Columns » John Brummett

Mark Pryor's rightward plunge

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Mark Pryor is the luckiest politician in Arkansas and now he apparently also is the most nervous. 

His good fortune began at birth by which inherited the most valuable surname in Arkansas politics. 

It was unfair of that Republican operative to say that time that Mark would be working at Taco Bell without his last name. Instead he would be working as a lawyer at Wright Lindsey Jennings in Little Rock and maybe preaching at the interdenominational church.

Then Pryor got elected to the U.S. Senate by ousting a religious-right Republican who had squandered his base by getting a divorce and embracing a new sweetheart.

Then Pryor got re-elected in 2008 without any Republican opposition whatsoever. That was because the GOP saw no point in wasting effort to take on a Democratic senator in Arkansas while a quasi-favorite daughter of the state, Hillary Clinton, was atop the Democratic ticket as the presidential nominee.

Between the time the Republicans gave Pryor the free ride and the Democrats nominated a candidate for president, Hillary Clinton had been defeated by a man whose "otherness," to use a politically gentle and sanitizing term, relegated him to a mere 39 percent of the vote in other-averse Arkansas.

That "otherness" would prove such a drain on the state's second Democratic U.S. senator, Blanche Lincoln, that she would get drubbed by 20 points two years later. Pryor's people could be heard saying the key to successful politics was being on the ballot in the right year.

Pryor, who got cancer and fundamentalist religion along the way, always has leaned to the considerable right of his father and to the more-distant right of his mother. 

Now he positively plunges in that direction, somewhat imaginatively, actually, strongly suggesting that his natural leanings have been accelerated by fear of the Republican sweep that took place in his state a few weeks ago and presumably could threaten him four years hence when he ventures back to the ballot.

It is beginning to appear, in fact, that Pryor and John Boozman may be able to work in a single-minded senatorial tandem reminiscent of that of Pryor's father and Dale Bumpers in the '80s and '90s.

I refer to two issues to arise in this lameduck session of Congress.

First is whether to repeal the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy on homosexuality. A Pentagon report issued this week will say that most troops do not care about sexual orientation and that the problems of openly gay service would be isolated and minimal.

Most Democrats will support repeal, but Pryor intends to go Republican on this one. 

He says times are changing and that attitudes toward gays will soften, but that, for now, he worries about how a military chaplain might be affected if he must accept the open practice of something he preaches to be a sin.

Of course a chaplain might find fornication to be a sin even as someone in the military had committed it. He is entitled to preach as he wishes. But he is not entitled to deny all fornicators the right to serve the country in the military. Thank goodness.

The second issue is whether to allow children of illegal immigrants who go into our military or who successfully complete two years of college to be put on a path to citizenship. Pryor, nearly alone among Senate Democrats, says that is wrong because these youngsters getting college benefits would be taking money that might go to natural-born citizen children. 

By that reasoning we should stop educating these illegal immigrants' youngsters in our public elementary and secondary schools.

I would challenge Pryor to take that position except that, considering his current state of nervousness and his current rate of Republicanization, I am concerned he might just do it.

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