November 2002 held firsts for Arkansans Mark Pryor and Asa Hutchinson: Pryor was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Arkansan to win a Senate seat once held by his father, and Hutchinson was nominated as one of the first undersecretaries in the new federal Department of Homeland Security.
This Page 1 of the Nov. 6 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Mark Pryor, then the state’s attorney general, won against incumbent Tim Hutchinson, Asa’s brother and a Republican who had served in the Senate since 1997.
The race had drawn national attention as one of the contests that would determine which political party gained control of the Senate, which then consisted of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two independents. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Bill Clinton had campaigned for the Arkansas rivals.
Pryor’s father, David H. Pryor, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, serving continuously until retiring from the post in 1996. Tim Hutchinson, who ran against Democratic rival Winston Bryant, then won the seat. David Pryor had also served four years as governor, six years in the U.S. House and six years as a state legislator.
He had returned to politics to campaign for his son, and reporter Michael Rowett’s front-page article told readers that “the elder Pryor crisscrossed the state … needling Hutchinson to the point the senator complained he was running against both Pryors.”
In his concession speech, Tim Hutchinson, who had served in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate, said he would “end a decade in Washington and in Congress with a very full heart and absolutely no regrets.”
On election night, Mark told Arkansans “this is your victory,” and promised to continue his father’s legacy, pointing to the “Arkansas Comes First” sign his father had kept on his desk.
With the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, still haunting the nation, President Bush had encouraged Congress to pass the Homeland Security Act, which was approved by both the Senate and the House in the November “lame duck” session. Bush signed it into law on Nov. 25.
The new law outlined the formation of a federal Department of Homeland Security with a Cabinet-level secretary.
Democrat-Gazette reporter Kevin Freking noted on Nov. 26 that the new federal department “merges 22 federal agencies into one 170,000-employee department” and was the largest reordering of the federal government since 1947.
Asa Hutchinson, who in 2002 directed the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, was nominated by President Bush as the undersecretary in charge of the border and transportation security division under Tom Ridge, the new department’s secretary. Asa Hutchinson’s division was reportedly the largest, with more than 100,000 employees under his leadership.
Asa Hutchinson served in the Department of Homeland Security until 2005. He would later be elected governor of Arkansas, serving in that capacity from 2015 to present.
— Jeanne Dahl
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