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story.lead_photo.caption Former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor in Philadelphia

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 people 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 people 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 in Fayetteville.

"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, who is now a partner at Washington-based law firm, Venable LLP.

"The system we have is very corrupt," Pryor said, adding that it is not corrupt in the traditional sense of crooked politicians stealing from the public, but because campaign financing bars most voters from having any meaningful say.

Pryor recalled he was in the U.S. Senate when the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which dealt with the regulation of campaign spending by organizations.

That ruling "allowed unlimited, secret money to be spent in campaigns," he said. "Campaign money should never be unlimited or secret."

Only the Supreme Court can fix the situation, the former senator said. Campaign finance cases go before the court regularly, giving it renewed chances to review and reconsider its decision, he said.

Pryor mentioned by name one exception to the rule of congressmen being cowed from representing their districts or states: 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 Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., 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.

The Democratic Party is out of power, which means it is much more likely to at least consider taking the necessary steps to appeal to more 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 their districts or states, he said.

"Liberals need to give everyone some elbow room," he said.

Metro on 10/21/2017

Print Headline: Ex-senator cites voter frustration

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