Home Politics David Pryor, former governor and senator of Arkansas, dies at 89

David Pryor, former governor and senator of Arkansas, dies at 89

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David Pryor, former governor and senator of Arkansas, dies at 89

Former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator David Pryor, a Democrat who was one of the state’s most beloved political figures and remained active in public service in the state long after leaving office, has died. He was 89 years old.

Pryor, who went undercover to investigate nursing homes while he was a congressman, died Saturday of natural causes in Little Rock surrounded by his family, his son Mark Pryor said. David Pryor survived a heart attack and stroke and was also hospitalized in 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I think it was a great model of public service. He was a great role model for politicians, but just for everyone in terms of how we should treat each other and how we can make Arkansas better,” said Mark Pryor, a former two-term Democratic U.S. senator.

David Pryor was considered one of the party’s giants in Arkansas, along with former President Bill Clinton and the late U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers. He also served in the United States House of Representatives and the Arkansas Legislature, and remained active in public life in recent years, including his appointment to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees in 2009. He also attended the inauguration of Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders in January 2023.

“David would be a fish out of water if he were out of public service,” Bumpers, who served 18 years with Pryor in the Senate, said in 2006. “It’s his whole life.”

In a statement Saturday, Clinton called Pryor “one of Arkansas’s most servant leaders and one of the best people I have ever known,” saying he “fought for progressive policies that helped us leave the divided past behind and move toward a brighter future.” together.”

“David made politics personal, from his famous retail campaign to his ability to calmly and confidently explain difficult votes to his constituents,” Clinton said. “He was honest, compassionate and full of common sense. He truly loved the people he represented and they loved him too.”

Another former Democratic governor of Arkansas, Mike Beebe, said Pryor, his “close personal friend and confidant,” was “exactly the kind of honest and pragmatic person you always need in public office.”

“His personal brand of down-home humor, quick wit and genuine warmth, combined with his deep knowledge, gave him the ability to pass progressive legislation that was so beneficial to our state,” Beebe said in a statement. “His top priorities for Arkansas first and focusing on the issues of our aging population and taxpayer reform endeared him to his colleagues and his constituents.”

Warm thoughts and condolences poured in Saturday from both sides of the political aisle.

Sanders mourned Pryor’s passing, saying his “charisma and moderate politics made him a force at the polls for decades.”

“While the senator and I come from different political parties, I, like all Arkansans, deeply appreciate his diligent stewardship of Arkansas and our interests during his time in public life,” Sanders said in a post on X, previously Twitter. “And we can all thank him for his role in burying the divisive racial politics that infected Arkansas government before his tenure.”

Sanders’ Republican predecessor as governor, Asa Hutchinson, called Pryor “the quintessential public servant.”

“He gave up other opportunities to serve Arkansas throughout his life and public debate was elevated because of his service,” Hutchinson wrote in X.

Arkansas Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton called Pryor “a true gentleman and statesman.”

“His example served and will continue to serve as an inspiration to our fellow Arkansans,” Cotton said.

Pryor, founder and editor of the weekly Ouachita Citizen, began his political career in 1960 with his election to the Arkansas House of Representatives. He served there until 1966, when he was elected to Congress after winning a special election for the United States House of Representatives.

During his time in the state House, Pryor earned a reputation as one of the “young turks” interested in reforming the state’s political system. Pryor said years later that the reforms he wanted did not come as quickly as he had dreamed of in his youth.

“I guess I was a young reformer at the time,” Pryor said in 2006. “I was going to change the world. “I wanted it to change overnight, but it didn’t.”

He experienced his first – and only – political defeat in 1972, when he challenged US Senator John McClellan’s bid for a sixth term in the Democratic primary. Pryor was able to force a runoff with McClellan, but lost by about 18,000 votes. It was a loss that affected Pryor decades later.

“After McClellan’s career, I abandoned politics, or politics abandoned me,” he wrote in his 2008 autobiography, “A Pryor Commitment.” “I didn’t care who was governor or president. I avoided reading the newspaper for months. “I just wanted to be left alone and, like General MacArthur, disappear quietly.”

Elected governor in 1974, replacing Bumpers, Pryor served four years before being elected to the United States Senate, where Pryor won passage of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 1988. He called for the legislation, which expanded the rights of citizens when dealing with the IRS, the “cornerstone” of his congressional career.

“I did not sponsor this bill to help Donald Trump or Lee Iacocca,” Pryor, who chaired the Finance Subcommittee on Internal Revenue Oversight, said at the time. “This is a bill that protects the average taxpayer.”

He also focused on helping the elderly and worked undercover while serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1966 to 1973 to investigate nursing homes. He said they usually found up to 15 beds in a room.

“Even now, I clearly remember the loneliness, abandonment, despair, anxiety and boredom – particularly boredom – of those cold, sterile homes,” he wrote. “Essentially human warehouses for seniors.”

Pryor decided not to seek re-election in 1996 and retired from elected office at the end of his term in early 1997.

But he remained active in public opinion and in politics. He served for two years as the inaugural dean of the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service, located next to the former president’s library in downtown Little Rock. He also temporarily chaired the state Democratic Party in 2008 after its chairwoman was shot to death in his office.

On the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, Pryor openly opposed a $160 million plan to expand Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2016 and criticized the “nuclear arms race” among college football programs.

Pryor and his wife, Barbara, had three children.

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