Remembering John Paul Hammerschmidt
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt last month. On Monday, I will join other members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation in Hammerschmidt’s hometown of Harrison, as well as his family and friends, to pay my respects.
While we mourn the passing of a true Arkansas legend, I want to take a moment to reflect on his legacy here in our great state.
First, we must go back to his time in the United States Army Air Corps where he was a awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her service in World War II. John Paul was a true American hero who risked his own life to protect the lives of men and women he would never know. It was a selfless act from a man who was among the Greatest Generation.
After his service in the military came to an end, John Paul finished his studies at Oklahoma State University before returning home to Harrison, where he started his own lumber company before getting involved with local politics.
At a time when Republicans were few and far between in Arkansas, Hammerschmidt stood out and not only became a delegate to multiple Republican National Conventions, but he eventually served two different stints as chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, both before and after his time as the Third District congressman.
When he ran for Congress in 1966, John Paul unseated a Democrat, and rode into office the same year as former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, another Republican in what was still a heavily Democratic state.
Hammerschmidt became the only Republican member of Arkansas’ House delegation when he took office in 1967, and as current Third District Congressman Steve Womack noted during a remembrance on the House floor this week, John Paul served in the minority his entire 26 years in the House of Representatives.
Despite being in the minority, Hammerschmidt served the people of the Third District well. His district, which in the 1960s spanned all the way down to Ashdown and Hot Springs – areas I currently represent – was vast, and the need for infrastructure development was real. And John Paul went out of his way to build relationships with his colleagues in both parties to secure funding for the infrastructure needs that have transformed the northwest portion of Arkansas. He laid the groundwork for what will eventually be Interstate 49 from Kansas City to Louisiana and right through what is now the Fourth District.
John Paul also passed legislation designating the Buffalo River as the nation’s first national river, which preserved this natural beauty for everyone to enjoy.
All of this work was completed by John Paul not simply for his Republican constituents, but for all constituents of the Third District. And John Paul also worked closely with the Arkansas delegation to create bi-partisan support for projects across the state. It is this bi-partisan cooperation that is the guiding principal for me as I begin my career in Washington. While I did not know John Paul well, I feel like I knew him for many decades based on the stories I can recite about his time in Washington. Even now, more than 20 years after he left the chamber in which I now serve, John Paul Hammerschmidt’s legacy is still felt in the halls of Congress.
As we enter next week, I ask that you would send prayers to the Hammerschmidt family as they remember a loving husband, father, and grandfather. And when you drive the interstate to your next Razorback game or float the Buffalo River, remember that it was cooperation and dedication that helped create that opportunity. Thank you, John Paul. Rest in peace.