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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David Pryor, June 13, 1974. Interview A-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moderate southern Democrats

Pryor notes the recent rise of the Democratic Party in Arkansas and his hopes for a greater role for the South in national Democratic politics. As of 1976, a functioning Democratic Party did not exist in Arkansas—"we never even had a telephone," Pryor claims—except as it was embodied by Orval Faubus. Republican Winthrop Rockefeller's governorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s energized Democrats, but also remade them as more moderate, as they scrambled to reclaim control of the state. Pryor hopes that this new moderation will give Arkansas and the New South a voice in national politics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David Pryor, June 13, 1974. Interview A-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
We'll assume, for the sake of questioning. . . Do you plan to take an active role as head of the Democratic party?
DAVID PRYOR:
In the state of Arkansas?
JACK BASS:
Right.
DAVID PRYOR:
Well, of course, to be very factual, and this is being published in 1976 unknown to be very honest with you, I've never known quite what the state Democratic party was or is in this state. It's only in the last four or five years that we've even had an office or a filing cabinet. For years we never had even a telephone or a secretary. It was run by whoever the governor said is state Democratic secretary. And we just kept it, it was just there. . . . I mean, when I say it was there, it was. . . . Every two years we held a state convention. We had no political party. We have developed, to a degree, a political party and a structure since Rockefeller. But it's not a political party per se as you would think of in any other state.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Was the Democratic party essentially a Faubus party until 1966?
DAVID PRYOR:
Right. And the Republican party came about because of an anti-Faubus sentiment.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Right. And our reading of the Republican party was that it was a Rockefeller party. Been out for four years. It literally died when he died. It went because of lack of money and name and so on. The principal impact of it was the reform of the Democratic party in the sense that it started to elect moderate candidates or, maybe in a sense, that it started to elect anti-Faubus candidates. Is that a pretty fair reading of what's happened here?
DAVID PRYOR:
In other words, the Democratic party finally emerged as a party during the Rockefeller years.
WALTER DE VRIES:
It was reformed or [unclear] .xs
DAVID PRYOR:
It was not quite reformed because it was nothing to reform. It, I would say, was born during the Rockefeller years. And it's going to be very hard. . . just as the Republican party has died, it's going to be very hard to keep the Democratic party alive. Because to remain alive and viable you've got to have a good opponent. You've got to have something to be against. And right now we talk about the Republicans being a great menace or something like that, and really they're not a great menace. We might can run against Richard Nixon this fall or talk about how bad Watergate is, but that's the only real thing we have going for us. Now you can't talk about Rockefeller because he's dead now and he's gone and he's respected. [As goes the way with most politicians], you die, you come off at a good perspective. We don't have an enemy to keep us alive and going. We don't have a battle ground.
WALTER DE VRIES:
But the moderate wing of the Democratic party, if you want to call it that, has been strengthened at least by two victories in 1970 and '74 over Faubus. Is that right?
DAVID PRYOR:
That's absolutely true.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Okay. So in a sense it is stronger, in the last four years, than it was in the period before that.
DAVID PRYOR:
Absolutely. As a party. With party machinery and with county conventions, elected delegates to the state convention and this sort of thing. Yes.
JACK BASS:
Would you like to see any change in the status of the Democratic party? Would you like to see it become stronger as a political party?
DAVID PRYOR:
In Arkansas?
JACK BASS:
In Arkansas.
DAVID PRYOR:
Well, to be honest with you, I would like to see the Arkansas Democratic party become more active on the national level, in national politics. It has been a separate, independent entity. Kind of divorced, basically, from the national party or any national problems or what ever. I think we could do a lot more about making our state party more nationally oriented. And the people say "Well, the Democratic party nationally is too liberal. And they've got the Humphreys and a few of those guys up there running the thing." The reason they have is the state parties have not activated themselves, you know, enough in the national party structure. I think we've moved to that degree in some way. We've moved that way to some extent, but I think we can do more.
WALTER DE VRIES:
You want to get more of a presidential party, or at least more in tune with the national Democratic presidential party.
DAVID PRYOR:
I want it to have more input in national Democratic politics as far as platform, as far as chosing a candidate for president, as far as making the real, concerted, concentrated effort to become an advocate for middle America and what you might call the New South and all like this, which would be, I think, a voice of neither conservatism or liberalism. A voice of moderation. Down the middle. That's where the votes are and that's where the people are and where the problems are. And I think the state Democratic party, not only here but all across the South, will do this. I think we've got to if we're going to elect a Democratic president even in 1976. A lot of people say "Oh man, we've got it made in '76" but I don't know who we have it made with. We can't sell Ted Kennedy here at this stage. Oh, I better not. . . . But it will be very hard to sell a Kennedy here in this state.