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Arkansas Weighs Whether To Remove The Clinton Name From Little Rock's Airport

The Clintons attend a 2011 dedication ceremony for a pedestrian bridge in Little Rock, Ark., located adjacent to former President Bill Clinton's presidential library.

Bill and Hillary Clinton's political careers took off in Arkansas and the state capital, Little Rock, is filled with tributes to the former president, the only native of the Natural State who has made it to the Oval Office.

Now a state lawmaker wants to erase the Clintons' names from the Little Rock airport.

"The state of Arkansas would just like to forget the Clinton era," said state Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican.

On Wednesday, the state Senate will hold a hearing about a bill Rapert has submitted that forbids the state from naming facilities built with public money after people who are still alive. The Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock would be the most prominent facility affected by the proposed law.

Although Bill is 16 years removed from the White House and Hillary's own presidential dreams were smashed in November, Rapert cites a familiar list of reasons why the Clintons' names should be removed from the busiest airport in Arkansas, including allegations of impropriety at the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state and Bill Clinton's impeachment by Congress.

"When people realized there really was fire where there was all that smoke with the Clintons, they really don't want to have anything to do with them at all," said Rapert.

Shift away from Democrats

A controversial figure himself, Rapert has most recently attempted to revive the abolition of same-sex marriage, criminalize abortion and install a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol. He is on the far right in a state that has become increasingly dominated by Republicans in the past decade.

By 2014, the GOP controlled the state Legislature and every constitutional office in Arkansas as white, socially conservative voters migrated away from the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton said in 2015 that he would perhaps lose in Arkansas were he running now.

Last year, Hillary Clinton didn't bother to contest Arkansas and lost the state by 27 points. After the election, a billboard on a highway leading into Little Rock read: "The Witch is Dead. Establishment Fired. Time to drain the swamp."

Hillary, who was raised in Illinois and educated on the East Coast, had a complicated relationship with her husband's home state. In her autobiography, Living History, she wrote, "I was an oddity because of my dress, my Northern ways, and the use of my maiden name."

Still, as the state's first lady, Hillary started the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program, a popular early education program that continues to have bipartisan support today.

Although Bill's presidential library was built in Arkansas, the couple relocated to New York after his presidency so that Hillary could pursue her own political career representing that state in the Senate.

Economic legacy

In 2012, while Hillary was serving as secretary of state in the Obama administration, the Little Rock airport commission voted unanimously to rename it in honor of the Clintons.

"The Clintons did a tremendous amount for this state," said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, a Democrat. Stodola says that the Clinton presidential library has brought billions of dollars to Arkansas and that Bill Clinton remains an active presence, staying in the apartment atop the library nearly every month.

Little Rock was one of the few parts of the state to back Hillary Clinton's presidential bid last year. Stodola hopes the bill won't proceed in the state Senate, but if it succeeds, the city is prepared to challenge it or reject state funding so that the law doesn't apply to the airport.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is staying out of the fray. Hutchinson says the decision is up to the airport commission, although he emphasized that Arkansas remains proud of the Clintons.

"Even today, I was at the mansion with some guests from a foreign country and I was, with great pride, pointing out the balcony from which Bill Clinton made one of his announcements for president," he said during a news conference on Tuesday.

When asked whether renaming the airport pushes the boundaries of political decorum too far, Rapert conceded that perhaps the bill, which bans naming airports after a living person, should make an exception for living presidents.

"Therefore, Hillary's name would be removed," he said.

Meanwhile, Rapert has gotten some blowback from Clinton supporters in the state. In response to his bill, a petition on Facebook proposes renaming several municipal sewage tanks after Rapert.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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