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Welcome to Jay's world.

Republican Congressman Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff Is Adjusting to the Big Pond, but Is It Ready for Him?

AS A PINE BLUFF LAWyer in the 1980s, Jay Dickey had a tricky little inquisition for new clients.

Pointing to a picture of Jesus on the wall, he would ask, "Have you met my friend?"

Dickey, 53, readily admits that this religious probing alienated many of his treasured clients, colleagues and friends. Now he has stopped hugging strangers and asking if they've been saved. He's a member of Congress, a freshman Republican serving the state's 4th District and working to get re-elected.

But even with the Bible held behind his back, Dickey's unbridled intensity and blunt frontal approach persist.

"Aggravating people to death is just in Jay's nature," says Scott Hildebrand, a political professional who managed Dickey's campaign against Democrat Bill McCuen through the final two months.

Hildebrand certainly knew what he was getting into -- he was Dickey's third campaign manager, not including an interim replacement.

When Dickey surprised almost everyone by winning, Hildebrand says he left the state rather than seek a job in Dickey's Washington, D.C., office. Dickey says Hildebrand sought the chief of staff position but was turned down.

Jim Dornan, the Republican organization man who talked Dickey into making the race, seriously discussed becoming Dickey's chief of staff on Capitol Hill but demurred at the 11th hour, saying Dickey had no legislative agenda.

The most recent defection was Dan Greenberg, the press secretary who was Dickey's only carryover from the Arkansas campaign staff to go to D.C. He left Dickey's staff last month.

Greenberg won't comment on his departure.

"The people who work for me need to know what they are doing," Dickey says of his management style. "I'm impatient. If something is done wrong, I'm not going to say, 'We can talk about it later.'"

For the first two months of his term, Dickey has existed with a skeleton crew of seven, compared to an average House contingent of nine or 10 employees.

Call it the taco strategy.

Mexican Food Analogy

Dickey, a fast-food mogul in Pine Bluff in addition to his law practice, relates how he faced up to tough economic times by reducing the staff at one of his Taco Bell restaurants from 14 to six employees during the busiest shifts. It was tough, but it worked, he says.

The taco strategy has become a working metaphor for Dickey, although Congress is clearly more complex than Mexican takeout.

For one thing, when things get hectic, you cannot simply ignore the telephone. So who answers it?

Well, Dickey does, if it rings more than once. The message is that if the boss has to answer calls, the staff must be slacking off.

Dickey is trying to set his own house in order before spreading his efficiency crusade across Capitol Hill. His office is now preparing a bill to cut congressional expenses by 25 percent.

He has co-sponsored about 15 various bills and is working on the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Small Business committees. Dickey's chief of staff is Gene Bailey, a Deep South gentleman who served former President Bush as assistant secretary of agriculture for congressional affairs.

Bailey says any early problems are the typical fare for congressional freshmen, who must battle a logistical nightmare while trying to establish credibility.

But in another light, it looks like the Jay Dickey of old.

"He's kind of a taskmaster," says Dickey's ex-wife, Betty Poole, a lawyer working for the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

The two divorced in 1987 but have a cordial relationship.

"I know he was pretty hard to work for because I worked for him in his law office before I went to law school," she says.

Poole can't understand why Dickey ran for office in the first place. She is convinced he will be disappointed with the experience.

"He's more reclusive," she says. "He enjoys people, but not going to parties."

Dickey's solution is to get out of Washington whenever possible, flying home every weekend to rub elbows with the salt of the 4th District.

"I am convinced that there are more answers to the nation's problems at home than there are here," he says. "The people deserve this."

Poole, however, thinks he is leading an overly stressful schedule. "When Jay is dealing with a lot of stress, it's not he that breaks," she says. "It's the people who work under him."

A Strange Relationship?

The two have an unusual arrangement.

Poole is temporarily renting Dickey's Pine Bluff house on weekdays so she can take care of their high school-aged daughter, Rachel, and Dickey's dogs. On the weekends when Dickey arrives, Poole leaves to stay with friends.

Dickey even asked for her endorsement during the campaign. He got it eventually, although she refused to give him a photograph for newspaper advertisements.

"This is to some people a strange relationship," says Poole, who calls Dickey a good father and a friend.

Some say he is obsessed with power and does not listen well to the people around him. The campaign provided several examples of this stubborn streak.

Jeff Taylor was the first of three campaign managers sent to Dickey by the Republican National Congressional Committee.

In the end, he basically was ousted for explaining a press release to a reporter.

Dickey believed he had caught Democratic opponent Bill McCuen in the act of slander, although the comments were not made in public.

So Dickey ordered a very mysterious press release to be issued, encouraging reporters to question McCuen about what he had said.

Naturally, a reporter for the Pine Bluff Commercial called for a clarification. Taylor mistakenly obliged, explaining that McCuen's innuendo included allegations of a sexual nature, and of "several alleged bankruptcies."

Although Taylor clearly denied all the allegations to the newspaper, Dickey says the story seemed to reinforce rather than ridicule McCuen's statement.

"I realized then that Jeff was not in this game to help me, but to be visible," Dickey says.

Taylor was demoted and quickly left the campaign.

"Jay insisted on spending large amounts of time in the campaign headquarters, making very small, tactical decisions instead of strategy decisions," says Hildebrand, Taylor's eventual replacement.

"Jay would get very personally affronted by a plan that he didn't agree with. That would usually result in raised voices."

Dickey made his financial mark with successful Pine Bluff franchises of Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream and Taco Bell, but not all of his ventures worked out.

Business Failures

In the 1970s, Dickey invested in a chain of seven Danver's restaurants scattered across the state. The eateries faired poorly, and Dickey made his escape shortly before the chain became insolvent.

Dickey served as attorney for University of Arkansas at Fayetteville basketball coach Eddie Sutton during Sutton's 11 years with the Razorbacks. Dickey also acted as sports agent for former Razorback All-America basketball players Sidney Moncrief and Darrell Walker.

In the early '80s, Moncrief, Dickey and Sutton invested in a Pine Bluff racquetball center called Sports World. It quickly flopped, but the trio remained friends.

They are still partners in a real estate corporation that leases land to Baskin-Robbins franchises in the state.

"Jay Dickey is a quality human being," says Sutton, now the head basketball coach at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. "He is as honest a person as I've ever known, extremely loyal to the state, to his church."

A former Pine Bluff business associate of Dickey's holds a starkly contrasting view.

"He's the strangest human being I've ever been around," says the associate, who requested anonymity. "He's into control. He likes to hold the cards up close, then dole them out."

But Dickey says, "I am in control, when I'm around people that I feel need to be controlled. But if I'm around people like Debbie Barrow, who I've known for 13 years and is a part-time case worker in my Pine Bluff office, I feel like I can leave everything alone, lay down in the sunshine and go to sleep."

Many acquaintances say Dickey's spirituality could be the key to his behavior.

His late father, a powerful Pine Bluff lawyer, laid the cornerstone at First United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff.

During a Kiwanis Club meeting in 1970, Dickey experienced a fundamentalist transformation that made him more vocal in his religious views, peeving others in the congregation.

In 1978, he left the religion of his father's church to help found the charismatic New Life Baptist Church.

Dickey was giving witness to anyone who would listen.

After his divorce, Dickey went back to First Methodist so he could attend church with his children, but he kept his fundamentalist beliefs.

Dickey, for example, is said to be a big believer in the "traditional" patriarchal household.

His hard-line attitudes also extend to homosexuality.

Dickey on Dirt Roads

Dickey told Spy that no one in the 4th Congressional District would support lifting the ban on gays in the military.

"You know, we have a whole lot of dirt roads and gravel roads here in Arkansas," he was quoted as saying. "And you don't find a whole lot of tolerance for homosexuals on dirts roads."

That quote has drawn guffaws in offices all over the state, but Dickey is standing by it.

"I got that straight from Paul Harvey," he says. "He's always saying how America would be a better place if we had more dirt and gravel roads. You wouldn't have as many drive-by shootings or rapes."

One acquaintance refers to this type of statement as Dickey's "strange logic and bizarre juxtaposition of words."

Right now, thousands of 4th District Democrats and a few Republicans who worked to get Dickey elected may be asking themselves just how this fellow made it to Washington.

If they asked Dickey, he might smile and pull the Bible out from behind his back. Or, he might just say he flat-out earned it.

"He got elected in an environment that he shouldn't have," Hildebrand says. "He's going to have a real tough fight in '94."
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Title Annotation:religious beliefs and management style of legislator Jay Dickey
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 8, 1993
Words:1677
Previous Article:Two LR law firms operate in Washington: Clinton's presidency leads to greater opportunity in nation's capital.
Next Article:Homeward bound.
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