Arkansas Secretary of State
January 1963 – October 30, 1975
|Governor|| Orval E. Faubus|
|Preceded by||Nancy J. Hall|
|Succeeded by||George O. Jernigan Jr.|
|Born|| August 28, 1908|
Resident of Hope, Hempstead County
|Died|| October 30, 1975 (aged 67)|
Place of death missing
|Resting place||Memory Gardens Cemetery in Hope, Arkansas|
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth Sutton Bryant|
|Children|| Betty Bryant Brockway|
|Alma mater||University of Arkansas|
Former publisher of The Hope Journal
Kelly Bryant (August 28, 1908 – October 30, 1975) served as the Democratic secretary of state of Arkansas from 1963 until his death in office nearly thirteen years later. He was one of three statewide politicians from Hope in Hempstead County in southern Arkansas. The others are former Governor and U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Governor and unsuccessful 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
A native of Shawnee in Pottawatomie County in central Oklahoma, Bryant was the son of Charles C. Bryant and the former Anna May Nelson. He was reared in Hope. A graduate in business administration of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Bryant became a journalist. From 1939 to 1951, he was the editor and publisher of a former daily newspaper, The Hope Journal. He served as the publisher of The Arkansas Almanac. He was the field secretary for the Arkansas Sheriffs Association, in which capacity he edited the magazine of that organization. When he ran for office, Bryant therefore had a fervent base of support with sheriffs in all seventy-five Arkansas counties. He was a member of the Arkansas Press Association and was the state printing clerk while also an employee of the state auditor.
Defeating four Republicans
Bryant was elected to seven two-year terms as secretary of state, the principal record-keeping agency which processes election returns. Usually the office attracts little attention from the public or the media.
In 1964, when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Governor Orval E. Faubus were elected, Bryant defeated the little-known Republican challenger, Charles R. Watson of Arkadelphia in Clark County in south Arkansas. Bryant received 389,295 votes (73.1 percent) to Watson's 143,263 (26.9 percent). Watson won only in often Republican-leaning Searcy County in the northwestern portion of the state. In 1968, Bryant faced a stronger Republican candidate in Lynn A. Davis, who ran on the Winthrop Rockefeller ticket. Though Rockefeller narrowly won his second term, Bryant defeated Davis, who would later be the United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Arkansas and had been Rockefeller's choice to head the Arkansas state police. The Arkansas State Senate, however, refused to confirm Davis' appointment based on residency requirements. Bryant received 320,203 votes (54.7 percent) to Davis' 265,510 (45.3 percent). Davis won thirteen of the state's seventy-five counties.
In 1970, Bryant defeated the Republican former State Representative Jim Sheets of Benton County in far northwestern Arkansas. Bryant polled 360,209 votes (62.3 percent) to Sheets' 217,752 (37.7 percent). Sheets won only in Searcy and Benton counties. It was a particularly Democratic year both nationally and in Arkansas, as newcomer Dale Bumpers ended Governor Rockefeller's short poltiical career.
In 1972, Bryant defeated Jerome F. "Jerry" Climer, the former clerk of Pulaski County, which includes the capital city of Little Rock. Bryant received 366,079 votes (59.4 percent) to Climer's 250,532 (40.6 percent). Climer carried only two counties, Searcy and his own Pulaski. In the campaign, Climer questioned why Mrs. Bryant was hired as a $11,500-per-year employee in the secretary of state's office. Climer had been appointed to fill the vacancy as clerk late in 1970 shortly before Rockefeller vacated the governorship. Climer, who has extensive credentials in the field of public administration, served as an aide to two Arkansas congressmen and went on to establish two Washington, D.C.-based "think tanks," the Congressional Institute and the Public Governance Institute..
Bryant won his first, third, and last terms as secretary of state in 1962, 1966, and 1974, respectively, without Republican opposition. No Republican held the office since Reconstruction until 2010, with the election of Mark Martin, a former state representative from Prairie Grove in Washington County in northwestern Arkansas.
Secretary Bryant's was plagued with various allegations of impropriety, or even corruption in the awarding of state printing contracts. International Graphics Company sued Bryant and his office because the company had submitted the low bid for a printing contract, but the bid was instead given to a competitor. Bryant, however, prevailed in the case on appeal. Bryant was also accused of the mismanaged corporate records.
Bryant once organized a testimonial dinner in his own honor. He had to cancel, however, after the since defunct The Arkansas-Gazette reported his role in the matter. Yet, Bryant had a strong hold on his state office and dispatched four Republican candidates.
At the time of his death at the age of sixty-seven, Bryant was battling cancer.
Bryant was married to the former Elizabeth Sutton (February 19, 1912 – July 7, 1997), a native of Marianna in Lee County along the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas. She was the daughter of O. C. Sutton and the former Florence Dorsett. Like her husband, Mrs. Bryant had resided for many years in Hope and Little Rock, where she worked in various capacities in the state capital, including the offices of secretary of state, treasurer, and the state legislature. Mrs. Bryant graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1934 and was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Business and Professional Women's Club, Arkansas Democratic Women, Junior Auxiliary, the Cosmopolitan Club, and the Arkansas Historical Society.
Mrs. Bryant died in a nursing home in Murray, Kentucky, the residence of their daughter, Betty Bryant Brockway (born 1944). The Bryants, who were United Methodist, are interred at Memory Gardens Cemetery south of Hope, which also has the grave of Clinton presidential advisor Vince Foster.
- "Secretary of State Dies,” Blytheville (Arkansas) Courier, October 31, 1975.
- [https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/kelly-bryant-11802/ Bryant, Kelly]. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved on October 23, 2019.
- Arkansas Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 3, 1964.
- Arkansas Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 5, 1968.
- Arkansas Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 3, 1970.
- Arkansas Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 7, 1972.
- Dan Durning (July 1973). The Climer Campaign: The Crusade Nobody Noticed. The Arkansas Advocate. Retrieved on October 23, 2019.
- “Secretary of State Dies of Cancer at 67; Was Serving His 7th Term,” The Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1975, pp. 1A, 3A.
- Elizabeth Sutton Bryant. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on October 23, 2019.