- Associated Press - Sunday, August 3, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - On an oddly cool summer evening recently, U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman stood on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and laughed as their staffs taunted each other over who was to blame for hitting a tourist with a softball.

Standing behind home plate, the two senators from Arkansas cheered and consoled as their staffs played their fourth annual softball game. Boozman’s staff, calling itself “Booze Your Daddy,” beat Pryor’s team, “The Naturals,” 15-14 to secure a homemade, golden hog-head trophy.

“I love John, and I have a lot of respect for him. I think one of the things we realized is it’s better for Arkansas if we work together,” Pryor, a Democrat from Little Rock, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1l9qpnk ). “I’ve developed a really good friendship with him over the last 12 years, and it’s been fun.”

Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, said it is important for the two to work together.

“I think we get along very, very well. The staffs get along very, very well. And that really goes back to when I was first elected to the House, and being a new congressman and really not having a lot of experience in the legislative process. Their staff was very, very nice,” Boozman said. “It’s just everybody working together when it came to Arkansas.”

That Pryor and Boozman boast about working together stands out in a U.S. Senate that has largely come to a standstill fewer than 100 days before the November election. Pryor faces U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton in a race seen nationally as one that will help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate.

Arkansas is one of 18 states represented by senators from two parties, as are Louisiana and Missouri. Other split delegations have more cantankerous relationships.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has objected to an advertisement by her Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, that called Murkowski and Begich “a great team for Alaska.”

Begich also faces a closely watched re-election bid and is running in a state that rarely sends Democrats to Capitol Hill. Murkowski said the ad was done without her consent.

“I just think he needs to run on his record - and not mine,” Murkowski told Politico, a Washington publication. “He’s running for office, and I want a Republican partner.”

In January, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told The New York Times that they couldn’t recall the last time they had an in-depth conversation.

“You know, we’re not best buds,” Johnson told the newspaper.

While some senators mingle during votes, those who linger in the chamber often cluster with members of their own party.

Some members of split delegations don’t acknowledge that the other senator from their state is in the room, but Pryor and Boozman can often be found sitting off to the side with their heads together.

“We sort of gravitate toward each other, and sometimes we’re talking about issues that we are working on about Arkansas and sometimes we’re talking about the Razorbacks, so it just depends,” Pryor said.

Boozman said it is a good chance to make sure nothing important to Arkansas is being missed.

“It’s the one time when you can see each other. There’s a lot of things going on in Arkansas regarding municipal projects, fish hatcheries, you name it,” Boozman said.

He said legislation has a better chance when the entire delegation supports it.

“When you can have a situation where I’m for it as a Republican and Sen. Pryor is for it as a Democrat and then bring the rest of the delegation on board, it’s a pretty powerful thing,” he said.

Pryor and Boozman said fighting between the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders hasn’t affected their relationship.

Arguments between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have repeatedly even reached the Senate floor.

“It’s not on our radar at all. We’re going to let the two leaders have their fights and have their moments, but for us, it’s about working for Arkansas. Keeping that focus brings us together,” Pryor said.

Boozman said most senators aren’t as partisan as it appears.

“I think both of us have a lot of good friends on both sides, and everybody is very cordial. It is frustrating because it is just difficult to get things done, and there’s blame on both sides, but right now we’ve got Sen. Reid just really not wanting to bring anything on the floor and allow amendments.”

Razorback football and friendly conversations aside, Boozman has endorsed Pryor’s opponent and said he will campaign for Cotton, a Dardanelle Republican. His political action committee, Arkansas for Leadership, contributed $2,500 to Cotton’s Senate campaign in September 2013.

Boozman said he and Pryor haven’t talked about his support for Cotton, but Boozman compared the situation to his 2010 race to unseat Blanche Lincoln.

“I was a good friend of Sen. Pryor’s then, and I felt like I was a good friend of Sen. Lincoln, but politics is just that way, and we just have differences of agreement as to the federal government and issues in Washington,” Boozman said. “That’s just the way it is, and I certainly had no ill feeling as a result of him doing what he thought was best for the country.”

Cotton’s campaign spokesman David Ray said while Pryor and Boozman get along, their voting records differ significantly.

“Senator Boozman is a very nice man who will work with anyone he has to in order to advance Arkansas’ interests,” Ray said.

Ray said Cotton appreciates Boozman’s support.

“We’re looking forward to campaigning with him this fall. When Tom is elected to the Senate in November, he and Senator Boozman will make a great team for Arkansas in the Senate that is committed to pushing back against the excesses of the Obama administration,” he said.

Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, said the friendly nature of the delegation’s relationship reflects Arkansas’ history.

“We’ve retained a traditional rural character and rural culture that also associates itself with collegiality,” he said. “That’s a reflection of the traditional Arkansas political culture, one that puts Arkansas first and to a certain extent subverts more partisan bents.”

Although Arkansas is no longer a one-party state, the political establishment is still tightknit, he said.

“If you are going to move and shake (so-to-speak) in Arkansas, you are going to be dealing with the same set of people,” he said. “It’s hard to demonize people you know. It’s just harder to do it.”

Former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, R-Ark., said Arkansas’ delegation has always gotten along regardless of its party makeup. He represented Arkansas in Congress for 26 years and was the first Republican congressman from the state since Reconstruction.

“We might not have voted alike; we still remained very cordial with each other,” he said.

Hammerschmidt, who has known Boozman and Pryor for years, said “that doesn’t surprise me a bit” that the two get along. He said their personalities contribute to them getting along and not being upset when they vote differently.

He compared Boozman and Pryor to how he and then-U.S. Sen. David Pryor, the current senator’s father, got along when they were in Washington.

“We didn’t vote alike many times, but we always remained good friends,” he said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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