James Buckingham (Jim) Argue Jr. (1951–2018)
James Buckingham (Jim) Argue Jr. became a political and religious leader in Arkansas in the later part of the twentieth century. He served almost two decades in the Arkansas General Assembly, along with a long stint as a leader in the United Methodist Church.
Jim Argue Jr. was born on August 19, 1951, in Carthage, Texas, to the Reverend James B. Argue Sr. and Ann Bourland Argue. He grew up in eastern Texas, but the family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he was fourteen. After graduation from Little Rock Hall High School, he attended Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County). Argue graduated from Hendrix in 1973, earning a BA in history and political science. He and his wife, Elsie, had two daughters, Sarah and Emily. Following graduation from Hendrix, Argue embarked on a career in finance and investment, including time as vice president of the Commercial National Bank.
He was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1990 and served in that body until he was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 1996, where he served until 2008. A Democrat, Argue was known as a thoughtful voice in the legislature, one who sought to work across the aisle to make government work. In 1997, the Center for Policy Alternatives in Washington DC named Argue a Flemming Fellow. There, he completed a yearlong course that was focused on developing creative solutions to state problems.
Serving as a chairman of the Senate Education Committee, the 6′ 7″ Argue was in the forefront of efforts to enhance school standards, as well as funding and school consolidation requirements. He had been an early advocate of charter schools, but after the initial enabling legislation was tweaked, he began to fear that some charter schools were cherry-picking the best students from the public schools and so expressed concerns about their impact upon their public school counterparts.
Recognized and respected for his intellect, he was also a forceful negotiator with his efforts on the development of the Lake View resolution, the legislature’s response to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling that the state failed to provide an adequately funded public school system. Argue led the effort to redefine the state’s approach to public school funding, sharing his expertise in the educational field outside the borders of Arkansas, including service as a director of the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas, as well as a member of the advisory board of the Southern Regional Education Board, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to his chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee, he also served on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Joint Budget Committee, the Joint Energy Committee, the Legislative Joint Audit Committee, and the Arkansas Legislative Council and the Senate Efficiency Committee. He capped his legislative career serving as president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate in 2005–2006.
Beyond the legislature, Argue was the longtime president of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. He assumed the foundation’s helm in 1981 and served for thirty-five years. With the fundraising skills developed in the political arena and investment savvy from his business career, Argue transformed the foundation’s financial situation. During the time he headed the foundation, the organization saw an increase in its assets from $67,000 to over $164 million, making it one of the best-endowed United Methodist foundations in the United States.
Argue was a longtime member of the Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church. He served on the boards of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club, and the Arkansas Historical Association, in addition to being a board member for St. Vincent Medical Center and the National Conference for Community and Justice.
Argue received many honors and recognitions during his lifetime. His alma mater, Hendrix College, presented him with its Ethel K. Millar Award for Religious and Social Awareness, as well as the Distinguished Alumni Award. In addition, he was the recipient of National Humanitarian Award from Just Communities of Arkansas and the Lifetime Legislative Achievement Award from the Arkansas Kids Count Coalition. In 2007, Leadership Little Rock renamed its Distinguished Leadership Award in his honor. Argue has also been awarded the Lincoln Humanitarian Award by the Arkansas Rice Depot, the Father Joseph Biltz Award by the National Conference for Community and Justice, and the Friend of Children Award from Arkansas Advocates by Children and Families. Argue was also an honoree in the 2016 Philander Smith College’s Living Legends Banquet.
Argue began to experience health problems in early 2018, but the avid baseball fan and enthusiastic church softball player still went to the St. Louis Cardinals opening day game that year; he was diagnosed with kidney cancer soon afterward. The cancer spread quickly, and Argue died on May 3, 2018. He is buried in the Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church Columbarium in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Kauffman, Jacob. “Former State Lawmaker, United Methodist Foundation Leader Jim Argue Dies At 66.” KUAR/NPR, May 4, 2018. https://www.ualrpublicradio.org/post/former-state-lawmaker-united-methodist-foundation-leader-jim-argue-dies-66 (accessed March 13, 2023).
“Profiles in Goodwill: Jim Argue.” EthicsDaily.com, January 12, 2015. https://ethicsdaily.com/profiles-in-goodwill-jim-argue-cms-22384/ (accessed March 13, 2023).
Sandlin, Jake. “18-Year Arkansas Legislator Argue Dies at 66.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 4, 2018, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/may/04/18-year-legislator-argue-dies-at-66-201-1/ (accessed March 13, 2023).
William H. Pruden III
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