Gloria Burford Cabe (1941–)

Gloria Cabe was a major political figure in Arkansas from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. She was a member of the Arkansas General Assembly, and her close ties to Governor Bill Clinton would lead her to move to Washington DC following Clinton’s election to the presidency in 1992.

Gloria Burford was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on September 15, 1941. She graduated from Pine Bluff High School in 1959. She went on to Hendrix College, where she earned a BA in French in 1963. Burford married Robert Cabe, a Hendrix classmate who would become a prominent attorney, and the couple had a daughter and a son.

While raising her young children, Cabe became involved in the local community, earning a reputation as a hard-working civic activist years before her first run for office. She was a longtime member of the League of Women Voters and held a number of leadership posts. In the mid-1970s, she climbed the ranks of the organization, serving as state legislative chairman, president of the Pulaski County League, and ultimately president of the Arkansas League of Women Voters. Cabe was also actively involved in the state’s unsuccessful attempt to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), serving as a leader in ER-Arkansas, a group leading the statewide effort to achieve ratification. She continued that fight upon being elected to the legislature, co-sponsoring a ratification resolution after taking her seat.

In 1978, running as a Democrat, Cabe won election to the Arkansas House of Representatives, garnering fifty-seven percent of the vote. After her single term, she stepped away. Reentering the political arena in 1982, she won the first of four additional terms, subsequently winning re-election in 1984, 1986, and 1988.

Cabe was an early Clinton backer, with ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton going back to the 1970s, and she stood by Clinton after his 1980 effort to win reelection as Arkansas’s governor ended in a surprising defeat. Back in the legislature, she cemented her ties to the governor through her active and influential involvement with his 1983 education initiative, an effort that brought him considerable national recognition. While in the legislature, Cabe served as the governor’s floor whip as well as his representative on the Arkansas Legislative Council. In addition, Cabe was seen as the administration’s key person coordinating with national organizations on education, serving as senior advisor on education and liaison to national education organizations for Clinton from 1988 to 1990. She was particularly involved with the Education Summit, a meeting of governors with President George H. W. Bush held in 1989 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cabe also was actively involved in the effort to reform the state’s juvenile justice system, including a call for a new juvenile court system. Too, Cabe proposed legislation that helped improve the efficiency of Arkansas’s campaign finance oversight, especially reporting requirements and deadlines.

After a career in the Arkansas House of Representatives that spanned over a decade, Cabe opted not to run for reelection in 1990. Instead, she served as Clinton’s campaign manager. Clinton’s decision to run for another term in 1990 had caught many, including Cabe, by surprise, as all knew he was angling for the presidency. There were concerns about his leaving mid-term—Cabe had been adamantly opposed to his breaking a 1990 promise to serve a full four-year term—but they were balanced by a fear that if Bush in 1992 seemed unbeatable, then by 1996 Clinton would have been out of office for an extended period while lacking an active base.

Her role in the campaign would later lead to her, like many Clinton allies, being dragged into some of his legal travails, and she was forced to testify under subpoena before the Whitewater grand jury. But in 1990, she skillfully oversaw a campaign effort that yielded a solid victory, Clinton’s fifth for the governorship, and one that would serve as a strong launching pad for his 1992 presidential campaign.

Following Clinton’s reelection, Cabe served as the governor’s chief of staff until early 1992, when, with Clinton beginning his presidential campaign, Cabe relocated to Washington DC, where she served as the campaign’s congressional liaison—with a primary responsibility for wooing super-delegates—as well as managing the campaign’s Washington office. Cabe had done some early leg work on his behalf back in 1987, when Clinton had first explored a presidential run. At that time, she had ventured into New Hampshire, spending three days organizing an exploratory reception for Clinton and calling local activists from a list that had been developed after an earlier Clinton swing through the state, all in an effort to analyze the political landscape and gauge Clinton’s prospects. While in the end, Clinton opted out of that race, the efforts and the resulting contacts provided a base for his subsequent and successful 1992 race.

In Washington, Cabe served as a consultant for A+, The Coalition for Better Education. She pushed for legislation to expand daycare opportunities, including less-restrictive in-home daycare options, and she also served as a consultant to Alabama governor Jim Folsom’s Education Reform Task Force, a group that drafted both a plan and enabling legislation aimed at reforming the state’s educational programs, including higher standards for high school graduates as well as greater teacher accountability. She subsequently worked as president of Emerging Market Strategies, vice president and COO of the Corporate Council on Africa, and vice president of the Ridley Group. She also served as counselor to the chair and board of the Export-Import Bank before joining James Lee Witt Associates LLC, a consulting firm specializing in crisis and emergency management. There, she worked with a wide array of clients in her role as managing director of International Affairs.

Upon Hillary Clinton’s appointment as secretary of state in 2009, Cabe assumed the position of senior advisor at the Global Partnership Initiative in the Office of the Secretary of State, focusing on democratic governance and human rights issues. Cabe also worked on behalf of Clinton in her presidential campaign, helping raise funds and canvassing in the familiar environs of New Hampshire.

She returned to James Lee Witt Associates LLC to serve as director of internal operations. She lives in Silver Springs, Maryland, where she is active in the community.

For additional information:
Bill Clinton Gubernatorial Record Group, Education Series; Gloria Cabe Subseries. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://purl.oclc.org/arstudies/cp-020302 (accessed May 22, 2019).

Bruck, Connie. “Hillary the Pol.” New Yorker, May 30, 1994. Online at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/05/30/hillary-the-pol (accessed May 22, 2019).

Interview with Gloria Cabe. Diane D. Blair Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Maraniss, David. First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Pierce, Susan. “Gloria Burford Cabe.” Arkansas Gazette High Profile, February 26, 1989, pp. 1, 9.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 05/22/2019

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