Rep. Marion Berry (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Aug. 27, 1942, Bayou Meto .
Education: U. of AR, B.S. 1965.
Family: Married (Carolyn); 2 children.
Professional Career: Pharmacist, 1965–67; Farmer, 1968–present; AR Soil & Water Conservation Comm., 1986–94, chmn. 1992; Special asst. to the pres., Domestic Policy Cncl., White House, 1993–96.
The congressman from the 1st District is Marion Berry, a Democrat who was first elected in 1996. He is the type of folksy, small-town Southern Democrat who has been prominent in Congress: “a pharmacist and a farmer, the owner of a loud laugh,” as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described him.w Berry grew up in the town of Bayou Meto near DeWitt in Arkansas County. After his first year of college, his rice-farming father suggested that he study something besides farming, so he earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He spent a lot of time at Bruice Drugstore, a small pharmacy run by family friend George Wimberly, who later became the mayor of Little Rock. Berry developed an interest in politics through his friendship with Wimberly. “All the political horsepower came and went through that drugstore,” he recalls.
|Marion Berry (D)||Unopposed||($848,986)|
|Marion Berry (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (69%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (60%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (53%)
In 1968, he returned to Arkansas County to farm with his brothers and participated in politics on the side. Berry was a farmer in some capacity until 2005. During that time, he accumulated a net worth of more than $1 million. In 2006, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that since 1994, Berry had received more than $800,000 in federal farm subsidies through a corporate structure, of which he owned 50%. The other 50 percent was divided equally between Berry’s son, Mitchell, and a family friend, Danny Sloate. Berry said in a 2008 interview that he is not involved in the day-to-day management of the corporation and does not receive a salary.
Berry began to move into the political realm in 1986, when Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton, advocating changes in the state’s water policy, appointed him to the Arkansas Soil & Water Conservation Commission. Berry later made the transition to Washington after attending a Clinton political party: “I made a comment that I thought it’d be fun to come here [to Washington] and work with a new administration.” Not expecting anything to come of his offhand remark, Berry received a call from the Clinton administration three days later and an appointment as White House liaison to the Agriculture Department. Berry returned to Arkansas in 1996 to run for the U.S. House after Rep. Blanche Lincoln, pregnant with twins, did not pursue re-election. (Lincoln later won the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Dale Bumpers.) Berry had tough opposition for the seat in Tom Donaldson, a 28-year-old deputy prosecutor in Crittenden County who spent little money but ran rural radio ads criticizing Berry for accepting farm subsidies. Berry won the primary runoff by only 52%-48%. In the general election, Berry faced Republican Warren Dupwe, a former Jonesboro city attorney. They sparred over Medicare, both candidates opposed abortion rights and gun control, and both favored a balanced budget. Berry outspent Dupwe nearly 2-to-1 and, in a district that has never elected a Republican, won 53%-44%.
Berry’s cooperation with Democratic leaders earned him a seat on leadership-run legislative task forces and a slot on the Appropriations Committee. His voting record is mostly moderate but a bit more liberal on foreign policy. A Blue Dog Democrat, he supported the balanced-budget amendment and said he wanted to pay off the national debt. He voted against Republican tax cuts because they are “just borrowing money from our children and grandchildren.” He visited Cuba twice to promote an end to the trade embargo, so that Arkansas farmers could sell rice and feed products there. He also has a personal interest in the country. In 1958, his father was in Cuba working to organize a rice farm there, and while he was home for Christmas, Castro took power, ending the plan.
With his background as a pharmacist, Berry was a natural choice to be out front in the Democratic opposition to the GOP prescription-drug bill in 2003. He was one of three House Democrats appointed to the House-Senate conference committee, all of whom complained of being shut out of the negotiations over creating the first drug benefit in the Medicare program. The final bill was “the sorriest piece of legislation” that Congress ever enacted, Berry said. “It is nothing but an expedited way to make it legal to cheat and steal from old people,” he said. His partisan instincts got the best of him during a 2005 House floor debate on the budget, when he called the boyish-looking, redheaded Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican, “a Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.” After Democrats won a majority in 2006, Berry became a leading sponsor of legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate prescription-drug prices with drug companies under Medicare, an element expressly left out of the 2003 bill because of strong objections from the pharmaceutical industry.
Berry also got a seat on the Budget Committee, making him one of only a handful of representatives to serve on both the budget and appropriations committees. As a member of the Blue Dogs, he is an advocate on the budget panel for sticking to the “pay go” rule, which requires new spending or tax cuts to be offset elsewhere in the budget. “If it’s not paid for, I won’t vote for it,” Berry told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But on the appropriations committee, he has also been an advocate for federal spending in his hard-pressed district. He told the newspaper, “Being an appropriator, I like earmarks, make no apologies for them.” Berry can also be a tough critic of federal agencies that fall short of his expectations. After severe storms struck Arkansas in April 2006, Berry, with his usual blunt rhetoric, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency “an incompetent bunch of nincompoops who can’t run their agency.”
He has been re-elected easily and in 2008 was unopposed.