Jay Woodson Dickey Jr. (1939–2017)

Jay Woodson Dickey Jr. was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the Fourth District of Arkansas in the 103rd through the 106th Congresses, serving from 1993 to 2001.

Jay W. Dickey Jr. was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on December 14, 1939, to Jay W. Dickey and Margaret Dickey. He graduated from Pine Bluff High School in 1957, before attending Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) for a brief time. He transferred to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1961. Continuing his studies at UA, Dickey earned a law degree in 1963. After being admitted to the state bar, he entered into private practice in Pine Bluff.

Dickey served as city attorney for Pine Bluff from 1968 to 1970. He returned to his private law practice, also serving as a lecturer at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) in 1979. In 1988, he was appointed by Governor Bill Clinton to serve as a special justice for the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Dickey was a successful businessman before entering the political arena in 1992. He operated several successful Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream stores as well as some Taco Bell restaurants. He was the attorney for Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton, as well as agent for some of Sutton’s best players—including Sidney Moncrief—when they turned professional.

In 1992, Dickey ran as a Republican in a district that had been sending Democrats to Congress since its creation during Reconstruction. Defeating Arkansas secretary of state William J. McCuen by a little over 10,000 votes, Dickey became the first Republican to hold the seat. He was reelected three times before being defeated for reelection in 2000.

While in Congress, he served on the Committee on Appropriations and its subcommittees on Agriculture, National Security, Energy and Water, Transportation, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. He was also a staunch supporter of gun rights and the National Rifle Association (NRA), describing himself as that organization’s “point person in Congress.” In 1996, Dickey, who had criticized the research efforts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into firearm injuries and deaths, successfully sponsored an amendment that reduced the CDC budget by $2.6 million—the amount the center had spent on the gun research. Dickey’s major legislative action was his sponsorship of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in 1995. The amendment prevents the use of federal funds for medical research that will destroy a human embryo, thus restricting human embryonic stem cell research.

In 2000, Dickey became embroiled in an incident involving African-American farmers who sought his help in securing payment by the Agriculture Department as part of the settlement of a long-standing discrimination case. When Dickey indicted that it would be hard to muster support for the effort among Republicans, many took it as political extortion, meaning that Dickey might help the farmers’ cause in exchange for support for his reelection campaign. After much local hype, Dickey stood by his comment, saying it reflected the realities of the political landscape. He also, however, undertook efforts to get the Agriculture Department to expedite the payments.

The hard-fought congressional contest in 2000 attracted national attention, with Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert traveling to Arkansas to campaign for Dickey, while President Bill Clinton poured resources into the effort on behalf of state senator Mike Ross. Later that year, Dickey was defeated for reelection, losing to Ross by two percent of the vote. Given the close result, Dickey sought to regain his seat two years later, but the two percent gap of 2000 expanded to twenty-two percent in 2002, and Dickey retired from electoral politics.

After leaving Congress, Dickey—who divorced his wife Betty Clark in 1987, with whom he had four children—established JD Consulting Co., a business that specializes in federal government lobbying, representing clients’ interests in a number of areas including tax matters, homeland security, children’s healthcare, and roads. He worked on Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign and writes op-ed pieces on issues of continuing interest.

In July 2012, Dickey shocked the political establishment, not to mention many of his conservative brethren, when he co-authored an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that represented a 180-degree political turn by calling for the restoration of public funds for research into gun safety. Acknowledging the obvious about-face, Dickey and his co-author, Mark Rosenberg, argued that research is needed to determine how best to prevent firearm injuries. Once that question is answered, they maintained, leaders can try to address it in ways that do not encroach on “the rights of legitimate gun owners.”

Dickey died on April 20, 2017, from complications with Parkinson’s disease.

For additional information:
Ayres, B. Drummond, Jr. “Political Briefing: Arkansas Farmers Get Help, and They Back the Helper.” New York Times, June 25, 2000. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/25/us/political-briefing-arkansas-farmers-get-help-and-they-back-the-helper.html (accessed September 23, 2021).

Dickey, Jay, and Mark Rosenberg. “We Won’t Know the Cause of Gun Violence until We Look for It.” Washington Post, July 27, 2012. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-wont-know-the-cause-of-gun-violence-until-we-look-for-it/2012/07/27/gJQAPfenEX_print.html (accessed September 23, 2021).

“Jay W. Dickey Jr.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=D000312 (accessed September 23, 2021).

Lockwood, Frank E. “Ex-U.S. Lawmaker, Jay Dickey, 77, Dies.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 22, 2017, pp. 1A, 8A.

Rengers, Carrie. “Jay Woodson Dickey Jr.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, High-Profile Section, pp. 1D, 6D.

“Welcome to Jay’s World.” The Free Library. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Welcome+to+Jay’s+world.-a013603058 (accessed September 23, 2021).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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