Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) 1917-2010
Robert Byrd, who was the longest-serving Senator as well as the longest-serving member in Congressional history, has died at the age of 92.
Byrd served as president pro tempore in the U.S. Senate since the Democratic Party regained the Senate in January 2007. Byrd had been the Democratic equivalent in this position since John C. Stennis (D-MS) retired in 1989.
Byrd had been a Senator since January 1959, a record likely never to be broken. If Ted Kennedy were still alive, Kennedy would be president pro tempore in the U.S. Senate. That honor is expected to go to Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who has served in the Senate since 1963. If the Republicans take over in the Senate, that honor would go to Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
There are 11 current senators who were born AFTER Byrd became a Senator. President Barack Obama was also born after Byrd started in the Senate.
Byrd also served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, making his actual stint in Washington from 1953 until his death.
As for Byrd’s replacement, the fate of the seat is up to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III (D). Gov. Manchin gets to name the interim replacement; that person will serve either until January 2013 (end of Byrd’s term) or until a special election this fall. If the governor waits until July 3 to declare the seat vacant (30 months before the end of the term), the interim senator serves until 2013.
As for the legacy of the Senator — besides his longevity — his record is extremely complicated by time and perhaps other elements. Byrd was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Byrd voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and against the nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.
Byrd also supported the fight against going to war with Iraq in 2003, with passionate speeches on the matter.
He steered a lot of pork toward his state of West Virginia.
An era has come to an end. There were drawbacks and advantages to having seniority in the Senate — Robert Byrd always seemed the extremes of both areas. The Senate needs to be a deliberative body, but still need to get things done. Hopefully, Byrd’s replacement will understand this.