Mark Pryor was a Democratic senator from Arkansas from 2003 to 2015 and the Arkansas Attorney General from 1999 to 2003. He currently works with Venable, a large lobbying and law firm. The Penn Political Review talked with Senator Pryor about his experiences in the Senate, the ways in which his family has influenced his political career, and his thoughts on the 2016 elections.
PPR: Before getting into politics, you were in private practice. Can you tell me about why you chose to become a lawyer, and how that affected your political career?
Senator Pryor: My father was a lawyer. Several of his good friends were lawyers. I always liked the law and history. It is a good base education for a lawmaker. Obviously, not a requirement, but when you are making laws, it is good to know a little about the law. When I was in the state legislature, they put me on the Judiciary Committee. I served as Arkansas’s Attorney General for 4 years. In the Senate, the law degree was very helpful.
PPR: Your father had previously held the Senate seat that you held, and actively campaigned for you when you were running. How has his influence and support, as well as the influence and support of the rest of your family, impacted your career?
Senator Pryor: I don’t think I would ever have been in politics if my family had not been. My grandfather, great grandfather and great-great grandfather were all Sheriffs of Ouachita County (Camden, Arkansas). My grandmother, Susie Pryor, was the first woman in Arkansas to run for public office. My father, David Pryor was in the state House, US House, Governor’s Mansion, and the US Senate for a total of 34 years.
PPR: During your time in the Senate, you worked a great deal on issues related to veterans’ services–can you describe why those issues are important to you and how you chose to work on the legislation that you did?
Senator Pryor: I appreciate our veterans. I am not a veteran, but I think it takes someone special to put on the uniform and put their lives on the line for their country and their ideals. We do a lot for them, but there are gaps and I tried to fill those gaps. This also is an example of what is special about the Senate–I was never on the Veterans Committee and I offered several bills and amendment to help our vets. The Senate rules allow us to do that and we need to protect the institution of the Senate.
PPR: You also were known to have great constituent services and to have brought a great deal of money back to Arkansas to help build infrastructure there. How has your commitment to your community influenced your political career?
Senator Pryor: I am a little old school on this. I believe that Senators and Congressmen represent the people who elected them. So I represented Arkansas. That was my job. I didn’t represent the Democratic Party or just the people who voted for me. I wasn’t there to support or oppose a president. Arkansas has infrastructure needs so I tried to help. Some Arkansans need assistance in navigating the maze of federal government, so I tried to help. That is the way our system is designed to work and it works well, if we let it work as designed. Too many politicians today care more about their party and their own re-election. Good government is good politics – and if you govern well, the politics usually take care of themselves.
PPR: After the Senate, you returned to private practice. Do you think you’ll ever be interested in reentering public service? If so, in what way? If not, why not? Where do you see your career headed?
Senator Pryor: I like being back in the private sector. I am not sure at this point if I will ever run again. I loved doing it and I was able to get a lot of good things done. It was a huge honor. Only time will tell.
PPR: In 2008, you supported Hillary Clinton. Do you have any comments on her current run, and the broader Democratic field? Do you plan to get involved with the election?
Senator Pryor: I think Hillary Clinton will be our next president. When I was in the Senate, we served together for 6 years and she was the best Senator in the Senate. We sat side-by-side on the Armed Services Committee. Very smart, very prepared, good staff, asked great questions. Going in, many of the Republican Senators hated her because the party had made her out to be a horrible person during her years as First Lady. Once elected, she got to work and they all had tremendous respect for her. In fact, she passed a lot of bipartisan legislation through the Senate. She received a 94-2 vote for Secretary of State, so that will give you some indication of how the people who worked with her felt about her. Yes, I will help her in 2016.