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Jay Bradford is an Arkansas businessman and government official. A longtime member of the Arkansas General Assembly, he capped a public career of over thirty years with a six-year stint as state commissioner of insurance.
Jay T. Bradford was born on April 30, 1940, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to J. Turner Bradford and Chrystal Jacobs Bradford. He had one brother and two sisters. After Bradford’s mother died when he was eight years old, his father, who was a traveling salesman, placed his children in the care of relatives in Paris (Logan County).
After receiving his early education in the local schools, he attended Subiaco Academy, a Catholic college preparatory school in Subiaco (Logan County). After graduating from Subiaco, he studied at what is now Henderson State University (HSU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County). At Henderson, he majored in economics and psychology, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1963. The university recognized his successful business and governmental careers with a Distinguished Alumnus Award as well as induction into the School of Business Hall of Fame.
After graduation from Henderson, Bradford embarked upon a successful four-decade-long career in the insurance business. He served as president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Arkansas, and was founder and chairman of the First Arkansas Insurance Group. A statewide organization headquartered in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), First Arkansas linked independent property and casualty agencies across the state.
Bradford then entered the public arena, first serving as an alderman in Pine Bluff. In 1982, running as a Democrat, he won election to the Arkansas Senate, where he served from 1983 to 2000. As a member of the Senate, he served as chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, and he was also chosen as Senate president pro tempore.
In 1990, as a result of a court-ordered redistricting, Bradford was thrust into a highly publicized intra-party battle against longtime senator Knox Nelson. Nelson, a conservative powerhouse, had consistently opposed the programs of Governor Bill Clinton, as well as the efforts of many of his progressive predecessors. With Clinton eying national office, Clinton and his allies were determined to remove one of the major obstacles to the enactment of his programs. Aided by many Clinton supporters—including the governor’s chief of staff, Betsey Wright, who worked almost full time on Bradford’s campaign in the spring prior to the primary—Bradford won over sixty percent of the vote, sending Nelson into retirement while enhancing his own political stature. Four years later, with Clinton in the White House, Bradford sought the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Republican Jay Dickey. While Bradford did better than the Democratic candidate had done in 1992 when Clinton headed the ticket, he still fell short by just over 6,000 votes, a difference of a little under three percent.
As an Arkansas legislator, Bradford was the primary sponsor of the Tobacco Settlement Funding Bill, a law that made Arkansas the only state to use its settlement funds for healthcare. In addition, Bradford was the Senate’s leading advocate for legislation related to the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, efforts that ultimately resulted in millions of dollars being allocated to fight the disease. He also authored a welfare reform law. Bradford was the co-chairman of the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence, and he served on the executive committee of Fifty for the Future, a group that worked to create economic opportunities and bring new industry to the state.
In 2000, after almost two decades in the Arkansas Senate, Bradford was prevented from seeking reelection by the state’s recently enacted term limits. He then won election to the Arkansas House, where he served until 2007. During his tenure there, he served as chair of that body’s Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, as well serving as speaker pro tempore, who presides in the absence of the speaker of the House.
In 2007, Bradford was appointed by Governor Mike Beebe to serve as director of the Division of Behavioral Health Services of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. He served in that role for two years until Beebe appointed him state commissioner of insurance. Bradford took office in January 2009 and served until January 2015. As commissioner, Bradford implemented the state’s response to the federal Affordable Care Act. His many years of legislative experience, coupled with his knowledge of the insurance industry, allowed him to navigate that challenge, especially as he worked to create the Health Benefits Exchange (also known as the Arkansas Health Connector), which in the first year saw 170,000 people sign up. Enjoying bipartisan support, it significantly reduced the number of uninsured residents in the state. With a change in gubernatorial administrations, Bradford’s tenure at the helm of the Arkansas Insurance Department ended in January 2015.
Bradford was named the 2005 Civil Libertarian of the Year by the American Civil Liberties Union, and he was the 2006 Arkansas Business Executive of the Year. He also received awards from both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 2006.
After his government service, he resumed his work in the insurance industry. Bradford and his wife, Anne, have one child and live in Pine Bluff.
For additional information:“Bradford Beats Knox Nelson in District 28.” Arkansas Gazette, May 30, 1990, pp. 1A, 11A.
“Jay Bradford.” Ballotpedia. http://ballotpedia.org/Jay_Bradford (accessed November 17, 2015).
“Jay Bradford’s Biography.” Vote Smart. http://votesmart.org/candidate/biography/24514/jay-bradford#.VaUYxF9VhHw (accessed November 17, 2015).
William H. Pruden III Ravenscroft School
Last Updated 6/6/2016
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