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Heart issue not likely to end Sen. Boozman’s political career

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

U.S. Sen. John Boozman is less than two weeks removed from the day that he will never forget after having emergency heart surgery to repair an aortic dissection. And while he may be at home resting as comfortably as one can following major heart surgery, the question of whether he will choose to seek another term when he comes up for re-election in two years is sure to be the topic of conversation among Arkansas politicos in coming months.

But for anyone expecting Boozman to bow out of a second term as Arkansas' junior senator, Dr. Janine Parry said don't bet on it.

Parry, the director of the Arkansas Poll and a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, said even though now-former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., chose to not seek another term nearly six years after his April 1991 heart attack, she "wouldn't make too much of that."

"Certainly we've seen more examples of people continuing to run long past (the period) when their health was good," she said. Examples include two of the United States' longest serving senators — Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

She said while Thurmond and Byrd may have continued their Senate service well beyond their healthy years, Boozman has age (he's only 63) and what appears to be otherwise good health in his favor as he looks at returning to the Senate for possibly many years to come.

And even though Boozman is at home in Rogers and on the mend, Parry said when he begins to resume his Senate duties, he will have an easier time than if he were still in the House due to the slower pace of Senate business.

"There actually is some scholarship on that," she said. "That the pace of the Senate is more conducive to living a health and balanced life. So whatever life, whatever health concerns you have or don't have, the Senate is considered in some ways far less demanding. The main factor there, sort of by design by the founders who were not necessarily concerned about people's health and well being, the Senate term of six years just gives people more breathing room than those people in the House."

She said the purpose was to give Senators "room to make unpopular but better-informed policy decisions," adding that the workload of a Senator could average about a 60 hour work week, while the workload for a House member could average up to 80 hours a week.

"It allows them to have a better, more balanced life more conducive to living. It's a more deliberate pace by design and that was mostly about policy making. But the consequence, arguably, has been that it has more positive outcomes for the Senators and their families, as well."

Also sure to assist Boozman's return to the Senate in coming months is his staff, which Parry said was well able to run things during the Senator's absence and would be able to assist him as he transitions back to a regular workload.

"What I do know is just like any large organization, the person at the top has a lot of responsibility," she said. "But members of the Senate have large, competent staffs that help them navigate this, again, just like any of us in most of our workplaces."

Dr. E.J. Chauvin, the Mercy Cardiac & Thoracic surgeon who performed Boozman's surgery, said April 25 that the Senator was expected to make a full recovery, and should be able to return to full duties with no restrictions at a future date, though he declined to name a specific time period.

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Even with the glowing words from Boozman's doctor, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a potential 2016 challenger to Boozman could attempt to use this single medical ailment as a campaign narrative. But Parry said using that against a Senator like Boozman, who she said is "such a nice guy," would be a mistake.

"It's possible, but I'd like to think most people are above that," she said. "And secondary to that, let he who is without some kind of medical scare be the first to throw stones. It's the same way with any personalized challenge like that. You better be A) equally qualified and B) be ready to open up your entire medical history or romantic history. You don't even see it being used that often. Even with the U.S. Senate's most senior members in the 20th Century, most opponents came at it from that angle and most (of the incumbents) survived."

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