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Julia Hughes Jones (1939–)

Julia Hughes Jones was a Pulaski County circuit clerk and state auditor. She was the first woman to be elected to a statewide constitutional office without having previously been appointed to one.

Julia Mae Rumph was born in Camden (Ouachita County) on September 9, 1939, to James Harvey Rumph and Alice Chandler Rumph. Her father served as clerk for Ouachita County, as assessor, and briefly as county judge. Her mother worked in several of the courthouse offices as well as for the Rural Electric Cooperative. The oldest of five children, she had three sisters and one brother.

Rumph graduated from Camden High School in 1957. Jones married Charles Hughes in 1960, and they had three children. Divorced in 1978, she married James H. Jones Jr., the state editor for the Arkansas Gazette in 1979.

Jones attended Texas Woman’s University, the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), studying business administration and political science. In 1981, she completed Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government. Soon after she was notified that she would have sufficient credits to graduate from UALR in 1984, her second husband died. Seeking to follow through two years later, she was informed that some additional credit hours would be required. At that time, she was campaigning for state auditor and did not pursue the additional hours.

From 1973 to 1976, she served as the chief investigator and warrant officer for the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney’s office. In 1976, she opposed the reelection bid of the incumbent Pulaski County circuit clerk, Roger McNair. Following a spirited runoff election, she was elected, making her the first woman elected to a countywide office in Pulaski County.

In 1978, she sought the Democratic nomination for secretary of state. Although she finished in first place in the primary election, she narrowly lost the runoff election to Paul Riviere. In 1980, Jones announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for state auditor, citing accountability, a proven record of efficiency, and records management as the platforms for her campaign. Her opponent in the primary election was the chief deputy auditor, a twenty-one-year veteran of the office, James D. “Andy” Anderson of El Paso (White County), who cited his experience in the office. The primary race was a fairly low-key campaign, and Jones won the primary with 55.7 percent of the vote. With no opposition in the general election, Jones took office in 1981.

In her first months as auditor, she had a somewhat high-profile dispute with Governor Frank White, who had stated concerns over constitutional officers spending all of their budgets. Jones compiled data to dispute those concerns and challenged him to cut his budget in the same fashion she had.

Although unopposed in 1982 and 1984, Jones considered resignation in 1983, owing to personnel issues. Personnel issues and staff turnover were perennial problems during her tenure, although she often countered that the staff turnover rate was comparable to other agencies of government.

In 1986, Jones sought reelection. Although opposed for the Democratic nomination by Andy Anderson and Randy Jones, she won the primary election handily with fifty-seven percent of the vote.

As auditor, Jones served as a member of the State Board of Finance and was instrumental in bringing about the collateralization of uninsured state funds deposited in state financial institutions. Another notable accomplishment during her tenure as auditor included having the duties associated with the state’s unclaimed property program devolve to the auditor’s office. Jones brought a new awareness to the program with a publicity program popularly known as “The Great Arkansas Treasure Hunt.” This program seeks to reunite owners of funds and items reported “unclaimed” with their property.

In 1988, Jones, in a controversial stand, opposed the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System (APERS) purchase of taxable municipal bonds for a slack water harbor project in Helena (Phillips County).

Jones, in a move that surprised numerous political observers, challenged the incumbent United States senator Dale Bumpers in 1992. Bumpers garnered sixty-five percent of the vote, winning all seventy-five counties. A 1993 complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission accused Jones of using her state office and staff to conduct her Senate campaign, but the complaint was dismissed in 1994.

Feeling alienated from the Democratic Party, Jones, in October 1993, announced that she was changing her party affiliation to the Republican Party. In February 1994, Jones announced that she would seek the Republican nomination for secretary of state. Unopposed in the primary election, Jones faced Democratic nominee Sharon Priest, a Little Rock city director and former mayor. The campaign was punctuated by several controversies involving Jones’s office. The major controversy was about a staff-funded pool of money, known as “the flower fund.” Such a fund was not a new concept nor was it a practice limited to the auditor’s office. It became controversial when it was revealed that some of the fund had been used to purchase items and fund vacations for Jones. Jones defended the practice, stating that these were gifts. She cited a close working relationship with her staff and dismissed the controversy as the musings of a disgruntled former employee. Ultimately, Priest defeated Jones with fifty-two percent of the vote.

In 1995, Jones retired to Florida, where she remains active as a public speaker as of 2010. Many of her speeches have been published, and in 2009, she published a book, The Secret History of Weeds: What Women Need to Know about Their History.

For additional information:
Haman, John. “Slush Fund.” Arkansas Times. September 1, 1994, p. 13.

Oman, Noel. “Workers Rallied around Jones on FEC Claim.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. September 21, 1994, p. 1B.

O’Neal, Rachel. “Auditor Throws Hat in Secretary of State Ring.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. February 2, 1994, p. 1B.

Wes Goodner
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 11/22/2010

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