LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — John Paul Hammerschmidt, the longtime Arkansas congressman who defeated Bill Clinton in the former president's first race for political office, died Wednesday. He was 92.
Hammerschmidt first won election to Congress in 1966 — a milestone election year for the state's Republicans. Hammerschmidt's election, and Winthrop Rockefeller's as governor, were the first for Republicans in those seats since Reconstruction. The GOP now controls the state's executive and legislative branches.
"John Paul Hammerschmidt was an icon of Arkansas and Washington politics," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. "On a personal note, John Paul was a mentor of mine. I was privileged to hold his seat in Congress, and I called on his wise counsel and advice countless times. I will miss him greatly."
The Roller-Christeson Funeral Home in Harrison said Hammerschmidt died early Wednesday at Regency Hospital in Springdale. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Hammerschmidt spent 26 years in Congress before retiring in 1993. During a re-election bid in 1974, Hammerschmidt handed the future President Clinton one of his only two political defeats.
In a 1991 interview with the Arkansas Democrat newspaper, Hammerschmidt said a bill he sponsored to protect the Buffalo River from overdevelopment and his work on veterans' issues meant the most to him during his career. The Buffalo National River became the nation's first protected waterway and today remains a free-flowing stream popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
Hammerschmidt, a World War II veteran who studied at the Citadel, had operated a lumber and business supply company in the Harrison area before being elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in heavily Republican northwestern Arkansas.
"I learned all about farm life and at the same time, I was a town boy. It was a good mixture," he told the Democrat. "My father had everything you would want on the farm. I learned to milk cows. I had a horse when I was young."
He told the newspaper he grew up in a Democratic family but that he attended Republican gatherings because the local Democratic Party was a closed group. It wasn't his intent to remain in Congress for 13 terms.
"I really thought when I went that I might not stay over a term or two," but he stayed out of an obligation to the party, he told the newspaper. "I don't want us to lose our little toe-hold we have in Washington," he said.