet to discuss politics.
Rutherford was elected to the Little Rock School Board in 1987 and served as president in 1990 when the board signed an agreement in which the state would financially support a plan to counter lingering segregation in Pulaski County’s schools. In 1989, Rutherford was named chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas while his friend Bill Clinton, whom he had met in Fayetteville in 1974, served as governor.
In 1991, Clinton held private discussions with advisers, including Rutherford, to discuss the prospect of running for U.S. president. Clinton began his run for president later that year, and Rutherford served as a volunteer fundraiser and an “Arkansas Traveler.” Rutherford later joined the campaign staff and worked as a senior adviser and a special assistant to campaign manager David Wilhelm. Among Rutherford’s roles was to help craft campaign strategy in the state of Kentucky as part of a political team. Clinton carried Kentucky’s eight electoral votes with 44.55 percent of the vote.
During Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, Rutherford stayed in Arkansas and worked as a campaign volunteer, while the reelection headquarters were located in Washington DC.
Following the 1992 presidential election, Rutherford became executive vice president of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, one of the state’s largest public relations and advertising agencies; Rutherford created its public policy division. An ardent supporter of a vital downtown Little Rock, Rutherford’s work on the presidential library contributed to a rebirth of activity in Little Rock’s long-dormant area that became the River Market District. In 1997, Rutherford coordinated the fortieth anniversary commemoration of the desegregation of Central High School.
Upon the Clinton Center’s opening in 2004, Rutherford received praise for his work. He was named Arkansan of the Year by the Arkansas Broadcasters Association and the Arkansas Times, named Headliner of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association, and received the Tourism Person of the Year Award at the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
In 2006, Rutherford became dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, which offered the country’s first master’s degree in public service. Rutherford followed in the footsteps of David Pryor, who had been the founding dean of the school. Under Rutherford's leadership, the Clinton School developed concurrent degree programs with the Walton College at the University of Arkansas; the Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
During Rutherford’s tenure as dean, the Clinton School has also developed one of the nation’s most outstanding college speakers’ series. The series has featured ambassadors, academics, business leaders, philanthropists, journalists, and others.
In 2012, Rutherford co-chaired the centennial celebration of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock. In 2014, the American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas named Rutherford as the Clara Barton Distinguished Humanitarian of the Year. Rutherford also co-owns and manages two family farms in Arkansas.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:09.1] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:21.9] KM: Thank you Tim, I’m Kerry McCoy and like Tim said, it’s time for me to get up in your business. For the next hour, my guest Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service and I will be getting up in the business of Arkansas politics, public service opportunities and of course the business of the Clinton Library and School.
Through our storytelling, you will hear how we maneuver the path of leadership and entrepreneurship in pursuit of our dreams. And, we’ll be answering questions or giving advice via phone and email. My business experience began over 40 years ago when I founded Arkansas Flag and Banner, during the last four decades, Arkansas Flag and Banner has grown and morphed form door to door sales to telemarketing, to mail, order and catalog sales and now relies heavily on the internet.
Each change in sales strategy required a change in the company thinking and procedures. My confidence, leadership knowledge and my company grew. My initial $400 investment now produces nearly four million in annual sales. Each week on this show, you’ll hear candid conversations between me and my guest about real world experiences on a variety of business and topics that I hope you’ll find interesting.
Running a business or organization is like so many things. It takes persistence, perseverance and patience. I worked part time jobs for nine years before Arkansas Flag and Banner grew enough to support just me. It’s now grown and expanded so much that to operate efficiently, we require, are you ready for the list? A purchasing, manufacturing, graphic, shipping, technology, accounting, marketing, sales and customer service department, plus a retail store.
25 people make their living from working at Arkansas Flag and Banner. I hope you’ll take advantage of this unique opportunity to ask questions or share your experience by calling or emailing me and my guest on today’s show.
Before we start, I want to introduce you to the people of the table, we have Tim Bo, an art technician who will be taking your calls and pushing the buttons. Say hello Tim.
[0:02:29.1] TB: Hello Tim.
[0:02:31.5] KM: My guest today is a familiar name to many. Mr. Skip Rutherford. Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service and a long standing and influential person in Arkansas politics with an impressive bio.
It was 1978 when Skip began in politics by volunteering for David Prior’s first run at the senate. When Prior won, Skip hired on for five years as his director in Arkansas. Though Skip’s next career move was to Arkla Gas company under Mack McLarty, he stayed active in politics by founding The Political Animals Club.
A non-partisan organization of political activist and community leaders. A decade later in 1989, Rutherford was named chairman of The Democratic Party of Arkansas while his friend Bill Clinton, whom he had met in Fayetteville during college, served as governor. The next year, Skip would become the president of Little Rock School Board where he worked on a state funded plan that would end lingering segregation in Pulaski County Schools.
Only two years later in 1992, Skip would go to work as a senior adviser on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Again, his candidate won.
Following president Clinton’s election, Rutherford took an executive job as Vice President of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods Ad agency where he created a public policy division for them. Skip, being an ardent supporter of revitalization of downtown Little Rock began the work of planning, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
In 2004, his accomplishments would be recognized as he was named Arkansan of The Year by the Arkansas Broadcasters association and the Arkansas Times. Named Headliner of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association and received the Tourism Person of the Year award at the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
In 2006, Rutherford became Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service which offers the first master’s degree in public service in our whole country. And he’s developed one of nation’s most outstanding college speakers series. If you haven’t gone down there and heard him, you need to and you’ll find out today how to get on the list and hear who’s coming.
In 2014, the American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas named Rutherford the Clara Barton Distinguished Humanitarian of the Year. If that’s not enough, Skip Rutherford also co-owns and manages two family farms in Arkansas. It is an honor and a privilege to welcome to the table, Mr. Skip Rutherford.
[0:05:13.1] SR: Thank you Kerry, I’m glad to be here and it’s always good to visit and I look forward to a good, candid, fun conversation.
[0:05:20.2] KM: That’s right. You were the first president of the Clinton Foundation and are now the Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. Are you still the president of the Clinton Foundation?
[0:05:29.3] SR: No, I haven’t been on the Clinton foundation board in several years. My role in 1997, when the foundation was started was to plan the Clinton Presidential Library. It’s interesting because we’re 20 years from that, it doesn’t seem…
[0:05:46.3] KM: What? No it’s not really.
[0:05:48.0] SR: 1997, 2017. 20 years.
[0:05:50.4] KM: Since you started planning the Clinton Library?
[0:05:53.3] SR: Since I started planning the Clinton Library.
[0:05:54.7] KM: While you were at Cranford Rock?
[0:05:56.4] SR: Yes. President Clinton and his team asked me to coordinate the planning. I didn’t go to Washington like many Arkansans did when he was elected. My three children were young at the time and I couldn’t figure out how to make Washington work and still go to dance recitals and soccer games, I couldn’t make that work.
So I stayed, that was the Arkansan who stayed, glad I did because I had the opportunity to work on the Library project and as you mentioned in the introduction, I was really interested in the revitalization of downtown little rock which by the way, congratulations on 25 employees.
[0:06:31.6] KM: Thank you.
[0:06:32.7] SR: four million sales, great job ma’am. I’m one of your customers.
[0:06:36.0] KM: Yeah, you said you just went in there a few days ago, thank you.
[0:06:40.3] SR: It gave me an opportunity to look at downtown little rock and to think, we can do better than this, the Clinton Library was a huge economic catalyst. You put a 165 million dollars and plant that on what was an old warehouse district on the east side of the freeway and you can make monumental change.
When we started, we had four major goals on that library, number one was archival, preserve the records, build up partnership with the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies so that Arkansas History and American history were right down the street. The second was education to develop an educational program which we did with the Clinton School which again had no thought at the time that I would be dean.
Also, for the thousands of school children that come through every year to the library and visit the programs. The third thing was economic development because my real goal in this thing was how can we shape the future of Downtown Little Rock?
Other presidential libraries, most of them have been located in sentimental locations or remote locations or land that was just given to them and we chose to do a different model, not saying we were totally correct but, we had a lot of controversy but we got it done.
Then the fourth was tourism because Arkansas needed a major new tourism project. I do think the Clinton Library taught people how to think big and I think it inspired a whole bunch of things including not directly but indirectly, Crystal Bridges and other aspects that have come into it.
Education, archival, economic development, tourism. 20 years later, I can sit back and say that overall it’s been a good deal.
[0:08:31.2] KM: What’s the difference between the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Library and the Clinton School?
[0:08:36.2] SR: Well, all three separate entities.
[0:08:38.0] KM: Really?
[0:08:38.8] SR: The Clinton Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation for philanthropic and charitable work. The Clinton Library belongs to the National Archives and Records Administration. It is an official government agency where the papers that are at the Clinton library belong to the government.
The gifts belong to the government and they’re managed by federal employees who are on site in Little Rock. The school is, through the University of Arkansas system. While we all share names and locations, we have three completely different reporting structures.
[0:09:21.8] KM: Wow, I had no idea.
[0:09:23.3] SR: It’s complicated when you have foundation, library, center, park, school, it gets complicated.
[0:09:27.6] KM: Yes it does.
[0:09:29.4] SR: Yeah, but there’s three separate deals.
[0:09:30.6] KM: Well, I think this is a great place to take a break? When we come back, we’re going to hear how Skip’s career developed and evolved into what it is today. We’ll talk about the Clinton School course offerings and its degrees, how you can apply and we’ll hear Skip’s favorite success story from the students. And, we’ll get his views on the future of Downtown Little Rock, Public Schools in Arkansas and if we have time, Politics in America.
You’re listening to Up in your business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Mr. Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, let’s start at the beginning Skip. Did you study political science in school?
[0:10:17.9] SR: I studied journalism, though I did a lot of — I took a lot of political science courses, was inspired by a lot of people, including Kay Goss.
[0:10:27.5] KM: Who?
[0:10:28.5] SR: Kay Goss who later worked for Governor Clinton and President Clinton. She taught political Arkansas Politics course for me at the University of Arkansas and she was a young teacher at the time and really had a positive impact and me to say, “I really like this stuff. I really think I want to be around it.”
I was inspired by a lot of good teachers so journalism concentration, public relations and by the lot of political courses and environment.
[0:10:58.2] KM: Wow, I noticed when you came out of school, you went to work at a PR department at a bank in Fayetteville.
[0:11:03.6] SR: I did.
[0:11:04.1] KM: What made you decide to leave the private sector and move into politics? Was there an event that happened?
[0:11:10.0] SR: Well, I loved my time in Fayetteville, I loved living there, it was a great place and I’m grateful to Hayden Macilroy who gave me an opportunity to be a young PR director at a young age but I volunteered on the 1978 David Pryor campaign and after that, I got a call from him one day on the phone and said, “Would you be interested in coming to Little Rock and talk with me about a position.”
When David Pryor called me on the phone, I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke. I was 28 years old, I thought this guy sure sounds a lot like Governor Pryor but why would Governor Pryor be calling me? It turned out to be Governor Pryor.
[0:11:52.9] KM: It was because you had volunteered in Fayetteville on his campaign for the senate race?
[0:11:59.0] SR: Which is one of the advises I would give to young people and to others who in positions of work and leadership, you never know who is watching. You don’t know who is watching your performance. I wouldn’t volunteer to get a job, that never — we love living in Fayetteville, we loved our house, we liked everything about it. There wasn’t a job there but people who were close to Pryor, big donors to Pryor, big supporters of Pryor said as he was filling out his staff, “You ought to take a look at this young kid and give him a chance.”
I’ve learned that’s a valuable lesson and I always say to our students, when you’re in the field working or to my own children, look, you know? You don’t realize who is out there watching the work you’re doing so professionally, even if you’re having a bad day, do a good job.
[0:12:52.2] KM: I think that is such good advice because you never know where your next job’s going to come from.
[0:12:58.1] SR: Or who is going to make that offer. I mean, every position that I’ve had has been someone has seen me on the job.
[0:13:07.6] KM: Well, is that how you got your job at Arkla with Mack McLarty, he saw you working for Senator Pryor? Because you stayed with Senator Pryor for five years because he got elected and you stayed with him. Then you went back into the private sector at Arkla Gas for Mack McLarty. I guess Arkla Gas is called a private sector. Is it a private?
[0:13:26.2] SR: Well it was public utility but it was a private sector, yeah.
[0:13:29.6] KM: Did Mack McLarty see you working for Senator Pryor?
[0:13:34.7] SR: Yeah, Mack McLarty graduated from Fayetteville in May of 1968 and I entered in September of 1968. Our paths at the University of Arkansas never crossed. When we moved back to Little Rock, he was very good friends and worked closely with David Pryor.
We also attended Pulaski United Methodist Church where the McLarty’s attended. I would see him professionally at work on variety issues and then Sunday at church and developed a friendship with both he and Donna.
When he moved to Arkla Gas, he called me and said, “You want to come over here and come to work with me here?”
[0:14:22.5] KM: Did Senator Prior win his next election?
[0:14:23.9] SR: He did, he won, he was reelected in 1984, he defeated congressman Buffoon in that race.
[0:14:31.0] KM: But you didn’t want to stay?
[0:14:33.5] SR: Well, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, it was just that…
[0:14:36.3] KM: A bare opportunity.
[0:14:37.2] SR: Well, and a different opportunity and it was — I had an enormous respect for David Pryor and have, well always have succeeded him as Dean of the Clinton School. But Mack McLarty offered me an opportunity to advance both personally and professionally and I had a great deal of respect for Mack McLarty who is one of my very closest personal friends.
[0:15:01.4] KM: While you were working for Mack, you did keep your hand into politics a little bit because you started the Political Animals Club that I mean, what is that and is it still around?
[0:15:12.3] SR: Yeah, it’s still around.
[0:15:12.9] KM: Good.
[0:15:13.5] SR: Rex Nelson heads it up now.
[0:15:15.5] KM: Why did you start it and what does it do?
[0:15:19.2] SR: I was having withdrawal from politics and one of the things I missed from Pryor’s office and the Pryor campaign was the opportunity to sit and have political discussions with my friends and even with people that we were campaigning against, just to talk about the state of politics both in the state and in the country.
I thought, okay, their rotary clubs are BNPW clubs, they’re all sorts of civic organizations, why don’t we do a Political Animal’s Club where people just get together and have a meal and talk politics and bring a speaker in or just talk among themselves and I thought, hey, if Kaunas and Rotary and Lion’s club and BNPW could do this, I think I can give it a shot.
[0:16:02.5] KM: I love the name political — I mean, you got Lion’s club, you all are the political animals.
[0:16:06.9] SR: Yeah, we’re the political animals.
[0:16:08.0] KM: that was clever, whose idea was that?
[0:16:09.8] SR: Well it was mine.
[0:16:11.4] KM: Good job, I love the name of it, you all are political animals.
[0:16:15.4] SR: We are.
[0:16:16.4] KM: Kaunas and lions and…
[0:16:18.1] SR: No it’s great but what we got was we got all this people at non-partisan, it didn’t matter what party you were in, it doesn’t matter. We got people together, our first meeting was at the Old Coachman’s Inn in downtown where the post office is now.
[0:16:32.3] KM: Okay.
[0:16:33.1] SR: It was the Stevens own the Coachman Inn, it was the capital hotel of its day. We met there, the first speaker was Judge William J. Smith of the Friday Law firm who was Orville Father’s attorney during the 1957 central high crisis.
[0:16:49.3] KM: I bet he had a good story.
[0:16:50.5] SR: It’s a great story and I wish I had taken copious notes but I didn’t because everything at that time was off the record.
[0:16:57.9] KM: Right. It just wasn’t readily available recording devices and audio and video to record everything.
[0:17:04.9] SR: He didn’t — I mean, we didn’t record speakers because we wanted them to be totally candid and totally relaxed.
[0:17:10.6] KM: Relaxed, yeah.
[0:17:12.9] SR: I thought, wow, this man knows so much about history and so much about the city and I had not grown up in Little Rock, I had grown up in Batesville and then went to the University of Arkansas and Hayden Macilroy gave me an opportunity and so I really sort of thought my life would be planted in Fayetteville that that’s where it would be.
[0:17:35.6] KM: You did some other things, you were the school board but we’re going to save that for the next segment but you did meet Bill Clinton in Fayetteville and when he started talking about running for the president, you became on the committee to decide whether to do it or not.
[0:17:52.9] SR: Well, that’s not quite factual.
[0:17:56.2] KM: Okay, you were an Arkansas traveler first?
[0:17:58.4] SR: I was, no, the white apple was is the real story was that Bill Clinton was asking several people for advice and one day, he invited me out to the Governor’s Mansion and we were sitting, we were there and he asked — there were several others there but he asked, wanting about running for president, what do you think about that idea? This was 1991.
I said, “Governor, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life, you do not have the chance, with the highest respect, nobody form Arkansas can raise a type of money that it takes to compete, you’re going to lose the democratic primary to Governor Cuomo of New York and George H. W Bush is so popular, there’s just no way.The only justification I could see doing this is if you’re planning to set the groundwork for 1996 but I think this is a really shot in the dark.”
[0:18:58.5] KM: that’s what I thought, I wondered if you advisers were, really thought he could get, accomplish the presidency or if you all were just trying to get him on a national level to get name recognition for future opportunities?
[0:19:09.3] SR: I think each person he talked to had a different opinion. I think there were some who thought “Yeah, let’s go for this.” But my advice on the front end was I don’t know how you could make this work but guess who was wrong with that issue?
[0:19:24.9] KM: You met him in Fayetteville.
[0:19:26.3] SR: Yeah, a friend of mine called, said “What are you doing after work?” and I said , “Nothing, well come over and sit on my patio,” which will show you how old we are Kerry. At least how old I am.
“Come over and sit on our patio, I want you to meet a friend of mine who is moving back to Fayetteville” and I was like, “Who is it?” “Well, it’s a guy named Bill Clinton?” He said, “Well. You know, he graduated from Hot Springs High School, he went to Georgetown, then was a Rhode Scholar and then went to Yale Law school.”
I said, “Well what in the world is he doing kind of back to Arkansas?” Thinking, this guy can make a trillion dollars on Wall Street and said, “Well, he’s going to teach at the law school and he wants to run for office?” I think. I said, “Really?” I said, “Yeah I’ll come by and visit with you” and that was the first time I met him.
[0:20:17.0] KM: Could you tell he was going to be the governor and a president of the United States?
[0:20:20.9] SR: You know Kerry, I wish talking about recording, I could have been rich if I could have recorded that conversation because people ask me that all the time .
I don’t remember the specifics, what I do remember was walking away like “Wow, this guy is really smart, he’s well read, he’s well versed, he’s well thought-out.” I mean, it was like he knew more about the third congressional district that I did. Just thought, wow, this guy’s smart.
[0:20:51.9] KM: That’s the Fayetteville district?
[0:20:53.0] SR: That’s the Fayetteville district.
[0:20:54.8] KM: and he brought with him, did you meet Hilary at the same time?
[0:20:56.7] SR: Not at the time, I met her later when she came down and she thought she was giving up her whole career and go into…
[0:21:03.9] KM: She was a rock star in California.
[0:21:05.5] SR: Well they both could have been rock stars, they both ended up being rock stars nationally but you know, again, she came and I didn’t get to know her immediately at first, I really got to know her better when Bill Clinton was Attorney General, she was practicing law at the Rosewell Firm and David Pryor was in the Senate and I was directing his Arkansas office and where we really got to know each other was that Hill Crest Softball League because our daughters Martha Lewen and Chelsey were on the same team.
We would be spending a lot of evenings at the ball park and that’s where I really got to know her personally. I mean, I knew her and she knew who I was and we were friends but nothing but boy, at the ball park, we bonded over girls softball.
[0:21:57.5] KM: Tell us about when you decided to quit Arkla and to go on the campaign trail and work for Bill Clinton for his presidential run in 1992?
[0:22:06.5] SR: I’ve done a lot of volunteer work for Clinton.
[0:22:09.8] KM: As an Arkansas Traveler?
[0:22:11.1] SR: Yeah, and during the campaign and it was getting to be where I was spending more and more time on that campaign than I was on my job at Arkla, you could feel the pull and people were calling not just after work but it got to where people were calling during the day, reporters were coming in to town.
They wanted to talk to Arkansas people and finally I just said “Look, you know, I need to make this break and go do this.” thinking you know, I don’t know what I’m going to do when the selection is over.
[0:22:46.5] KM: He loses.
[0:22:48.6] SR: As it turned out, even if he won because I remember after the election and the transition, one night I was working late and so is Vince Foster and we were both talking about whether to go to Washington or not.
When Mack McLarty was named chief of staff, Vince told me that was the real decision that pushed him over to go to Washington because he and Mack were good friends and he knew Mack and I were good friends and I said, “Yeah, that’s kind of where I’m leaning” but I couldn’t get there and I just talked it over with my family, we couldn’t get there, no matter how much I thought it would be fun, it couldn’t make it work, added up the numbers…
[0:23:33.3] KM: Still, your family came first?
[0:23:35.1] SR: It did and it was just — if my kids had been older and there might have been a different story but I just — about two days before I was going to leave, I went over to Mack’s house and knocked on the door and said “I’m not going.”
[0:23:51.0] KM: Wow, you were down to the wire that far, two days?
[0:23:54.2] SR: Yeah.
[0:23:54.3] KM: And said I’m not going.
[0:23:55.4] SR: I’m not going.
[0:23:58.0] KM: How long was it before you started working at Cranford Johnson?
[0:24:00.7] SR: Well this is a great funny story is that I thought, Mac asked me that, “What are you going to do?” I said “I don’t know, I have no idea.” I just made the decision not to go so I hadn’t gotten that far. Ron Robinson had been a friend of mind for a long time, we had done a lot of things together, a lot of projects together.
I thought he was, and still do think he was one of the greatest public relations geniuses of our time. I thought he was absolutely extraordinary. I went to see him for advice, I just went in and said “I got to talk to you in confidence,” he said, “Okay what?” I said, “I’m not going to Washington” and he said, “What?” I said, “I’m not going. Nobody knows.”
He said, “Why?” I said,” I got three kids Ron, I’m not going to — I can’t make it work. I’m not going to look back.” He said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I said, “That’s why I’m here. What do you think I should do, where should I look?” He said, “Will you give me 24 hours?” He said, “How about here?” I said, “I never even thought about this,” he said, “Will you give me 24 hours before you talk to anybody else?” I said, “Yeah.”
[0:25:13.5] KM: Wow.
[0:25:15.7] SR: I came back the next day or shortly thereafter and he said, “Here’s an offer, will you do it and would you start this policy division, would you do this?” I thought, I’ve bounced from the public to the private, the bounce wasn’t near as hard for me.
[0:25:36.0] KM: You started there, public policy division, with all your experience and I bet it did great.
[0:25:41.8] SR: We had a good run.
[0:25:42.4] KM: Do they still have that division?
[0:25:44.0] SR: They don’t call it that way but they still do that kind of work, they still do the advocacy work, they still do governmental relations work.
[0:25:51.2] KM: And this is when you decided to do the Clinton Library? While you were still there at Cranford Johnson.
[0:25:57.3] SR: Yeah, I get this call saying, “Will you head up this library project?” and I said “Yes” and then I hung up the phone and thought, what in the world is a presidential library?
[0:26:07.6] KM: That’s what I thought the first time I heard it.
[0:26:09.2] SR: Well, that’s exactly what I thought. I thought, what have I done? I started studying, I just started researching and studying and figuring out what all we had to do and where it was going to be and sight selection and all the hoops we had to go through in terms of the political criticisms of Clinton and all the issues of those that didn’t like him.
It was a tough project but all along, I kept saying, “This thing’s going to be good for Little Rock, this is going to be a great new venue, this is going to be an anchor downtown.” My friend Richard Allen, the late Richard Allen, I loved, he’s a writer. I love Caroline on his — I think they’re just great people.
Richard called the area where we are, Murky Bottoms and he would write all this columns about, You’re going into Murky Bottoms and I’d call him and I’d say “Richard, we’re going to transform this, well it’s Murky Bottoms.”
[0:27:04.3] KM: That’s what he called downtown Little Rock?
[0:27:05.3] SR: That’s what he call the side of the Clinton library.
[0:27:08.0] KM: Because it is.
[0:27:10.5] SR: It’s all Murky Bottoms.
[0:27:11.9] KM: Murky Bottoms.
[0:27:14.7] SR: I said, “Well Richard, give me a break, we’re going to transform this area” but…
[0:27:19.2] KM: Now those Murky Bottoms are really popular environmental.
[0:27:23.5] SR: We did it right, 165 million dollars did it right.
[0:27:25.8] KM: Boy you did, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, Skip’s going to tell us about the mission of the Clinton School of Public Service, its courses, degrees, how you can apply and his favorite success story of one of his students, we’ll be thinking about this Skip.
[0:27:37.1] SR: Got it.
[0:27:38.0] KM: Also, we’ll get his thoughts on the future of Downtown Little Rock, our Public sShools and politics in America today.
[0:27:49.9] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Mr. Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. I know there is much discussion about where to put the Clinton Library in Park, what was the deciding factor to put it in downtown Little Rock?
[0:28:04.0] SR: Well, ultimately Bill Clinton made the final decision.
[0:28:07.4] KM: I know fate wanted it, hope wanted it.
[0:28:08.6] SR: Well the first battle we had to fight was, was it going to be in Arkansas or some other place? Yeah, Yale wanted it.
[0:28:14.4] KM: Oh really?
[0:28:15.6] SR: Yeah, Washington DC wanted it so there was that fight, Arkansas or somewhere else and then once you got through Arkansas, where in Arkansas?
[0:28:25.1] KM: Murky Bottoms.
[0:28:25.7] SR: Right, Murky Bottoms won but it really narrowed down to Little Rock and Fayetteville and once that decision was made, where do you put it in the central Arkansas area and it narrowed down to the runner up site for the library is now where Dickey Stevens field is. That was the runner up site.
[0:28:44.9] KM: Oh really? That would have been a good one too.
[0:28:46.2] SR: It was a great choice, it would be wonderful yeah. It wasn’t a bad thing, the advantage of the site that was picked is that it’s not directly on the interstate, you got now that pedestrian bridge. You for an opportunity for a big park, a green space and you’re within walking distance of the convention center and hotels and restaurants.
[0:29:10.4] KM: Was the River Market already?
[0:29:12.5] SR: The River Market was there, Jimmy Moses in deem comparison with others have done the River Market.
[0:29:18.2] KM: Did they use for housing tax credits to do it?
[0:29:20.3] SR: I don’t know. I don’t know how they did that.
[0:29:21.7] KM: I’m going to have them on, I want to know how they did it.
[0:29:23.3] SR: But they deserve a lot of credit but the River Market itself was struggling. There wasn’t an anchor and when we started the project, it was interesting Kerry because I thought my whole effort would be geared just building a library and working through all the easements and money raising and all of these that you’ve got to do but quickly got into other things like we brought in some tourism experts and they said, “Look Skip here’s what’s Little Rock is missing”.
“You are missing brand name hotels on the interstate” and I said, “What do you mean?” they said, “Look when people are traveling through they want brand names” and I said, “Well like what?” like Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn and I said, “But we’ve got the Capital Hotel” and the Peak Body was coming in and they said, “That’s not what the tourism and the tour buses want.” So we went out working with the Little Rock convention and Business Bureau and others and recruited Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn.
The Comfort Inn took the over Masters Inn and the Holiday Inn took in what was the old Sheraton. Yeah, it was vacant and so that was important. Then Charles Morgan at the time was looking at expanding his Axiom operation and we went to him and said, “Why don’t you build it downtown?” and at the time, this young talent that he was trying to recruit wanted to be downtown rather than in the suburbs. So he made this big investment in this new building.
First big new office building in downtown Little Rock that I think 25 years or so which is now going to be the Simmons Bank Tower.
[0:31:10.6] KM: What is?
[0:31:11.0] SR: The Axiom, Simmons Bank is moving into the Axiom building.
[0:31:13.9] KM: Where is the Axiom Building? Where is Axiom going?
[0:31:16.6] SR: Axiom has consolidated its operations in Conway but at the time it was big for us and the fact that the building was there and Simmons is able to come in and move is really big and then one afternoon I got a call Rhett Tucker said, “What are you doing at lunch?” and I said nothing and he said, “We’re going over to make a presentation to the Heifer Board. They’re thinking about moving to Chicago. They are going to build a new facility” and I said, “What?”
He said we need to go make a presentation about locating next to the Clinton Center and so Rhett and I met with the Heifer board at lunch and made the pitch.
[0:31:58.5] KM: And they liked it.
[0:31:59.9] SR: Well it helped that we got Bill Clinton on the phone calling someone I’m saying.
[0:32:03.3] KM: People don’t realize that a lot of success goes to people like you that just pick up the phone and go down there and do it and ask somebody from lunch and the next thing you know you’re having your goals met, your dreams come true.
[0:32:17.9] SR: Well give Jo Luck a lot of credit on this, the former CEO of Heifer. She was very strong on this so I give her an enormous…
[0:32:25.4] KM: But if you have not gone down there and just said, “Let’s go down there and talk to him at lunch”.
[0:32:28.7] SR: Well if Rhett Tucker hadn’t called and Rhett and I haven’t gone there…
[0:32:31.5] KM: Dream big, think big.
[0:32:33.2] SR: But again, there are a lot of other factors in there. We got Bill Clinton on the phone and so there were a lot of things that were happening positive but think, you can understand why Heifer was looking at Chicago because O’Hare was a lot easier. Yeah, we offer their international connections all over the world. It makes a lot of sense. You can see why they were doing that so we were fighting that battle but fortunately and I think every time I drive by that Heifer building, I smile.
[0:33:01.7] KM: I bet you do. Were there any surprises after the opening?
[0:33:04.4] SR: After the library opened? Yeah, there were several surprises. The first, I really had done a lot of due diligence with the other presidential libraries and I thought I had covered every potential issue that might have happened. In the morning that library opened I stood up the first day, not that grand opening but the first really opening day.
[0:33:26.2] KM: Not the rainy grand opening.
[0:33:27.8] SR: Not the rainy grand opening which I’ll tell you a funny story on that one. So I was sitting over there and I saw all these recreational vehicles pulling up and I thought, “Nowhere in all my planning had anyone mentioned recreational vehicles.”
[0:33:42.0] KM: And you had no electric outfit.
[0:33:45.4] SR: Yeah and we had no parking. People were coming up saying, “Where’s the closest park?” we had no idea and I thought, “Boy, Skip you really messed up on this deal”.
[0:33:55.4] KM: I can’t believe nobody in tourism. They are talking about hotels and they are not talking about all the people that travel with their recreational vehicles?
[0:34:01.5] SR: Yes but I don’t think people and it was my fault, not anybody else’s fault.
[0:34:07.2] KM: That’s the sign of a good leader, taking responsibility.
[0:34:10.1] SR: We were directly on the interstate so it was easy for recreational vehicles in the neighborhood so I just started standing up there and looking and seeing the numbers that were passing by thinking, “Oh my goodness, boy did you mess this up” but thanks to Pat Hayes who came through on the other side of the river. If you drive by there and you look at that RV Park, it’s full a lot of times. I go over there on a regular basis just to walk through and say thank you.
[0:34:36.7] KM: And they got the walking bridge and people love that RV park on the north of the rock side of the river.
[0:34:42.9] SR: There are people who are regulars that come up.
[0:34:44.8] KM: I have friends that use it, yeah they love it.
[0:34:46.8] SR: And they go to the Arena, they go to events in downtown Little Rock, it’s wonderful and so now when people drive up I’d say, “Right across the river.
[0:34:56.6] KM: There it is, you could see it from here. It met it’s visitor projections the first year and then some didn’t it?
[0:35:02.7] SR: Yeah, it’s been meeting its projections all along. It’s one of the great things and part of that is through the emphasis and it’s a great job and Joyce Willis who works for the Clinton Foundation does really great work of reaching out to the education community and getting schools of children and school kids in there. We tried to help with our Speaker Series where we bring in a lot of people to come to Clinton School’s Speaker Series but yeah, we’ve been pleased with it.
[0:35:33.2] KM: I was a volunteer when it very first opened and I went through all the classes and stuff at the very beginning and I remember everybody being amazed at how well it was doing and I was too. I didn’t understand presidential libraries and how much draw there is and there’s people that travel around and go see all the president’s libraries just because they’re history buffs and you know what I always tell people to do?
Go down there because there is a bank of what he did every day, a book of every year of what he did and you can go and flip this book open and see what he did on every day of the year. I will always tell people, “Go look and see what he did on your birthday.”
[0:36:10.9] SR: Yep, I still do that but the funny thing about the grand opening, let me tell you something funny. I was down there that morning, we were getting ready and it was starting to rain. I was doing a bunch of interviews and I looked up and they had a cover over the speaker’s stand that they were taking down and I just ran and I said, “What’s this?” I mean “look at the forecast.”
[0:36:33.4] KM: This is the rainy grand opening.
[0:36:35.1] SR: “Yeah and so why are you taking this down?” “Well the TV visual will be better”, I said, “In a rain storm?” and they said, “Well we have checked with Air Force One and during the window of the program it’s going to stop raining, according to the weather on Air Force One”. Well who am I to take on Air Force One? Maybe they got…
[0:36:58.8] KM: A word from God.
[0:37:00.1] SR: Yeah, I mean so many weather bureaus. Well during that program it rained the hardest that it did the entire day.
[0:37:06.6] KM: I know. I thought Bush was going to die of pneumonia.
[0:37:09.0] SR: Well I thought and Clinton looked over at me in the middle of the program and said, “Who made this thing so long?” he was talking about the actual program and I looked back and said, “You did”.
[0:37:21.2] KM: Oh good job. You are the President of the Clinton Foundation when you started and now, did you ever and David Pryor, your friend was the first Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service and you are the second, did you ever think you’d be that?
[0:37:36.0] SR: No and I’ve been teaching at the college level. I’ve been volunteer teaching at the college level so that’s several years of teaching experience but Allan Sugg I was president of University of Arkansas System, he asked several people for suggestions on who should be considered for dean and I submitted some names, not myself. I submitted some names. One day I was at home working on a speech and he called my house and he said, “I’ve been trying to find you”.
I said I’m working on a speech and he said, “Can you come up to my office?” he said, “I’ve only got an hour” I said, “Allan I need to clean up. I haven’t shaved, I hadn’t cleaned” he said, “No, just throw a pair of jeans and come up here. Let’s talk” and I thought what he was going to do is say, “Here is the person I’m going to recommend and will you be supportive of that choice?” and so I walked in and he said, “Like a cup of coffee?” I said sure and he reached some small documents.
He said, “Well I’ve got a question” that’s what he said, “How would you like to be dean of the Clinton School?” and I said, “Allan you’ve got to be kidding?” and I said, “I don’t know anything about being a dean” and he said, “Did you know anything about building a presidential library because you built a good one” and I said, “Well, no”. He said, “You’ve got 48 hours”.
[0:38:52.0] KM: Tell me what you want to do? So what’s the mission of the school?
[0:38:56.6] SR: The mission of the school, it’s the nation and the world’s first master of public service degree.
[0:39:03.8] KM: The world?
[0:39:04.9] SR: The world. And how it differs from more traditional programs in public administration, public affairs and public policy is that our students, a significant portion of the academic credit is direct field service work. So over the course of two years of study, our students perform team based international and individual projects all over Arkansas, America and the world and so students are actively engaged. It’s a model of leadership through civic engagement. It is sort of what I call “Academics for the real world.” So our students are out there all over whether it be in villages in Africa or in schools in Arkansas, making a difference in people’s lives.
[0:39:57.7] KM: And how many students are there?
[0:39:59.3] SR: We take between 35 and 45 every year.
[0:40:02.9] KM: Every year and they come from everywhere ,don’t they?
[0:40:04.5] SR: All over the world.
[0:40:06.2] KM: Right, where are some from right now?
[0:40:07.8] SR: They are from everywhere, I mean some of our…
[0:40:12.4] KM: What’s the qualification to get in there? I mean I know you have lots and lots of applicants. How do you decide who’s going to come in? Does it have anything to do with their BS degree or BA degree?
[0:40:25.2] SR: In last year’s class Kerry, we had 27 different undergraduate majors. So you have finance sitting next to archeology and English sitting next to French. It’s just all over the board. The common denominator is public service and whether that issue is education, environment, economic development, there’s a wide public health, there’s a wide variety of different issues. One of things that I did when I became dean, because we saw a lot of students who said:
“I would like to get an MBA or I would like to get a master’s in public health or I’d get a law degree” and we developed concurrent programs. So if you come to the Clinton School, you can get your masters of public service but concurrently you can get a law degree at the William H Bowen school of law at UAE at Little Rock. You can get a master of public health along with a masters of public service. You can get that MPH degree at the Fay Boozman College of Public Health at UAMS.
And you can get an MBA in conjunction with your masters of public service at the same Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
[0:41:38.1] KM: Well how would they do that, that far away though in Fayetteville?
[0:41:40.8] SR: They do a year in Little Rock, a year in Fayetteville and then split the third year.
[0:41:43.3] KM: Oh if they’re getting…
[0:41:46.0] SR: If they’re getting a concurrent degree it takes two and a half to three years, yeah.
[0:41:49.9] KM: Those are some ambitious kids.
[0:41:51.5] SR: Yeah and we’ve got about 15% of our student body that’s doing that.
[0:41:55.8] KM: Really?
[0:41:56.6] SR: Yeah.
[0:41:56.8] KM: Tell me a good success story.
[0:41:58.6] SR: Well there’s several and I hate to just have one but I could tell you a success story because it’s one I’m really proud of. I was reading the Chronicle of Higher Education one day, Instant Guru magazine on higher ed and on the front page was the cover about student loan debt and there was a picture of a young man named Deamus Espanola. He was at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, a long way from Little Rock, Arkansas.
So I’ve read the article, he was quoted about his student loan debt, how he didn’t realize the impact that it was deferring his dream to go to medical school that he was going to move back in with his parents and get a job and start paying off his debt. So I read that article and I looked over at the masses and I said, “Look, if you get a chance let’s find Deamus Espanola. I want to talk to him” so a few minutes later it said the College of the Holy Cross will not give out his information.
Which I said, “Well can you ask them? Can you give them mine and can they pass the message on so maybe he’ll call me” and they did. So the next day I got this phone call and says, “Hello, this is Deamus Espanola and you were trying to find me” and I said, “Deamus, let me introduce myself. I read about you” he said, “Oh Dean Rutherford my colleagues are not happy with me because I’ve talked about student loan debt”.
I said well it impacted on me and I said, “I wanted to talk to you about The Clinton School of Public Service” and he said, “Well Dean Rutherford I can’t afford another round of debt”. I said, “Deamus, I just want you to look at the program, get in the website, spend the day looking at it, you let me worry about funding right now. You look at this program because nothing tugs at my heart any more than a kid who can’t do what he or she wants to do because of student loan debt so call me back after you look at this program”.
The next day, he called me back and the first thing he said, “Why didn’t I know about your program?” and I said, “Well next year you will”. Deamus Espanola applied to the Clinton School. I picked him up at the Little Rock Airport, his first visit south. The first thing he says to me was, “You talk funny” and I said, “So do you” and so we checked out of the Little Rock Airport and we were paying the money at the attendant and I say, “You’ve been all busy, have you had a nice day?”
And then he said, “You’re talking to the attendant?” and I said, “I always talk to the attendant” he said, “We don’t do that” and I said, “Welcome to the South Deamus” I said, “Not only do we talk funny but we do have this sense of” so anyway he said, “I’m here because I want to go to a top tier med school and I want to do well here and my goal is to make a four point and to do very well here so I can up my antic” all of his three projects he did in the relation of health.
His international project he went to Ghana. He worked on eye testing the villagers and giving villagers glasses. He’s interviewed for UMMS, they called him. He wants UMMS medical school. He calls me after his interview and says, “I just had the best interview at 95% of the time just talking about Ghana and I just wanted to thank you”.
[0:45:25.6] KM: You know he’s going to speak at your funeral.
[0:45:28.0] SR: Let me tell you what, he is named the Outstanding Pediatric Resident at Walter Reed Medical Center. A month ago he received a Pediatric Endocrinology Residency Fellowship. He is on the trajectory to be one of the finest young pediatric specialists in the country and I’m already recruiting him to come back to Arkansas. That’s a success story.
[0:45:55.3] KM: That’s a God story. That is wonderful, I’m speechless. I’ve got goose bumps. That is a success story. You’re going to go to heaven, there’s no doubt about that.
[0:46:05.2] SR: I don’t know about that but I want Deamus back to take care of me when I am approaching that.
[0:46:09.8] KM: Oh I’m betting he’s a great doctor because he’s been in the trenches. Sending thank you cards is a tip that you give to everybody that comes and then you write them. You are a champ. I can’t take you up and show you the dream land bar and the next day I get a thank you card from the very busy Skip Rutherford saying “Thank you for showing me the dreamland” and I try to copy you and be as good as you but nobody is as good as you at writing thank you cards.
[0:46:30.9] SR: No, there are. Ron Robinson is better than I am.
[0:46:32.5] KM: He just wrote me one the other day over the Dreamland documentary.
[0:46:35.2] SR: Oh I’m telling you, he’s Mack McLarty and George H.W. Bush is as good as anybody, he writes them too. Yeah, I think it’s very important and in fact, I tell my students. In fact in one of the classes I teach I have them writing a thank you note.
[0:46:50.2] KM: I’ve heard you’re wonderful at it.
[0:46:52.1] SR: Well because look, I think it sets people out. You know at least in our generation or generations around us, the thank you note makes a big difference.
[0:47:02.2] KM: I was humbled that you took the time to do it for me. I think I kept it too. I think I still have it.
[0:47:05.7] SR: Well I really believe it makes a difference and our students, I’ve got several stories from students who’ve told me it’s made a difference in their careers too.
[0:47:15.2] KM: It absolutely does. Now we have five minutes and we have four things to talk about. You want to talk about schools in Arkansas today, you want to talk about the future of the River Market, you want to talk about I think people probably want to hear what you think of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, why her campaign went awry and then of course, you’ve got the farm business but I want to ask you why Hillary Clinton, you think Hillary’s campaign went awry?
[0:47:39.6] SR: Well number one, this was a change election and I think the Clinton people knew that but didn’t realized how significant the change was and you look at change elections. Bill Clinton in ’92 won on a change election. Barack Obama in 2008 won on a change election. So change elections are not unusual. I think everybody including the Clinton campaign underestimated Donald Trump. I think you can talk about what happened.
And the fact she did win three million more popular votes and that’s a fact but he won a convincing victory in the Electoral College and that’s a fact. So I think number one, he was underestimated. Number two, I think that in spite of everything that was going on the email server, The Clinton Foundation pay for play issue, those were really taking their toll in a change election. I think they did far more damage than the Clinton world ever thought.
I think you’ve got to give Trump credit. We saw those big crowds at rallies, we saw those big crowds and everybody said, “Oh those are just people” well guess what? They voted. They came up in Rural Pennsylvania, they came out in Iowa, they came out in Wisconsin, they voted so there was this total underestimation I believe by the Clinton campaign of the Trump campaign. The other thing that I think happened which told me a lot, I went home to Batesville, my hometown.
Which is America’s best hometown by the way and one of my friends at Batesville told me before the election that we were going to lose, that Clinton is going to lose and said that everybody he knew including most of my high school friends were voting for Trump and part of it was that they just didn’t relate to her and he also said, “I just want you to know that I’m not a deplorable” and I don’t know with that one what she meant. I knew that, we know that but it was how it was interpreted.
[0:49:38.1] KM: But how can he say so many deep things that are wrong and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone?
[0:49:42.3] SR: Change election.
[0:49:43.5] KM: And do change elections come every certain amount of years because I was thinking about tracking that. It seems like they’re like every eight years or something.
[0:49:52.1] SR: Well most of them are. There had been some that we went from Ronald Reagan and George Bush, won the third term of Reagan and Clinton came back invading but in 2000, George W. Bush in a change election beat Al Gore. They wanted the shift, they don’t want Al Gore even though Al Gore won the popular vote in.
[0:50:10.7] KM: Do you believe in the electoral vote?
[0:50:12.7] SR: You know I would prefer a direct election of the present. I would prefer the popular vote wins but I understand the argument but in my own personal way, I would rather have whoever gets the most votes because I think, one vote per person, one state should not get…
[0:50:29.9] KM: More than another.
[0:50:31.2] SR: Yeah because whether you live in Fresno, California or Batesville, Arkansas your vote ought to be the same.
[0:50:38.2] KM: That is a very good point. We’re at the end of the show, thank you. You’re getting a cigar, you don’t look like you smoke but you could pass it on.
[0:50:44.2] SR: I don’t smoke but I’ll give it to somebody who self-flagging back.
[0:50:49.1] KM: You’re getting that for birthing politicians, birthing great ideas and for birthing the Clinton Center.
[0:50:53.7] SR: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[0:50:54.8] KM: You’re welcome. Who’s our guest next week Tim?
[0:50:57.3] TB: Next week is going to be Ty Jameson of Jameson Architects.
[0:51:01.4] KM: Skip, it’s been an honor to have you on today.
[0:51:03.3] SR: Kerry thanks for having me, it’s great.
[0:51:04.5] KM: I am telling you, you are the cat’s pajamas. Now I’m really dating myself. Also if you have a great entrepreneurial story and you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to email@example.com and someone will be in touch and finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right but it’s also been for me.
Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next Friday at 2 PM. Be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:51:49.7] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.