FAYETTEVILLE -- Government no longer responds to voters but to well-funded, dogmatic interests, former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor told an audience of more than 100 at a lunch meeting Friday.
"People are frustrated with government because they feel nobody in it listens to them," said Pryor, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid in 2014. "Guess what? Nobody is listening to them."
President Donald Trump tapped into that frustration, Pryor said. Whatever you think of his politics, Trump addressed a hunger in many voters to be relevant and heard again, Pryor told those attending the Political Animals Club of Northwest Arkansas. Trump was an outlet for those voters' frustration, he said.
"All over this country, there are small towns with plants that have closed down and jobs that have been lost," Pryor said. There are real problems to be addressed, he said.
"But if a member of Congress tries to address those problems and deviates from the party line in any way, you face a very strong risk of having an opponent in the next party primary who is better funded than you are."
Pryor, 54, a former state legislator, was Arkansas attorney general from 1999 to 2002. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, serving two terms, from 2003 to 2015. Republican Tom Cotton defeated Pryor. He works at a Washington-based law firm, Venable LLP, where he is a partner.
"The system we have is very corrupt," Pryor said, not in the traditional sense of crooked politicians stealing from the public, but from campaign finance barring voters from having any meaningful say.
Pryor mentioned one exception to the rule of congressmen cowed from representing their district or state by name: Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers, a Republican who represents Northwest Arkansas' 3rd District.
"I have known Steve since he was the mayor of Rogers, and he is really in touch with the values of his district," Pryor said. "If Steve ever decides not to run for the House again, that's a bad sign."
Hoyt Purvis, who served as foreign and defense policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd before leaving Washington in 1982, was in the audience Friday. He said Pryor had the right idea.
Both parties need to "find a way back to the middle, but it is going to be tough. It is a long, long way for either of them," said Purvis, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Pryor recalled he was in the Senate when the Citizens United ruling was made. The 2010 Supreme Court decision allowed interest groups to spend freely in campaigns without revealing their donors.
"It allowed unlimited, secret money to be spent in campaigns. Campaign money should never be unlimited or secret," he said.
Only the Supreme Court can fix the situation, the former senator said. Campaign finance cases come before the court regularly, giving it renewed chances to review and reconsider its decision, he said.
The Democratic Party is out of power, which means it is much more likely to at least consider taking the necessary steps to regain it by appealing more to voters, Pryor said. The Democrats should give their candidates more leeway to veer from a straight party line so they can represent the interests of his or her district or state, he said.
"Liberals need to give everyone some elbow room," he said.
NW News on 10/21/2017
Print Headline: Voter frustration is real, Pryor says