Rep. Vic Snyder (D)
Arkansas 2nd District
Little Rock has been the capital of Arkansas and also its largest city for more than a century. It is at the geographic center of an otherwise rural state, and it is home to the presidential library of Bill Clinton, the former Arkansas governor. The city is best known for its role at the dawn of the civil rights movement. In September 1957, Democratic Gov. Orval Faubus sent in the National Guard to block a desegregation order at Central High School. President Eisenhower sent in U.S. troops and federalized the National Guard to enforce the order, and Little Rock became a synonym for bigotry around the world. Forty years later, the Little Rock Nine who had integrated the high school returned for an anniversary commemoration with then President Clinton. “It was Little Rock that made racial equality a driving obsession in my life,” he said. Today, Little Rock is still the political center of Arkansas, setting the tone of the public life of its state as do only a few other state capitals—Boston, Providence, Atlanta, Denver, and Honolulu. It is home to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the feisty, conservative paper whose editor Paul Greenberg christened Clinton “Slick Willie.” On the banks of the Arkansas River is the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, opened in 2004 and designed to promote local economic revitalization and with architecture evocative of a “bridge to the 21st century.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Arkansas includes Little Rock and North Little Rock, a kind of industrial suburb across the Arkansas River and known informally for years as Dog Town. The district takes in Saline (named for its early salt works) and Faulkner (named for fiddle player Sanford C. Faulkner, the original Arkansas Traveler) counties, which have grown rapidly as people move farther out on the freeways. This is the seat once held by legendary Ways and Means chairman Wilbur Mills, who retired in 1976. In 2004, the district favored President Bush 51%-48%—the same as in the national popular vote. In 2008, John McCain defeated Barack Obama, 54%-44%.
Rep. Vic Snyder (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Sept. 27, 1947, Medford, OR .
Home: Little Rock.
Education: Willamette U., B.A. 1975, U. of OR, M.D. 1979, U. of AR, J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Betsy Singleton); 4 children.
Military career: Marine Corps, 1967–69 (Vietnam).
Elected office: AR Senate, 1990–96.
Professional Career: Practicing physician, 1982–present.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Vic Snyder, a Democrat first elected in 1996. Snyder is an unusual politician, “an inveterately private man in a public profession, quite content to be all alone,” wrote the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Snyder was raised by his mother in Medford, Ore., after his parents divorced when he was a toddler. He dropped out of Willamette University at age 20 to join the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. After his service, he returned to Oregon, finished college and went on to medical school on the G.I. bill. He did his residency in Little Rock and settled there as a family doctor. But he also volunteered for medical missions in Thailand, Honduras, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. While practicing medicine, he got a law degree, but never practiced law. In 1990, he was elected to the state Senate and made news when he called for repeal of Arkansas’s anti-sodomy law and when he refused to accept a government pension. When the seat in Congress opened in 1996, Snyder decided to run. He campaigned as a reformer, promising not to accept a congressional pension until an equitable system was established for federal employees. His main Democratic opponents had more political backgrounds. But in a 51%-49% upset, Snyder won the runoff against Pulaski County prosecutor Mark Stodola, who was a strong Clinton supporter. Snyder sounded reform themes in the general election against Republican lawyer Bud Cummins and also outspent Cummins. He won narrowly, 52%-48%.
|Vic Snyder (D)||212,303||(76%)||($307,060)|
|Deb McFarland (Green)||65,063||(23%)|
|Vic Snyder (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (61%), 2004 (58%), 2002 (93%), 2000 (58%), 1998 (58%), 1996 (52%)
Snyder’s voting record is close to the center of House Democrats, but he is the most liberal in the Arkansas delegation and an occasional maverick. He voted for needle exchanges to prevent the spread of AIDS and against the partial-birth abortion ban. In 2004, he opposed a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage; the ballot measure passed 75%-25%. Snyder also has supported Republican tax cuts. He helped to organize the bipartisan Cuba working group to push the House to end the trade embargo and the ban on travel there; Cuba is seen as a potential new market for Arkansas rice farmers.
He focuses on military and veterans issues on the Armed Services Committee, where he is chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. He was the only Arkansas House member to vote against the use of military force against Iraq. After the war began, he visited Iraq and called for more support for U.S. troops, and he criticized the Pentagon for failing to inform Congress of prison abuses. In 2004, he sponsored legislation establishing separate medals for service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was signed into law by Bush. The House unanimously passed his bill to improve health care for soldiers wounded overseas, and he sought to provide members of the National Guard and Reserves the same G.I. benefits that go to active duty personnel. In early 2008, Snyder held hearings to highlight an element of Bush’s longstanding power struggle with the legislative branch. At issue were “signing statements” the president attached to a military authorization in which he objected to provisions that he said would limit his executive powers, including one that protected whistle-blowers who expose abuses by defense contractors in Iraq and another that established a legislative commission to investigate contracting irregularities in Iraq.
Snyder has been active on internal House issues. He unsuccessfully sought changes in Democratic rules to spread committee assignments more equitably among members. And, he challenged as a possible violation of the House’s anti-bribery rule the practice of interest groups notifying members that they will include an upcoming vote in their legislative scorecard.
Since his initial tight election, Snyder has been re-elected with at least 58% of the vote. In 2004, Republican challenger Marvin Parks aligned himself with President Bush and criticized Snyder for being out of touch with local views, especially on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Although he raised more than $500,000, Parks had little national Republican support. Parks carried Saline and Faulkner counties, but Snyder won 58%-42%. In endorsing Snyder, the Democrat-Gazette wrote, “While we may abhor some of his political stances, there is no doubting the sincerity with which he takes them. Or his patriotism…We’re endorsing an honorable opponent today, not his politics.”
In 2008, Snyder had no Republican opponent. His personal life offered plenty of excitement, however. In 2003, after a life of bachelorhood, Snyder married the Rev. Betsy Singleton, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Little Rock. A son, Penn, was born in 2006, and in December 2008, when Snyder was 61 and his wife 47, they became the parents of triplet boys. Singleton took an indefinite leave of absence from the ministry beginning Easter 2009.