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John Winston Bryant is an Arkansas politician and attorney who held an array of high-level offices in state government. Beginning as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and serving for two decades in statewide offices, Bryant was an influential figure in Arkansas politics over the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Winston Bryant was born on October 3, 1938, in Malvern (Hot Spring County) to Johnie Bryant and Hestie Killian Bryant. He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1960. He then earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1963, and he earned a Masters of Law in administrative law from George Washington University in 1970. Bryant served in the U.S. Army for two years, being discharged in 1965 as a captain.
He was an attorney for the Arkansas Insurance Commission in 1966 and then an assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 1967. Bryant then moved to Washington DC, where he served as a legislative assistant to U.S. senator John L. McClellan from 1968 to 1971. Returning to Arkansas, Bryant served as deputy prosecuting attorney for Hot Spring County from 1971 to 1972, when he won election as a Democrat to the Arkansas General Assembly.
Bryant served as a state representative from Hot Spring County from 1973 to 1977 before serving as secretary of state from 1977 to 1979. Frustrated with the lack of substance he found in the secretary of state’s position, in 1978, Bryant sought the Fourth District congressional seat that was being vacated by incumbent Ray Thornton, who was running for the U.S. Senate. While Bryant had led the original multi-candidate Democratic primary field, he was defeated by Beryl Anthony in the run-off. He returned to his private law practice in Malvern.
In 1980, Bryant was elected to the office of lieutenant governor. He served his first two-year term under Governor Frank White and was reelected to three additional two-year terms, all of which he served under Governor Bill Clinton. In 1990, Bryant was elected state attorney general. He held that post for two four-year terms, serving from 1991 until 1999.
As the state’s chief lawyer, Bryant sought to expand the office of attorney general beyond its historic role as a defender of state and municipal interests. He actively sought to increase its outreach and support of the state’s citizens. He worked to secure greater consumer protection and environmental safeguards for the state’s residents, initiating lawsuits that returned millions of dollars to defrauded consumers. He also sought additional authority from the legislature and then used it to file suits aimed at protecting the state’s natural resources. He attacked Medicaid fraud while also working to keep utility rates as low as possible. In addition, he filed a lawsuit against the tobacco companies, ultimately achieving a $1.6 billion settlement to be paid out over twenty-five years.
Bryant also sought to increase the awareness of young people about the law. His office initiated the program “Smart Choices, Better Chances” to increase teens’ awareness of the impact that crime could have on their future. Recognizing the pressures that young people faced, he also founded the Arkansas Youth Suicide Prevention Commission, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing teen suicide in the state. In addition, Bryant appeared personally before the U.S. Supreme Court three times representing the state’s interests, in cases ranging from the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty to the question of the legitimacy of state-imposed term limits.
During the course of his two terms as attorney general, Bryant twice sought election to the U.S. Senate. In 1996, he won the Democratic nomination but lost in the general election to Congressman Tim Hutchinson by just over five percent. In 1998, he lost in the Democratic primary run-off to Congresswoman Blanche Lincoln, the eventual general election winner.
Bryant returned to the practice of law, setting up a private practice in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he specializes in commercial litigation, as well as municipal, administrative, and constitutional law. His wife, Susan Hughes Bryant, is the coordinator for the Malvern School District’s Gifted and Talented Program. The couple has one son.
For additional information:“Bryant Winner Over Henslee.” Arkansas Gazette, June 9, 1976, pp. 1A, 4A.
Law Office of Winston Bryant. http://www.winstonbryant.com/ (accessed August 21, 2015).
Nichols, Jim. “Bryant Wins Race for Attorney General.” Arkansas Gazette, November 7, 1990, p. 1A.
“Republican Holds 14,000-Vote Lead; Bryant Is Winner.” Arkansas Gazette, November 5, 1980, pp. 1A, 17A.
William H. Pruden III Ravenscroft School
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