Preston Conrad Bynum (1939–2018)
Preston Bynum was a political leader in the later part of the 1960s into the early 1980s. In addition to his work in the Arkansas General Assembly, he also played a major role in the growth and development of a vibrant and competitive Republican Party in Arkansas. He later served prison time for bribery.
Preston Conrad Bynum was born on June 8, 1939, in Pryor, Oklahoma, to Homer and Roma Bynum. He grew up in Siloam Springs (Benton County), where his father headed Bynum Motor Company. He was a 1957 graduate of Siloam Springs High School and was three times elected class president. In his high school athletic career, he earned three varsity letters in each of his four years, including in football, where he was a pass receiver. Bynum was involved with the family business from 1960 to 1985. He also served for nine years in the National Guard.
When Bynum won his first term to the Arkansas legislature in 1968, he was one of only four Republicans in the 100-seat member lower house, and during the 1973–1974 session when Republican president Richard Nixon was enmeshed in the Watergate scandal, Bynum was the only Republican in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He considered running for governor in 1974 but, instead, remained in the House and worked to build the party into a credible opposition force, including fundraising efforts as well as working to identify people who would be willing to carry the party’s banner against often heavily entrenched incumbents and overwhelming odds. (His efforts would ultimately be rewarded, for when Bynum died in 2018, the state House of Representatives included seventy-five members of the GOP.) In the meantime, as the ultimate minority party legislator, Bynum had little influence, but he was an advocate for a number of issues that were central to his policy agenda, such as improved roads, more highways, and educational improvements. He was the floor leader for a bill that loosened regulations on turnpike construction and also successfully secured a ruling from the state attorney general’s office that allowed for greater consumer representation on the more than thirty regulatory boards around the state.
After over a decade in the minority, in 1981, Bynum left the legislature to serve as chief of staff to Republican governor Frank White, who had won the governorship in a major upset, defeating incumbent Bill Clinton, 51.9 to 48.1 percent. White faced overwhelming odds in his effort to push through his agenda. The House of Representatives was dominated by the Democrats who held a 93–7 majority, but the situation in the thirty-five-member Senate was even worse, for there was only one Republican senator. White could not thwart Clinton’s comeback in the 1982 rematch, with the former governor regaining the seat by a 54.7 to 45.3 percent margin. The defeat left Bynum without a government post for the first time in almost a decade and a half.
Following White’s defeat, Bynum began serving as executive director of the International Advisory Board of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), a position he held until 1995. But most of Bynum’s energies were spent crafting a career in the private sector. Using his many ties in the statehouse, he became an effective lobbyist. From 1983 to 1995, Bynum worked for Stephens Inc., a Little Rock (Pulaski County) investment banking firm. At Stephens, he was both an investment banker and a governmental relations advisor, serving as their chief lobbyist for thirteen years. His clients included Northwest Arkansas Community College as well as the Arkansas Independent Automobile Dealers Association, a group he knew from his work at his father’s car dealership.
In 1995, Bynum was found guilty of bribing a government official in an effort to get the inside track for underwriting contracts for Stephens. He was subsequently sentenced to two additional years in prison for lying to the grand jury that indicted him for bribery. He ultimately served time in prison beginning in July 1995 and then in a halfway house until the fall of 1996. Upon his release, he returned to lobbying, establishing the Phoenix Group, with which he remained until his retirement in 2014.
Bynum served on the Siloam Springs City Council, and he was also the chairman of the Siloam Springs Library Construction Committee as well as a founding member of the St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock.
Bynum died on October 31, 2018, at his home in Lakeland, Florida. He was survived by his wife of thirty-two years, Ann Bailey, as well as six daughters and two step-daughters.
For additional information:
“Bond-Bribery Guilty Pleas.” New York Times, March 4, 1995. Online at https://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/04/business/bond-bribery-guilty-pleas.html (accessed July 8, 2020).
Bowden, Bill. “Bynum, Former Legislator, Dies of Heart Failure.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 1, 2018, p. 2A.
Obituary of Preston Bynum. https://www.backstrom-pyeatte.com/notices/Preston-Bynum (accessed July 8, 2020).
“Preston Bynum, June 8, 1939–October 31, 2018 (Age 79).” United States Obituary Notice. https://usobit.com/2018/11/preston-bynum-june-8-1939-october-31-2018-age-79/ (accessed July 8, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
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