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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: John Paul's legacy

by Mike Masterson | May 1, 2021 at 7:58 a.m.

I happened across the following column from September 2011 about the official papers of my late uncle John Paul Hammerschmidt, the 13-term congressman from the 3rd District, having been delivered to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Many considered Hammerschmidt, who died April 1, 2015, an example of everything a U.S. congressman should be in the way he always placed the concerns and interests of his constituents (and others) above all else.

One's political party wasn't important to him, which is why, as the first Republican Arkansan elected to Congress since Reconstruction, John Paul was re-elected until his retirement in 1993.

He often told me (and congressmen who succeeded him) that once elected, his political party was irrelevant because every person in his district was deserving of equal time and attention.

For those who never knew the decorated World War II pilot, it struck me that today was a good time to reintroduce this column, which describes the way every elected political servant in this distressing time of harsh political division and hateful rhetoric should be.

Papers from a congressman

"At 89, and nearly 20 years after his 13th and final term as the 3rd District Representative, John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison remains far more at ease publicly singling others out for praise than talking about his achievements--even at events honoring him.

"Well over 100 folks gathered the other afternoon to celebrate the dedication and opening of Hammerschmidt's vast reservoir of congressional papers at the Mullins Library on the University of Arkansas campus.

"There, they heard Chancellor G. David Gearhart thank the congressman for making the collection available to the university and the people of Arkansas. Then he spoke of Hammerschmidt's myriad achievements for the state overall and his Northwest Arkansas district in particular.

"Then Gearhart read a warmly worded letter of congratulations from former President George H.W. Bush, who entered Congress from Texas along with Hammerschmidt in 1967.

"Those freshmen Republican congressmen were destined to become close lifelong friends.

"Among other qualities, Gearhart spoke of the congressman's hard-won reputation as a gentleman and public servant without equal. And he spoke of the multiple Distinguished Flying Crosses and other combat medals Hammerschmidt received as a World War II pilot who flew over 200 missions.

The chancellor was followed by David Pryor, the Democratic former governor, U.S. representative and senator who continued heaping on the praise for Hammerschmidt's accomplishments on behalf of Arkansas. He talked about the Buffalo River National Park, the creation of Interstate 540, his contributions to the nation's veterans and the congressman's efforts to help ensure the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport would be built.

"When it came time for Hammerschmidt to take the microphone, he graciously thanked everyone and said he always wished he'd been a better public speaker. Then spent not a single second basking in all that adoration.

"Instead, he immediately began talking about what a wonderful job Pryor had done during his years as a public servant in office and through his continuing efforts. 'His collection would be much larger than mine since he was a governor, a congressman and a senator,' he said.

"Hammerschmidt also had nice things to say about Gearhart, the library staff that had worked so long and hard to organize this mountain of materials and Tom Dillard, the library's head of special collections.

"He even asked his former congressional staff members in the room to stand and be applauded. John Paul, whose term spanned six presidents, learned early on that he would only be as effective as his staff.

"In short, Hammerschmidt displayed the same humble confidence and nonpartisan attitude that served him so effectively for the 26 years he represented the 3rd District.

"(Man, could the arrogant "me-firsters" in D.C. today learn from that approach to public service. Ah, but I digress.)

"Dillard then took to the podium to explain how vast this collection became as the years passed.

"It arrived in 1,500 good-sized cardboard boxes hauled in a semi-trailer truck. And every last piece of paper in all those boxes was examined and filed.

"Dillard said Hammerschmidt's personal papers consist of unpublished materials such as diaries, notes, photographs, and many letters to and from constituents and others in government during his career. There's even a revealing constituent questionnaire Hammerschmidt's office mailed out in 1968.

"'There are 25 folders alone about the Corps of Engineers mowing policies for Beaver Lake,' Dillard said with a grin.

"This collection, which occupies 1,221 linear feet, is stored off-site, but its contents are readily available to the public upon request.

"'They are filled with the names of ranging from strangers to the familiar,' Dillard said, mentioning James Watt and Jim McDougal as examples.

"Two of Hammerschmidt's federal judicial appointments also mingled in the crowded Helen Robson Walton Reading Room.

"Eastern District U.S. Judge Susan Webber Wright, who also worked for Hammerschmidt's 1974 campaign, and Morris S. 'Buzz' Arnold, the Western District judge who later was appointed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, each stayed around afterwards to visit about their experiences with Hammerschmidt.

"This is the place where, as in anything I write about John Paul (as Senator Pryor good-naturedly chided me), in the interest of disclosure, I yet again remind readers that John Paul is still my late mother's brother. Thankfully, that won't ever change.

"My grandparents, Art Hammerschmidt and his wife Junie, raised five children in their Harrison home on 10 acres above Crooked Creek. There were two sons and three daughters. Uncle John is the only surviving sibling.

"And there's no question in anyone's mind who knows his hectic schedule today that as he approaches 90, he's still going strong and continually helping folks across Arkansas."

Letter to congressman

Anyone concerned about the radically changing direction and future of our nation shouldn't hesitate to send a heartfelt message to their congressman or senator, for it's only through hearing from constituents they can know their honest opinions.

Speaking of honesty, retired Methodist pastor David Smith of Harrison certainly had no qualms expressing his views in a letter to current 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack the other day.

I strongly suspect his views are shared by many who are deeply troubled by the far-left and radical extremes they are witnessing out of the D.C. Beltway today.

I decided to share the reverend's concerns today in hopes others will follow suit in expressing their own in their own heartfelt messages to our legislators.

"Dear Rep. Womack: I am concerned because the FBI is being unduly influenced by politics. They are no longer untouchable. Their 'investigations' lead nowhere.

"The Hunter Biden laptop incident, Hillary Clinton's emails and Jeffrey Epstein's Paradise Island are cases in point. The fastest way to bury a political hot potato is to 'investigate' it.

"By what means can House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be censured for her 'insider trading?' Her and her family's infractions are legendary, but nothing ever happens. The incidence of congressional wealth accumulation while serving the people has become increasingly obvious.

"I am also concerned because the Democratic members of Congress are voting more out of fear of Speaker Pelosi than they are really reflecting the will of their constituents.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Rep. Congresswoman Maxine Waters should be expelled from the House. Her infractions are far more serious than any attributed to our former president.

"I am hopeful that your voting record is consistent with the will of your constituency, particularly in relation to maintaining our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Thanks for listening."

"My only question in light of the gross dysfunction in Washington is exactly who in D.C. is listening anymore?"

Now go out into the world and do what John Paul always did by treating everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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