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Arkansans Hit D.C. in Festive Mood

By Amy KaslowStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 20, 1993



WASHINGTON

THEY arrived in droves. By plane, train, and just about every kind of automobile, President Clinton's Arkansas loyalists have come to Washington to revel in their hometown boy's success.

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"This is the celebration of a lot of work," says Sheila Galbraith Bronfman, leader of the Arkansas Travelers, a group of 400 volunteers who donated time, money, and vocal chords to campaign across the country for Mr. Clinton.

Back in August 1991, a confident Ms. Bronfman made 100 reservations for this week at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel, just blocks from the White House. The Sheraton, the historic Hotel Washington (whose majority of guests have renamed it the Hotel Arkansas), and scores of other establishments are jammed with Arkansans.

They are easy to spot. Some have VIP badges around their necks, most wear Clinton buttons, and almost all sport Arkansas state pins.

"Washington has opened up its arms to Arkansans," says Mark Stodola, who is a prosecuting attorney in Little Rock, Ark. "There are 12,000 of us here, and it's a nonstop celebration."

Most of the Arkansas Travelers made it to Washington for the inaugural festivities. From morning to midnight, they have been hoofing to receptions, dinners, and parties in their honor. "It's a real payoff," Bronfman says.

"No one knew about Arkansas before. People used to ask us when we were going to pave our roads, or whether our schoolchildren wore shoes. Suddenly we're the toast of the town," she adds.

In Washington society this week, bureaucratic blue suits are overshadowed by boots and blue jeans. Formal parties with canapes and ice sculptures are outnumbered by oyster-shuckin', feet-tappin', Ozark music affairs.

While the required "business attire" was a bit more formal at the Arkansas State Society inaugural gala where the president elect's brother, Roger Clinton, played with his band "Politics," no engraved invitation was needed, only a valid Arkansas driver's license.

This town is working hard to cater to Razorback tastes. There are the exclusive Washington restaurants whose French chefs have added chicken fried steak and catfish gumbo to their menus. And chic art galleries downtown are featuring Arkansas creations from country crafts to political cartoons.

But the greatest pleasure, says Ann Henderson, executive director of the Arkansas Transit Association, is when people in the nation's capital compliment her on her accent. "Whenever I hear that I say,`Well, honey, you better git used to it!' "