On May 28, 1996, Jim Guy Tucker, the only Arkansas governor to be tried on criminal charges, was convicted of two felony counts — mail fraud and conspiracy — in connection with the far-reaching Whitewater investigation.
Jurors also convicted James McDougal of 18 felony counts and Susan McDougal of four counts. The McDougals were former business partners of then-President Bill Clinton.
Tucker and the McDougals were accused of participating in schemes in the 1980s to defraud the federal government and two financial institutions of about $3 million in transactions.
About two hours after his conviction, Tucker shocked those at a news conference by announcing he would resign from office by July 15, 1996, saying “the people of Arkansas should not be put through this.”
This Page 1A of May 29, 1996, carried the headline: Tucker to resign.
Two days later, Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, announced he would drop out of the race to focus on “properly discharging the duties to which I have been unexpectedly called.”
That same day, Tucker’s staff announced the governor had been placed on a liver transplant list because of chronic problems.
On July 15, 1996, Tucker was scheduled to resign at noon and Huckabee was to be sworn in at 2 p.m. But Tucker didn’t resign.
Instead, Tucker called Huckabee and told him he planned to remain as governor. Huckabee had just finished rehearsing his swearing-in speech.
The House chamber was packed with Huckabee supporters who had come to see him take the oath of office. Just before 2 p.m., Tucker sent a note to then-Senate President Pro Tempore Stanley Russ, saying he was not going to resign and that his conviction was only a temporary disability that made him briefly ineligible to hold office.
Tucker indicated he owed it to the people of Arkansas to remain governor until a federal judge decided whether he should get a new trial.
At a 4 p.m. news conference, then-Attorney General Winston Bryant said he had filed a suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court to oust Tucker and he urged lawmakers to consider impeachment.
At a 5:15 p.m. news conference, Huckabee said he would call the Legislature into special session to consider impeaching Tucker if the governor didn’t resign by 9 a.m. the next day.
Members of the Legislature urged Tucker to change his mind. By 6 p.m., Tucker announced he would resign immediately. With his eventual swearing-in, Huckabee became the state’s first Republican governor since 1983 and the third since Reconstruction.
In an interview 10 years later, Tucker blamed himself.
“The position I had taken was untenable,” Tucker said in 2006. “If I had to do it over again, I certainly would not have. I’m very sorry.”
Tucker added he hoped Arkansans understood he was under stress from the Whitewater investigation and a serious liver ailment.
— Rachel O’Neal
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