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Otis Stanley Russ (1930–2017)

Otis Stanley Russ was an Arkansas state senator from 1975 through 2000. He began serving before term limits were imposed and became the third-ranking senator in seniority. During his legislative career, he served as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, vice chairman of the Insurance and Commerce Committee, vice chairman of the Education Commission of the States, member of the Efficiency Committee, member of the Joint Committee on Energy, member of the Joint Legislative Facilities, and member of the Education Committee.

Stanley Russ was born on August 31, 1930, in Conway (Faulkner County) to O. S. Russ and Gene Browne Russ. He was the youngest of three children. Russ attended the Training School on the campus of Arkansas State Teachers College—now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA)—in Conway from the first grade through the seventh grade. In the eighth grade, he transferred to Conway Public Schools and graduated in 1948. He attended college at Arkansas Polytechnic College (now Arkansas Tech University) in Russellville (Pope County) from 1948 to 1950 before transferring to Arkansas State Teachers College for one semester. He then transferred to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree with a major in agriculture.

Russ married Nina Benton of Conway in 1951, and the couple had two children.

Russ served in the U.S. Army from July 1952 until July 1954. He completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, and as a second lieutenant was an instructor of artillery. He was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant and was then named company commander in the Arkansas National Guard in Morrilton (Conway County). He remained in the Arkansas National Guard until September 1961, and in 1995, he was inducted into the U.S. Field Artillery OCS Hall of Fame at Fort Sill.

After leaving the army, Russ went to work in the life insurance business and remained in the business throughout his time in the Arkansas Senate. He was also involved with agriculture and raised cattle.

Russ first ran for state senate in the Twenty-first District to fill the vacancy left by Senator Guy H. “Mutt” Jones of Conway, who was convicted of income tax evasion and removed from the Senate. The special election that was called to fill the vacancy left by Jones was hotly contested due to the involvement of Sheriff Marlin Hawkins of Conway County and of Jones, both of whom had been affiliated with the political machine of Governor Orval Faubus. In 1975, the senatorial district included Faulkner County, Van Buren County, and part of Conway County. Hawkins and Jones strongly supported one of Russ’s opponents, William H. “Bill” Sanson of Enola (Faulkner County). The third candidate in the race was Dan Stephens of Clinton (Van Buren County).

The Democratic primary for the special election was on January 2, 1975. Sanson received 6,135 votes, Russ 5,031, and Stephens 3,162. Russ faced Sanson in the run-off. To help blunt the Hawkins influence, Russ had poll watchers come to Conway County on election day to monitor the activity in the polling stations. All of Russ’s poll watchers were either lawyers or law school students. When the polls opened on January 16 for the Democratic runoff, Sheriff Hawkins sent his deputies to arrest several of Russ’s poll watchers and escort them from the polling stations. It was noted by reporters that the Conway County Deputy Sheriff patrol cars sported “Bill Sanson for Senator” bumper stickers. The Conway County deputies harassed the poll watchers throughout the day. Mark Stodola, a lawyer and Russ poll watcher, was ordered to leave the voting precinct at Birdtown (Conway County), and the Log Cabin Democrat reported, “Joe Purvis, a senior law student from Little Rock, was told by two Conway County deputies at about 10:00 a.m. to leave the Menifee precinct or ‘you won’t spend the night with your wife.’” After the vote counting had ended, one Conway County ballot box was found to have more votes counted than the number of people who had cast a ballot in that particular box. Sanson received eighty-three percent of the vote in Conway County to Russ’s seventeen percent, but Russ led by a large margin in the other two counties. Despite the best efforts of Sheriff Hawkins, Russ won the run-off race with 9,201 votes to Sanson’s 8,799.

On January 28, Russ defeated Republican Chuck Fouth in the general election, receiving ninety percent of the vote. He entered office on January 31, 1975. Senator Russ never had another opponent for state senator in either the Democratic primary or in the general election. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives on two occasions, 1978 and 1984, but lost both times in the Democratic primary.

Not surprisingly, one of Senator Russ’s favorite pieces of legislation he sponsored was Act 114 of 1977, an act that clarified and strengthened Act 465 of 1969. Act 114 clarified what rights were afforded poll watchers during an election, thus making elections more honest. Much of Russ’s legislative action was in support of public, private, and higher education.

Russ served as president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate from 1995 to 1997 and occasionally served as governor when the governor and lieutenant governor were out of state at the same time. On one of those occasions, in November 1996, Russ created the Medal of Honor Commission that built the Medal of Honor Memorial on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds.

Russ was serving as president pro tempore when Governor Jim Guy Tucker submitted his letter of resignation on July 15, 1996, due to a conviction on conspiracy and mail fraud charges. Later that same day, Tucker wrote a second letter that revoked his original letter of resignation. After Tucker canceled his resignation, a tumultuous situation developed within the State Capitol. Because of his role as president pro tempore, Russ visited with Governor Tucker in the governor’s office and explained the need for him to resign in order to avoid being impeached. Soon thereafter, Tucker submitted a handwritten letter of resignation to Russ. The letter stated, “Dear Mr. President: This is to inform you that I hereby resign the office of Governor effective at 6:00 p.m. July 15, 1996.” Tucker’s handwritten letter of resignation put the matter to rest, and the lieutenant governor, Mike Huckabee, was sworn into office as governor.

For his twenty-six-year career in the Arkansas Senate, Russ received several honors, including being named in 1981 as one of the Ten Outstanding State Legislators in the United States by the Assembly of State Governmental Employees. In 1985, he was honored by the Municipal League of Arkansas for Distinguished Service, and in 1986, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Conway Chamber of Commerce. Other awards included being elected into the Arkansas Tech University Hall of Distinction in 1994 and the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2000. Russ was named, along with James Bridges, the 2012 University of Central Arkansas Distinguished Alumni. In addition, the building that houses the UCA Department of Mass Communication was named Stanley Russ Hall in his honor in 2001. In February 2004, Russ was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from UCA.

After retiring from politics, Russ remained active in several civic clubs and lived in Conway. He was a member of the Conway Kiwanis Club, Second Baptist Church, the Faulkner County 4-H Foundation, the Arkansas Livestock Show Association Executive Committee, and the Arkansas Sports Club. Russ died on January 5, 2017.

For additional information:
Bowden, Bill. “26-Year State Sen. Russ, 86, Was UCA Supporter.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 7, 2017, pp. 1B, 10B.

“Lawyers to Watch Voting in Runoff.” Arkansas Gazette, January 16, 1975, p. 8A.

“Russ Announces for Senate Race.” Log Cabin Democrat, November 26, 1974, p 1.

“Russ Defeats Republican for Jones Seat.” Arkansas Gazette, January 29, 1975, p. 2A.

Stanley Russ Collection. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.

“Russ Winner over Sanson.” Arkansas Gazette, January 17, 1975, p. 1A.

Jimmy Bryant
University of Central Arkansas

Last Updated 2/24/2017

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