Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Former Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers Dies At 90

Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, seen here in 2013, has died at age 90.
Danny Johnston AP
Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, seen here in 2013, has died at age 90.

Former Gov. Dale Bumpers, a veteran of the U.S. Senate who rose to national prominence in part because of his passionate defense of President Bill Clinton, has died. The Democrat from Arkansas was 90 years old.

Bumpers died Friday night in Little Rock, according to a family statement published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The family said, in part:

"While most people knew him as a great governor, senator and public servant, we remember him best as a loving father and husband who gave us unconditional love and support and whose life provided wonderful guidance on how to be a compassionate and productive person."

Brent Bumpers also tells the newspaper that his father required surgery after breaking his hip in a fall three weeks ago.


In 1999, Bumpers delivered a famous speech in which he urged his Senate colleagues not to undo a national election because Clinton had been unfaithful to his wife, citing the requirements of a crime against the state and repeatedly asking, "What are we doing here?"

In that closing argument, Bumpers also included several lighter observations — including one instance in which he paraphrased H.L. Mencken: "When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money, it's about money.' And when you hear somebody say, 'This is not about sex,' it's about sex."

After leaving the Senate, Bumpers wrote a memoir titled The Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town. In it, he described his early life in a small town in Arkansas, and serving in the Marines during World War II.

His military service helped Bumpers go to law school at Northwestern University. After his parents were killed in a car crash in 1949, he returned to Charleston, Ark., to run the family business.

Speaking to NPR's Linda Wertheimer in 2003, Bumpers said that an early lesson from his father, who had taken him and his brother to see President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stuck with him.


Bumpers recalled his father explaining Roosevelt's history with polio — and saying, "You boys should take a lesson from that. If a man can be president and can't even walk and has to wear 12 pounds of steel braces around his legs — you have good minds and good bodies. There isn't any reason why you can't be president."

In that interview with Linda, Bumpers also called the GI Bill, "next to Social Security and Medicare, the greatest domestic accomplishment of the 20th century."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit