In the late 80’s, billionaire financier Jackson T. Stephens and his wife Mary Anne were described as “Mr. And Mrs. Republican in Arkansas.” And little has changed.
Stephens founded Stephens Group, one of the largest investment firms off Wall Street, with his brother, the late W.R. “Witt” Stephens. And both became power players in Arkansas politics — just on different sides of the partisan divide. Witt Stephens was a die-hard Democrat and influential supporter of Bill Clinton during his rise to prominence. Jackson Stephens chaired former President Bush’s 1988 campaign in Arkansas and helped organize his inaugural.
Stephens attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he met and became friends with a midshipman from Georgia, Jimmy Carter. Still, that friendship didn’t extend to political support. Stephens was an outspoken backer of President Ronald Reagan. In a rare interview in the early 80’s, Jackson declared that Reagan was giving the country “exactly what we need. Some of us call it tough love.”
Lately, it’s been Stephens’ son, Steve Stephens, who has been making waves in Arkansas politics. Through much of 2001, the younger Stephens was rumored to be considering challenging Gov. Mike Huckabee in the 2002 Republican primary. He eventually dropped the idea, but not before angering some Arkansas Republicans, who openly wondered whether the Stephens family were drifting away from the party.