Though he’s served in Washington, D.C. for the past 14 years, U.S. Sen. John Boozman returns to Arkansas just about every week, keeping himself up-to-date on what’s going on in his home state.
Boozman, who grew up in Fort Smith and lives in Rogers, served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for Arkansas’ third congressional district. In 2010, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In 2016, Boozman, a Republican, is seeking re-election. He faces central Arkansas businessman Curtis Coleman in the Republican primary on March 1. Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former U.S. attorney, is also running for the seat.
On Dec. 18, calling it a “setback,” Boozman voted against the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016, a $1.8 trillion tax and spending bill, which Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed.
“This bill does little to provide regulatory relief for Arkansas farmers, small businesses and community banks, while continuing to fund the worst of the Obama administration’s overreach,” he said in a statement.
“There are a number of provisions in the bill that I support because they will help Arkansans, including the repeal of Country-of-Origin-Labeling, funding for the Delta Regional Authority and delaying the implementation of Obamacare’s taxes. The bill also permanently extends Section 179 of the tax code, extends bonus depreciation for five years and includes the Timber Revitalization and Economic Enhancement Act. These provisions will provide certainty and incentivize small businesses to make investments and expand. Unfortunately, the irresponsible spending outweighs the good in the bill.”
AMP recently spoke to Boozman by phone from his Washington, D.C. office about his work in Congress, the upcoming campaign and more.
AMP: You’ve served in Congress for 14 years and have been in the Senate since 2010. What have been some the highlights?
Boozman: I’ve been very active on the [U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs], was very active on the Transportation [& Infrastructure] Committee in the House, and, now in the Senate through the [Committee on Appropriations], very active in foreign affairs. There’s just a variety of different avenues of trying to help the people of Arkansas.
When I was elected, I visited with [former] Congressman [John Paul] Hammerschmidt and asked him about committees and things. The reason that I selected the committees that I did is that it’s about building infrastructure. The VA committee is about helping people, which is so very important, and foreign affairs is about policy. All of those are important things.
In the Senate, we’re on a number of different committees, including being on the [U.S. Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry], which is such an important part of our state. The appropriations committee controls the spending in Congress, so that’s not only important for our state, it’s important for our country.
We were able to pass the first [long-term] highway bill since 2005, the longest since 1998. It’s a five-year bill and it’s paid for. I would argue that one of the reasons we’re the great country that we are and the leader in commerce that we are is because of our ability to move goods and services through our infrastructure.
We were able to pass the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which includes the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, which has to do with the medical standards of pilots. That’s part of my bill that was included in that bill. That’s important to general aviation.
We passed the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which was my bill to help homeless veterans. We have a situation where if you’re a homeless veteran, once they give you some shelter you lose all of your benefits because you’re not homeless anymore. That makes no sense. The GI Bill Fairness Act was also part of my bill and it had to do with making sure National Guard and reserves in combat are eligible for the same GI bill benefits that their active-duty counterparts are eligible for.
I’m very proud of just being in a situation of being very active helping the state and the country by getting a lot of things done. We’re really proud of our constituent services. We work really hard to do that and to use the power of the office for good. Our constituent services help people with various problems — Social Security difficulties, veterans problems, visa problems, you can almost name it. That’s so important and that’s something we really concentrate on and work very hard to do.
AMP: Why did you decide to seek re-election?
Boozman: I decided to seek re-election for the same reason that I ran for an office in the beginning. That was on the [Rogers School Board]. I had three daughters in public school and just felt like I could contribute. We were blessed to have great public schools in the area that I was living. I wanted to make sure that we continued to have that. So I felt like I had the abilities and resources to be able to contribute in that manner. As a result of that, I just jumped in.
AMP: Are you surprised to be facing an opponent, Curtis Coleman, in the Republican primary?
Boozman: No. I have had several [primaries] through the years. I’ve been blessed that I’ve always been successful. That’s what it’s all about — people voicing their opinions as to how they would do things. That’s part of the process.
AMP: What will your campaign be like?
Boozman: It will be like it always has been in the sense that we’ll work very hard getting our message out. If you do your job and do your best to take care of the people of Arkansas, both in the state and in Washington, that’s really what I’ve focused on since I’ve been in Washington. The key is getting out on the campaign stump, visiting with people and answering questions, and having the resources to let them know what we believe on various issues. The average person that’s working so hard to make a living, they’ve got better things to do than to know these things before an election. They will be focused at some point.
Now, we’re in a situation, because of Paris and the [San Bernardino, California] incident, that has really shown that the world is vulnerable to Islamic extremism. The No. 1 thing that we need to do is protect national security. That’s so important. That’s something that we’re focusing on now, but something we’ve focused on for a long time, particularly after 9/11. That’s why we’ve been blessed to not have a whole series of these incidents.
The other thing that is so vital is the economy. You can be concerned about lots of different things, but if you can’t make a living wage and if you can’t take care of your family and yourself, all of these other things are pretty unimportant. [We are] focusing on trying to get rid of the regulation that’s coming out of the Obama administration — whether it’s Obamacare; the various environmental regulations that they’re trying to put on us that would dramatically increase our energy rates or the price of electricity in Arkansas; the Waters of the United States rule; the Dodd-Frank rules that hamper our bankers and the ability to get small business loans. All of those things are important to making sure we have a situation where businesses, particularly small businesses, are wiling to hire people and expand their businesses.
AMP: Former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, who is running for the seat as a Democrat, said anyone who’s been in Congress as long as you have bears some of the responsibility for the budget issues. What is your comment?
Boozman: I have always been a sponsor of the balanced-budget amendment. I’ve worked really hard to get that done. I think that’s the answer. A balanced-budget amendment at the federal level, just like we have in the state of Arkansas and throughout the rest of the states, sadly, the Democrats have blocked that at every step of the way. The deficit has just skyrocketed and will be around $20 trillion when [President Obama] leaves office, which is almost unimaginable amount of money.
AMP: In their campaigns, your opponents are touting the idea of change or a fresh perspective. How will that affect you, with your experience in Washington?
Boozman: You want somebody that is proven, that has worked hard for the state, that hasn’t said one thing in Arkansas and come to Washington and done something else. I think that we’ve worked really hard to represent the state with a conservative aim. Really, [we’re] just trying to work hard to roll back some of regulatory burden that we’ve got and make it such that we have an economy that’s able to grow without the wet blanket of all the Obama regulation that’s being put upon it.
AMP: How do you describe yourself as a Republican?
Boozman: I am fiscally conservative Republican and a socially conservative Republican.
AMP: How do you view the Democratic Party in Arkansas? Do you think Republicans will hold long-term control?
Boozman: I think we, as Republicans in Arkansas and throughout the country, need to remember that the people elected us not necessarily because they liked Republicans, but they wanted change. They were very concerned about the direction of the state, and, at a national level, very concerned about the direction of the country. We’re in a position to make changes and to lead. As long as the Republican Party does a good job of providing that leadership, of providing an atmosphere where business can flourish, keeping taxes at a minimum, keeping government out of people’s lives to a minimum. Certainly, we need government, in the sense of basic protections, but keeping it to a minimum. Then, Republicans will continue to control things.
AMP: How do you make sure that you keep up-to-date with what’s going on in Arkansas?
Boozman: When I’m in Washington, I see lots of people from Arkansas that have various concerns. I’m home almost every week, some place in Arkansas, not necessarily in my own bed, but throughout the state visiting with people. I’m constantly trying to interact — whether it’s with our hospitals or our businesses, people that are serving in the military, veterans — all of the various groups, making sure that we understand what the issues are. We have seven offices throughout the state that are strategically located so people can get to us in a reasonable drive from where they live. Staffers are members of the community. We have a staff meeting at least once every week, and I’m constantly getting feedback from staffers out in the communities. If someone takes the time to email me a personal note or write me a letter, I read almost all of those and many times will jot a little note as we return the answer to their question, and say thanks for your thoughts and try to address the problem.
AMP: Top Senate Republicans have expressed concern about you retaining your seat. What happened with that?
Boozman: We have a senatorial committee that’s the campaign arm of the Republican senate. They were concerned that I wasn’t spending enough time raising money. That’s something that I felt like I was doing an adequate job of. It’s something that I don’t spend a lot of time doing, in the sense that I work very hard to take care of the people of Arkansas. I appreciated their input but that was it. They can give me all the advice they want, but I determine what I do or don’t do here. I wasn’t concerned about that at all. I’ll have the funds that I need to get my message out. That’s really all I care about. In the last Senate race, I was outspent dramatically and won pretty well. I’m not concerned about the fundraising. It’ll come. It’s difficult early on — that was before I had an announced opponent. When people don’t feel like you’re in trouble, there’s not as much effort to support. The bottom line is we’re spending most of our time serving the people of Arkansas, not worried about fundraising. You don’t concentrate on your job at election time. You concentrate on your job the entire time. We live in a media-driven world — whether social media, print, television or radio — where you have to get your message out and that’s not inexpensive. That’s the purpose of raising funds to make sure you have the ability to do that.