LITTLE ROCK, ARK.
DEREK STRAW, Ricky Mosley, and Louis Perry founded an auto detailing business last February by pooling their paychecks. The black entrepreneurs say their company has never dipped into the red and is growing quickly.
Another thing the partners agree on: "Clinton is one of the best governors we've had," Mr. Straw says. He appreciates Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's readiness to accept invitations to speak at Straw's church. "He'll do anything for you."
That responsiveness is also cited by Charles Pearson, a businessman and counselor for homeowners behind on their payments: "We need [a president] we can communicate and share problems with. Personally, I will support Governor Clinton 100 percent. I think he's the best candidate running."
Mr. Pearson displays a list of Blacks (including himself) appointed to public posts by Clinton - more than 300, up to half of them women. They serve on a slew of commissions, task forces, steering committees, and advisory councils that deal with topics ranging from the negligible to big-dollar items like highways, banking, insurance, and real estate. Pearson says such appointments enable communication between state agencies and the black community.
Clinton "has made a conscious effort to reach out, but he has also looked for qualified people," says Mahlon Martin, president of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which promotes education and economic development in Arkansas.
Mr. Martin recalls meeting Clinton at a reception in 1983 when Martin was city manager of Little Rock. He was shocked a few days later when that casual encounter led to a job offer.
Without really knowing Clinton, Martin agreed to become the state's chief financial officer and served six years in the cabinet-level post.
"I'm not naive enough to think my race had nothing to do with it," Martin says, but he adds that Clinton never treated him like a token.
According to his campaign, at least half of Clinton's staff has been female and 25 percent African-American throughout his 12-year tenure.
The governor initiated several programs that increased minority employment and state spending with minority contractors.
The candidate said recently that equal opportunity and racial equality were the principles he would fight for to the very end.
"Clinton has a particular sensitivity to equal opportunity," says John Brummett, political editor of the Arkansas Times. "It's embedded in him."