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Odell Pollard (1927–2015)

Odell Pollard was an Arkansas lawyer credited with playing a major role in the development of the two-party political system in Arkansas during the last half of the twentieth century. Pollard was chairman of the Arkansas Republican (GOP) state executive committee during Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration.

Odell Pollard was born on April 29, 1927, on a farm in Union Hill (Independence County). Pollard was the third of four children of Joseph Franklin Pollard and Beulah Scantlin Pollard. He attended a one-room school at Union Hill through the eighth grade and then attended high school in Oil Trough (Independence County) until his graduation at age sixteen. He then entered the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), attending for two years before joining the U.S. Navy in 1945. Pollard attended college at Mississippi College and Tulane University under the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the navy during World War II.

Pollard was discharged in 1947 as an aviation cadet and entered the University of Arkansas School of Law in September of that year. While attending law school, he made some speeches on behalf of Sid McMath, the 1948 Democratic candidate for governor of Arkansas. In January 1950, Pollard graduated from law school and moved to Searcy (White County) to set up his law practice, which he ultimately operated for over fifty-five years.

Pollard married Sammy Lane Lewis of Pangburn (White County) on February 8, 1953, and they had three children; they later divorced. He married Imogene Stroud Huett in 1990.

Pollard considered himself a Democrat until 1956 but claimed he never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate or for Orval Faubus. Three issues influenced Pollard to move into the Republican Party. “For one, I suddenly realized that the philosophy of the national Democratic Party was different from mine,” he said, specifically mentioning fiscal responsibility and the problem of “giveaway” programs. Second was the race issue. After the 1956 Democratic primaries (in which Jim Johnson, an avowed segregationist, was a candidate), he recalled, “I saw how certain Democrats could work to further their own ambitions even if it was highly damaging to the state.” The third reason was a “great need for a second party in Arkansas.” Pollard became a member of the GOP state executive committee in 1960.

The Arkansas Republican Party, in the early twentieth century and up until 1966, was weak and existed primarily upon patronage from Washington DC. What few GOP candidates appeared on state ballots came from the hill counties of western Arkansas. The first major victories for the new GOP were those of John Paul Hammerschmidt, who was elected to Congress in 1966 and remained in office until 1993, and Winthrop Rockefeller, a liberal Republican who was elected governor in 1966 and served until 1971.

A month after Hammerschmidt’s and Rockefeller’s victories, Pollard was elected the state GOP chairman to replace the outgoing Hammerschmidt, who wanted to focus solely upon his new job as a congressman. When he was elected chairman, Pollard had served on the GOP state executive committee for six years and had been the committee’s general counsel since 1964. At the time, the Arkansas GOP was experiencing internal division, and some believe that Pollard was elected chairman because Rockefeller thought he would be easy to work with. The Arkansas Gazette praised Pollard as being the “voice of compromise.” Pollard leaned more to the liberal side of the party, but he got along with all factions.

The old system of patronage was still strong within the new Arkansas GOP, and Pollard addressed the problem head on, saying: “Let us be sure that we do not ask the governor to appoint people who would not be good public servants.” Pollard began working with the state committee to develop County Republican Recommendation Committees (CRRCs) in each of Arkansas’s counties to deal with patronage requests at the local level. There was one strict requirement: more than only the GOP loyal should be considered. Pollard also asked the GOP not to be “overly zealous in requesting that certain state employees be discharged,” and not to replace an employee “unless you are able to recommend a person as a replacement who can and will do a better job than the one you seek to have removed.”

Pollard also attempted to sway African-American votes over to the GOP. In May 1967, Pollard addressed the thirtieth annual meeting of the Urban League of Greater Little Rock and made two points: first, he wanted the establishment of a committee on human resources, and second, he wanted inclusion of one or more African Americans in each county. However, by May 1967, only thirty-five of the state’s Arkansas seventy-five counties had African Americans on CRRCs.

The year 1970 marked Pollard’s last year as chairman of the state GOP and also Rockefeller’s last year as governor. The fall of 1970 saw a showdown within the Arkansas GOP between Rockefeller’s liberal faction and a more traditional conservative Republican faction. Pollard’s challengers for the committee chairmanship included Charles Bernard, William T. Kelly, and Everett Ham. Rockefeller supported William T. Kelly, who was then the Pulaski County GOP chairman. Kelly was also chairman of the Governor’s Council on Human Resources and was considered the most liberal of the three candidates. However, after Governor Rockefeller was defeated for reelection by Democrat Dale Bumpers, Republican businessman Cass Hough pushed for Rockefeller to become state GOP chairman by acclamation. Charles Bernard, a conservative Republican, was instead elected chairman in November 1970, changing the face of the Arkansas GOP to a more conservative party.

From 1973 to 1976, Pollard served as a GOP national committee member. He continued to practice law until he developed cancer.

Pollard died in Searcy on March 12, 2015. His former law partner, former congressman Ed Bethune of Searcy, presented the eulogy at Pollard’s funeral, noting that “without his leadership in the 1960s, our state might still be in the wilderness. Against all odds, he stood firm for Governor Rockefeller and the need for a two-party system. Much of what has been accomplished in our state can be attributed to the work of Odell Pollard.”

For additional information:
Barrier, Mike. “State GOP Elects Pollard Chairman, Hears Caution Plea.” Arkansas Gazette, December 11, 1966, pp. 1A, 2A.

“New GOP Chairman Was Once a Democrat, Never Voted That Way.” Arkansas Gazette, December 18, 1966, p. 24A.

Urwin, Cathy Kunzinger. Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967–1971. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

Mary Alice Chambers
North Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 10/6/2015

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