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Clintons join in mourning for Ark. party leader

Posted on 3:26 PM by Sameer Shah

Former President Clinton and others remembered the slain chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party on Monday for his strength of character and the unity he brought to Democrats in the past two political seasons.

Clinton, in brief remarks at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, asked the hundreds of mourners to remember the times Bill Gwatney touched their lives.

``Somehow, we have to understand we can only keep him alive if the love we felt for him and the love he felt for us is somehow manifest in our lives,'' Clinton said. ``Make a list of what you were grateful for in Bill Gwatney's life.

``He was a better golfer than I was. I am not grateful for that,'' said Clinton, whose wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, also attended the service. ``But he seemed to genuinely like it if I hit a good shot, which is a sign of grace.''

Gov. Mike Beebe remembered Gwatney's help during the governor's successful 2006 race - part of a seven-race sweep by Democrats of Arkansas' seven statewide offices.

Gwatney, 48, was shot at the state Democratic headquarters on Wednesday by Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy. Police shot Johnson to death after a 30-mile car chase when Johnson raised his gun and pointed it at his pursuers.

Police do not know why Johnson shot Gwatney, who owned three General Motors car dealerships and was a state senator for 10 years before becoming the Democratic chairman last year.

Members of Arkansas' congressional delegation and more than two dozen current and former lawmakers who served with Gwatney in the Senate were among the mourners. Flags at the state Capitol flew at half-staff Monday in his honor.

Gwatney was supposed to be a superdelegate at next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver. He had supported Rodham Clinton but switched to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., after Clinton left the race.

Johnson owned at least 16 guns, had been prescribed an antidepressant and made a will before killing Gwatney, police said. After losing his job at a Target store in Conway on Wednesday for writing graffiti on a store wall, he drove more than 30 miles to the state Democratic headquarters near the state Capitol.

Also at Johnson's home, police found the name ``Gwatney'' and a telephone number written on a note.

Johnson's family released a statement Friday, saying the shooting was ``beyond our understanding'' and offering sympathy for Gwatney's loved ones.

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