I had not seen or heard from Dale Enoch, who died last weekend at Conway, in many years, but he played an important role in the education of many Arkansas journalists, including mine.
When I first met Dale in 1976, he was director of the Institute of Politics and Government, an innovative nonprofit organization founded by John L. Ward, one of the disciples of former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. After getting out of politics, Ward spent about a dozen years as editor of the Log Cabin Democrat at Conway, then did some teaching and wound up his career as public relations director for the University of Central Arkansas.
Of course, Rockefeller revolutionized government in Arkansas, bringing the state a step toward two-party politics and away from "good ol’ boys’ rule." One of his greatest accomplishments was signing the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in 1967.
Until then government decisions in Arkansas were made behind closed doors, and corruption was widespread. It certainly wasn’t government of, by and for the people.
But Rockefeller, Ward and others believed that the more we knew about our government, the better we could make it. That’s why the IOPG was established.
Originally, the idea was to conduct seminars on practical politics — so as to educate interested citizens in the processes and prepare them for participation, whether running for office, helping someone else run or just following the candidates. You didn’t get that in high school civics or college political science.
The institute already had a good reputation in late 1976 when I attended a one-day seminar on Amendment 55 to the state constitution, passed two years earlier by the voters to reform the state’s archaic, inefficient system of county government.
The previous year I had become managing editor of The Batesville Guard, pledging the newspaper to cover local government thoroughly, which it hadn’t been doing. I had some experience for that mission, but not a lot, and the counties were starting all over, even while some of their former leaders were under indictment for fraud.
That seminar was helpful, and I was interested when Enoch later announced that he was starting a separate, in-depth program for journalists that would examine the political and governmental processes and the issues of the day. His first problem was money, but that would eventually come from familiar sources — the Arkansas Community Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Arkansas Gazette Foundation. That would keep the cost of tuition minimal.
Dale was well-qualified to run such a program. While still in college, he started working as a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, then went to work full-time after graduating and was transferred to its Little Rock bureau (yes, back then the CA covered Arkansas pretty well).
In 1968 he became legislative and press assistant to 1st District Congressman Bill Alexander, who had just been elected to his first term. But Washington didn’t suit him, and after two years he returned to Memphis as the CA’s political reporter.
In 1972 he moved back to Little Rock and joined with Ward in establishing the IOPG as a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization. Early in its history, the institute was affiliated with then-Arkansas College in Batesville.
When the schedule was announced for a 9-month series of seminars to begin in October 1977, I signed up, as did my assistant editor, Larry O’Dell, whose background had been mostly in sports.
Each seminar would be an all-day Saturday affair, which for Larry and me meant getting up early on Saturday and driving to Little Rock — not so easy when you’re age 32 and 25. We met about once a month through the following summer. Each day was divided into two or three sessions, each featuring one or more resource people, most of them experts, agency heads or the like.
For example, one session focused on the quality of education in Arkansas and featured the director of the governor’s Office of Management and Budget, a superintendent of schools and a legislator who had been involved in reform efforts.
The resource people provided nuts-and-bolts discussions and their perspectives on current issues, also giving us a chance to ask questions. This took place as planning was under way for a constitutional convention.
The most memorable session was with David Broder, national political correspondent for the Washington Post and already a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Among the other young journalists participating were Max Brantley of the Arkansas Gazette; Deborah Mathis, now a national columnist; Kathy Miller and Cal Wasson of KAIT-TV, Jonesboro; Kitty Sloan of the Paragould Daily Press; Robert Fisher, later the attorney general’s point man on FOIA matters; and Sonny Rhodes, now a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. Larry O’Dell has been an Associated Press writer in Richmond, Va., for many years.
Unfortunately, about halfway through our schedule, Dale announced his resignation to manage a congressional campaign, and he was succeeded by Walter Nunn, a Little Rock publisher.
After finishing my series of seminars, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the IOPG, but Walter continued its good work for a number of years, though I’m sure finding enough money was always a problem.
However, the concept was a great one and could be useful again, if only someone cared about good government as much as John Ward and Dale Enoch did.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.