Tommy F. Robinson
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Arkansas's 2nd district
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1991
|Preceded by||Ed Bethune|
|Succeeded by||Ray Thornton|
|Sheriff of Pulaski County, Arkansas|
|Preceded by||Ken Best|
|Succeeded by||Carroll Gravett|
|Born||March 7, 1942|
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (before 1989) |
|Alma mater||University of Arkansas at Little Rock|
|Occupation||Law enforcement officer, Political Consultant, Small Businessman|
Law enforcement career
Robinson had a career in law enforcement, in which he reached the position of sheriff of Pulaski County. He previously served as a North Little Rock city patrolman, Arkansas state trooper, director of campus police at the University of Arkansas, and the police chief in Jacksonville, Arkansas. In 1979, he was appointed by Governor Bill Clinton as director of the short-lived Department of Public Safety, which was abolished in 1981 by Clinton's successor, Republican Frank D. White. Robinson was elected sheriff of Pulaski County in 1980, having defeated the incumbent Ken Best in the Democratic primary. He was re-elected in 1982.
Robinson's tenure was one of non-stop controversies. In early 1981, in order to relieve jail overcrowding he ordered a group of state prisoners being held at the Pulaski County Jail to be taken to the state prison at Pine Bluff. Robinson left the prisoners chained to the (front gate of the prison) when the warden refused to accept them.
The 1982 murder of Little Rock socialite Alice McArthur resulted in Robinson conducting a sensational investigation of her husband, attorney William McArthur. Robinson spent time in jail in 1983 on a federal contempt of court citation for having refused to allow the federally appointed jail master, Kenneth Basinger, to enter the jail. In response, the federal judge overseeing the case, George Howard, Jr., an African-American, was described publicly by Robinson as "a token judge."
When his request for more money for his office was denied, he arrested County Judge Bill Beaumont and Comptroller Jo Adcock on charges of obstructing governmental operations. He released Beaumont and Adcock only when threatened with another contempt of court citation.
A well-publicized raid on a "toga party" led by Central Arkansas Socials led to multiple lawsuits and the labeling of Robinson and his deputies as the "Keyhole Kops". Governor Frank White referred to Robinson as "Captain Hotdog". Robinson's profanity-laced tirades at press conferences were common. In response to the high armed robbery rate in the county, Robinson initiated a program of placing hidden deputies in random convenience stores armed with shotguns, the result was a 96 percent drop in armed robberies during his tenure.
Robinson was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1984 as a Democrat. He led a five-man field in the Democratic primary that included Secretary of State Paul Riviere, State Senator Stanley Russ of Conway, investment banker and former Senate aide Thedford Collins, and conservative former U.S. Representative Dale Alford. He bested Riviere in the runoff, and defeated Judy Petty, a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives and a former aide to the late Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, and Independent Jim Taylor, a liberal Democrat horrified by the more conservative Robinson. Petty ran as a Ronald W. Reagan Republican but lost to Robinson even though Reagan won her district. In the three-way race, Robinson polled 46 percent of the vote to Petty's 42 percent, while the underfinanced Taylor took 12 percent. Robinson financed his race on almost $900,000 in unsecured bank loans, making his the most expensive congressional race in state history up to that time.
While in Congress, Robinson was often at odds with the Democratic leadership of Tip O'Neill and Jim Wright, and identified closely with the "Boll Weevil" faction. On July 28, 1989, Robinson left the Democratic Party and joined the GOP, claiming that the Democratic Party had become too liberal. He ran for governor of Arkansas in 1990 but lost in the primary election to businessman Sheffield Nelson, also a former Democrat. Nelson was in turn defeated by Bill Clinton. Robinson's House seat was assumed in 1991 by the Democrat Ray Thornton, a former congressman and a former Arkansas Attorney General. Thornton defeated the Republican candidate, Jim Keet, then a freshman state representative and restaurateur from Little Rock. In 2010, Keet was the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial nominee against Mike Beebe.
Robinson ran again for the U.S. House in 2002 after a twelve-year absence in a district in the northeastern part of the state, but lost to the Democratic incumbent, Marion Berry.
Out of Congress, Robinson farmed cotton, milo, and soybeans on some two thousand acres near Brinkley in Monroe County in eastern Arkansas. In 2010, after years of financial difficulties, a group of creditors obtained a forced bankruptcy against Ag-Pro Farms II, and Robinson lost ownership of the farm to satisfy about $6.5 million in debts.
During the administration of Republican Governor Mike Huckabee, Robinson sat on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission and later served almost five years as chairman of the Pardon and Parole Board.
Today, Robinson is the principal in a political consulting and lobbying firm called The Robinson Group, LLC. Along with local and state candidates, the firm has also had foreign clients as well, most notably Yasser Arafat. His partners are attorney Larry Wallace, a former law partner of one-time Robinson rival Sheffield Nelson, and lobbyist Rickey Hicks.
He and his family have also owned a liquor store in Brinkley for several years.
- List of American politicians who switched parties in office
- List of United States Representatives who switched parties
- List of people from Little Rock, Arkansas
- United States Congress. "Tommy F. Robinson (id: R000354)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 2nd congressional district
January 3, 1985–January 3, 1991