Former President Bill Clinton spoke Friday at the Southern Governors' Association's annual meeting in Little Rock on the importance of higher education and the successful future he sees for the private option in Arkansas.
Clinton’s speech focused on the importance of networks and independence between people. He gave the example of Oxi, a foreign insurance company. He said the way they operate is similar to the planned private option in Arkansas, which is for the insurance company to not make money, only enough to pay administrative costs. He recalled speaking with a member of Oxi and asking if it wrote insurance for people.
“He said, ‘Yes, but we don’t make any money on it,’” Clinton said. “‘We shouldn’t.’ And I thought, I know I’m not in America.”
Clinton also brought up a meeting he had with the President of the University of Arkansas system about keeping the cost of higher education down and a study that said over 10 percent of the Arkansas population who had spent some time in a place of higher education never received their degree. According to Clinton, correcting this would help the country make a “dramatic impact to recreate conditions of shared prosperity.”
Clinton said never before has anyone living today had such a range of opportunity, citing the recent opening of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library and Learning Center located at 4800 W. 10th St. in Little Rock, and the 3D printers available there.
“We are living at a breathtaking moment of possibility,” Clinton said. “And if we blow it, shame on us.”
Clinton was introduced by Gov. Mike Beebe, who first passed on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s regrets about not being able to attend the conference because of the conflict in Ferguson.
Beebe said Nixon has done a great job so far in trying to help ease tensions in Ferguson and his choice to remove local law enforcement was the right move.
“He’s doing his best to calm the situation,” Beebe said. “He can’t make people act a certain way.”
Beebe admitted the situation in Ferguson wasn’t so foreign to past ones in Little Rock, citing the 2007 shooting in West Memphis of 12-year-old DeAunta Farrow who was holding a toy gun when he was fatally shot by West Memphis Police Officer Erik Sammis.
“It can happen anywhere,” Beebe said. “All it takes is one spark and it can happen anywhere, in any state.”
Nixon will take over for Beebe at the end of this year as the head of the Southern Governors' Association, as Beebe finishes his last term as Arkansas' governor. Beebe had asked Clinton multiple times to speak at the weekend-long conference this year and said he felt a sense of nostalgia as the two of them came into politics around the same time.
“I feel a sense of shared accomplishment,” Beebe said. “And I feel proud of all the good that he has done. And he can still give a great speech.”
Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.