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Former Senator Mark Pryor spoke at Penn on Tuesday night.

Credit: Connor Augustine

Even with Yom Kippur services and a papal visit, Penn had room for one more visit from a high-profile guest.

On Tuesday night, the Government and Politics Association brought former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to speak at Penn. More than 100 students listened to Pryor, who lost his seat in the U.S. Senate in the past election cycle, discuss the partisanship sweeping across the country.

“Senator Pryor is a rare breed; he is a Southern Democrat. But, there was great attendance, strong questions and we are very happy with the way it turned out,” said Wharton senior Brian Goldman, the GPA vice president of external affairs.

Pryor fielded questions about how he thinks the U.S. political system can be fixed.

“The system is broken, and we have to fix it,” Pryor said while discussing campaign finance reforms. “The problem is not with the campaigns. The problem is that there is so much money out there floating through organizations that voters have no clue about.”

Pryor’s comment was eerily similar to one he made in his farewell speech after losing his Senate seat to then-Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “As great an institution as the Senate is, the Senate is broken, and the American people know it,” Pryor said in the speech last December. “But the rules aren’t the problem around here,” he continued. “We’re the problem. All 100 of us.”

Pryor was part of the 113th U.S. Congress, which enacted 13 more laws than the 112th U.S. Congress, which was dubbed “the least productive Congress in modern history,” according to the Pew Research Center.

“So what can the Democrats learn from 2014?” a student asked, referencing the Democratic Party’s large losses in the Senate, which gave the Republican Party control of both the House and Senate. After taking control of the House and Senate on the back of President Obama’s historic victory in 2008, the Democrats lost more than 70 House seats and 9 Senate seats by 2014.

“Obama was definitely a factor [in 2014],” Pryor said. “The President is immensely unpopular in some parts of the country, especially Arkansas.”

“We just need to get back to being Democrats, a party of the masses. This is a perfect opportunity to make America great again,” he added.

GPA decided to bring Pryor to campus because of his background as a Southern Democrat who worked on several bipartisan bills during his tenure in Congress. “We are Penn’s largest political group, but we are also one of the few nonpartisan groups,” GPA president and College junior Sarah Simon said. “Our goal this year and mission as a club is to increase GPA’s size and diversity, especially political diversity.”

“The nation is polarized, and we need to fix that,” Pryor said in one of his concluding comments. “Unfortunately, there are politicians that are afraid that working on bipartisan legislation will cost them what would have been a guaranteed reelection. That mentality has to change if we ever want to get anything done.”

It might be starting to change at Penn. Wharton freshman Patrick Lobo, who heads one of the newest political groups, Penn for Trump, said he was interested in hearing what Pryor had to say.

“I do plan on attending the event, if I can get all my work done,” Lobo said.

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