Jimmie Lou Fisher (1941–2022)
Jimmie Lou Fisher, a pioneering female politician, was the state treasurer or state auditor of Arkansas for twenty-four years. She was the longest-serving state treasurer in Arkansas history. Fisher got her start in politics by being elected treasurer of Greene County in 1970, but her friendship and alliance with young Bill Clinton when he campaigned for Congress in 1974 launched her state political career. Her final race came in 2002, when Democratic Party leaders persuaded her to run for governor against the popular Republican governor Mike Huckabee, who was running for his second full term. Though heavily outspent and suffering from a painful back ailment, Fisher nevertheless received forty-seven percent of the votes.
Jimmie Lou Cooper was born on December 31, 1941, at Delight (Pike County) to Joyce Nutt Cooper, a former professional basketball player and later a schoolteacher, and Tollie H. Cooper, a high school basketball coach. She was the oldest of five children. Her father became a school superintendent, and the family moved around to five towns in Greene and Faulkner counties during her childhood. She finished high school at Vilonia (Faulkner County) and attended Arkansas State College (later Arkansas State University) for three years. She married George Fisher of North Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1959, a marriage that lasted eighteen years. They had a son who died when he was a year old.
Fisher worked at Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company, a department store, and an insurance and accounting firm before she took up politics. She began to be active in the local Democratic Party, running for treasurer of Greene County in 1970 and winning; she was the office’s only employee. Fisher was reelected for three two-year terms. In 1979, new governor Bill Clinton appointed her state auditor when Jimmie “Red” Jones resigned the position to become adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard. Fisher had directed Clinton’s campaign in the First Congressional District.
Two years later, she was elected state treasurer. Smart and ebullient, Fisher became one of the state’s most popular figures. She was reelected, usually without opposition, for twenty-two years, until 2002, when she was barred by the state constitution’s term limitations from running again.
Before she helped run Clinton’s successful race for governor in 1978, Fisher was a leader in the Democratic Party. She was vice chair of the Democratic State Committee and a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1976 to 1978 and a member of the Credentials Committee of the National Convention in 1976. She was a member of the National Committee again from 1991 to 1993. She was a delegate to the party’s national conventions in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000. While Clinton was president, she served on the federal Rural Telephone Commission and the White House Conference on Aging.
Governor Mike Huckabee’s reelection was a foregone conclusion in 2002, and Democratic leaders, fearful of the embarrassment of not fielding a serious candidate for the first time in history, prevailed upon Fisher to run. She was nominated over two unknown Democrats in the primary and campaigned hard against Huckabee, asserting in a televised debate with him that if he were the chief executive officer of a major corporation he would be fired for his ineptness. She campaigned part of the time on crutches after surgery for a slipped disc in her back.
Fisher criticized the governor for his inattention to education and promised a $4,000 raise for teachers and signing bonuses for new teachers. Huckabee received 427,082 votes to Fisher’s 378,250 and outspent Fisher by more than $1 million. In his next term, he embraced school reform and pushed large tax increases and school consolidation through the legislature.
Fisher’s twenty-four years in a statewide office are exceeded only by Charlie Daniels, who served thirty years (1985–2015) as state land commissioner, secretary of state, and auditor. She was only the second woman to be elected to a state constitutional office, after Treasurer Nancy J. Hall. In addition, she was the first woman to win a major party primary election in seeking the office of governor.
Following the election, Fisher served as an advisor to both U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and U.S. Representative Marion Berry. She also chaired the successful campaign of Dustin McDaniel for the position of attorney general. After his election, she served in McDaniel’s office as a part-time legal aid instructor.
She received a number of awards for her work, including the Gressie Carnes Award from the Democratic Party of Arkansas in 1979, the George C. Douthit Freedom of Information Award in 1989, and the Lindy Boggs Award from the Stennis Center for Public Leadership in 2009.
Fisher suffered a mild stroke in 2006 but soon recovered after a brief spell in the hospital. In 2013, she returned to Paragould (Greene County) to be near family members. She died on July 12, 2022, at the Arkansas Methodist Medical Center and is buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Paragould.
For additional information:
Alexander, Olivia. “Pioneer Politician Fisher Dead at 80.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 13, 2022, pp. 1B, 6B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jul/13/pioneer-politician-fisher-dead-at-80/ (accessed July 13, 2022).
Blomeley, Seth. “Fisher Says Her Record Shows Skill, Knowledge.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 28, 2002, p. 9A.
———. “Huckabee Frustrated by ‘Relentless Attacks.’” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 30, 2002, p. 22A.
———. “Huckabee Shakes off Fisher, Wins Re-Election.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 6, 2002, p. 1A.
Lynch, Pat. “Racing to the Finish Line.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 7, 2002, p. 23B.
Miller, Alison. “Jimmie Lou Fisher.” Arkansas Gazette, November 5, 1989, High Profile Section, pp. 1, 4, 11.
Rowett, Michael. “Huckabee, Fisher Have a Go at Each Other in Food-Tax Fight.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 18, 2002, p. 15A.
Little Rock, Arkansas
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