- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Mark Pryor was one of the youngest senators sworn in to the new 108th Congress yesterday, but youth has never been a handicap for a man born into a family of prominent Arkansas Democrats.

Just 27 years old when he was elected to the Arkansas State House of Representatives, Mr. Pryor was also the youngest serving state attorney general in the nation when he won that post in 1999.

Mr. Pryor son of former Sen. and Gov. David Pryor and grandson of Susie Newton Pryor, one of the state's first women to run for office after women were given the right to vote breezed to a comfortable eight-point victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson last November.

"I just try to look at each issue that comes down the pike and do what is best. The Congress right now is highly partisan, and that's not a good thing for the system," said Mr. Pryor, who took his Senate seat three days shy of his 40th birthday.

Mr. Pryor said he'd like to secure a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee because with an air base and arsenal in Arkansas, the military "is part of our economic agenda."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Pryor is positioning himself to be among the more hawkish senators in the Democratic Caucus. On the campaign trail, he supported giving President Bush authority to use force against Iraq, even if the president determined the United States must act without full U.N. support.

"I think it's best if we have an international coalition," Mr. Pryor said. "That worked well [in the Gulf war], and I think it will work well again, but I think it's important that America wait on no one if our national security is in jeopardy."

Mr. Pryor parts ways with the president's national security agenda most sharply at the development of a missile-defense program.

He seems to be following in the footsteps of his father, who opposed it when President Reagan first proposed it in the 1980s.

"I've never been a supporter of a missile-defense system because I've never been convinced that it works," Mr. Pryor said. While he supports "research" on missile defense, he said he opposes "a huge outlay of money for a system that might not work at all.

"I think that's unwise."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest corporate contributor to Mr. Pryor's campaign was the Council for a Livable World, an organization that calls itself "among the nation's pre-eminent arms-control organizations."

The group's political action committee gave $41,775 to Mr. Pryor, nearly four times the amount funneled to his campaign from the second-largest contributor, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Mr. Pryor said he could support Mr. Bush's desire for a permanent repeal of the estate tax and would also pursue tax cuts for small businesses. His campaign rhetoric of "targeted" cuts for "working families" suggests he might not be on board for Republican-backed broad income-tax reductions. He also supports an increase in the minimum wage.

Enacting tort reforms that will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and the hefty awards promises to be high on the president's agenda this year.

Mr. Pryor said that he voted for tort reform when he served in the Arkansas House, and that there are certain medical malpractice reform bills he can support, such as a bill that would protect the manufacturers of small pox vaccines. But it must contain "common sense" and not just be "blanket tort reform for pharmaceutical companies across the board," he said.

"That doesn't have anything to do with national security," Mr. Pryor said. "If [small pox vaccine developers] are harming children, and if the companies knew that going in, I think those children need their day in court."

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