Wilbur Daigh Mills
- May 2
), was a powerful Democratic
member of the United States House of Representatives
from the state of Arkansas
. He was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee
in the 1960s, and briefly a candidate for President of the United States
Youth and early political life
Mills was born in Kensett
in White County
to Abbie Lois Daigh Mills and Ardra Pickens Mills. Kensett was the first public school
in Arkansas to integrate, under Mills' father who was first superintendent and then chairman of the school board
and the banker for the school district. Mills attended public schools in Kensett but graduated as valedictorian
from Searcy High School
in the county seat of Searcy. He thereafter graduated from Hendrix College
. He studied constitutional law at Harvard University
in Cambridge, Massachusetts
, under Felix Frankfurter
, who was subsequently nominated and confirmed (1939) as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
. Mills was admitted to the bar in 1933.
Mills served as the 29th County Judge of White County, between 1935 and 1938, and began a county-funded program to pay medical bills, prescription drugs, and hospital treatment for the indigent.
Ways and Means Committee
Mills served in Congress from 1939 to 1977 and for eighteen years (1957-1975) was the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, a post he held longer than any other person in U.S. history. Mills was often termed "the most powerful man in Washington" during his tenure.
His accomplishments in Congress included playing a large role in the creation of the Medicare program. Mills initially had reservations about the program because he was worried about the eventual cost, but eventually shepherded it through Congress and had a large hand in shaping its program. Mills was also acknowledged as the primary tax expert in the Congress and the leading architect of the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Mills favored a conservative fiscal approach, adequate tax revenue to fund government programs, a balanced budget, and also supported various social programs, especially Social Security Disability, adding farmers to Social Security, unemployment compensation, and national health insurance.
Mills was drafted by friends and fellow Congressmen to make himself available as a candidate for President of the United States
in the 1972 in a few of the Democratic
primaries. To position himself to appeal to senior citizens during the 1972 presidential campaign, Mills championed the automatic Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) to Social Security
. He was not strong in the primaries and won thirty-three votes for president from the delegates at the 1972 Democratic National Convention which nominated Senator George McGovern
. His name was mentioned as a possible Secretary of Treasury
in a McGovern administration, but McGovern's resounding defeat by President Richard Nixon
made this moot.
Scandal and retirement
Mills was involved in a traffic incident on October 7
. His car, driven by a former Nixon staffer, was stopped by U.S. Park Police
late at night because the driver had not turned on the lights. Mills was intoxicated, and his face was cut from a scuffle with Annabelle Battistella, better known as Fanne Foxe
, a stripper from Argentina. When police approached the car, Foxe leapt from the car and jumped into the nearby Tidal Basin
. She was taken to St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital for treatment.
Despite the scandal, Mills was re-elected to Congress in November 1974 in a heavily Democratic year with nearly 60 percent of the vote, defeating the Republican Judy Petty. In December 1974, Mills, seemingly drunk, was accompanied by Fanne Foxe's husband onstage at The Pilgrim Theatre in Boston, a burlesque house where Ms. Foxe was performing. Soon after this second public incident, Mills stepped down from his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged his alcoholism, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and checked himself into Palm Beach Institute at West Palm Beach. He did not seek re-election in 1976, devoted his time to counseling individual alcoholics, and raising funds for alcoholic treatment centers, including one founded in his honor at Searcy, Arkansas, the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcohol and Drugs. He also became affiliated as of counsel with Washington office of the New York political powerhouse law firm Shea & Gould. He was succeeded by Jim Guy Tucker.
Wilbur Mills died in Searcy. He is buried at Kensett Cemetery in Kensett.
Various schools, highways, and other structures in Arkansas are named for Mills, particularly in White County.
- Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School in Sweet Home, Pulaski County, Arkansas
- Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Searcy, Arkansas
- Wilbur D. Mills Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River
- Wilbur D. Mills Freeway in Little Rock, Arkansas (Interstate 630)
- Wilbur D. Mills Avenue in Kensett, Arkansas
- Wilbur D. Mills Park in Bryant, Arkansas
- Wilbur D. Mills Building, Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas
- Two Wilbur D. Mills Endowed Chairs on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, University of *Arkansas Medical Science Campus
- Wilbur D. Mills Education Services Cooperative, Beebe, Arkansas
- Mills Park Road, Bryant, Arkansas
- Mills Street, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas
Sculptures of Mills are located at:
- Arkansas State Capitol
- Hendrix College, Mills Building, Mills Congressional Office Replica
- Mills University Studies High School, Sweet Home, Arkansas
- Wilbur Mills Treatment Center, Searcy, Arkansas
- Boswell Law Office, Bryant, Arkansas
- Kay Goss Office, Alexandria, Virginia
- John F. Kennedy Park, Greers Ferry Lock and Dam, Heber Springs, Arkansas