Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest serving Senator in US history, and the longest serving Congressional member in American history, passed away this morning at the age of 92 years and seven months!
There is no question that Senator Byrd was a path breaking and historic Senator in the history of that chamber! He served nearly four years longer than Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had set the longevity record! By serving 51 and a half years in the Senate and six in the House of Representatives, he broke the record late last year of Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, who had served 56 years combined in both houses of Congress!
Senator Byrd also showed a tremendous amount of growth in his half century in Congress! He came in as a former Ku Klux Klansman in his youth and as an opponent of civil rights, and conducted a long filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964! 🙁 But he came to recognize the wrong of what he had done and believed, and changed his mind and his actions in later years, and even said he was wrong in 1964!
This was a man who came up from poverty and poor white heritage, went to law school later in life, and never forgot what it was to be poor, and he showed it toward his home state’s poor!
He was Senate Majority Leader for a period of time, and long time Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he diverted billions of dollars to his home state, one of the poorest in the nation, something that his home state deeply appreciated!
But of course, this was highly controversial, and Byrd became known as the Senator of “pork” or what is now called “earmarks”, which he saw as perfectly legitimate, but is now decried even by those who utilize it the most, and are showing their hypocrisy! 🙁
Byrd became infamous for inappropriate comments over the years, but he was also acknowledged as an expert on the US Constitution, and published four volumes on the history of the Senate! He revered the institution, and always made it clear that he served WITH eleven US Presidents, NOT UNDER them!
He believed that the Congress had to stand in the way of too much presidential power, and was bitterly opposed to Richard Nixon during Watergate, and George W. Bush during the buildup to the Iraq War!
Byrd was not afraid to speak his mind, and did not care how the media or his colleagues in either party reacted to his thoughts and ideas! He was truly a man of courage and principles, even though many might not agree with some of them!
He was, by his longevity, Senate President Pro Tempore, which meant he was technically third in line of Presidential succession under the Congressional law of 1947!
This is a man who had been against liberalism and everything it represented, but over time became close to the “Liberal Lion”, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts! Byrd wept when Kennedy was ill and when he passed away ten months ago! He became well respected and honored even by those who did not share his viewpoints and partisanship!
Senator Byrd was NOT a great Senator in the sense of creation of legislation or having a tremendous effect on the evolution of the Senate, but he added a lot to the chamber by his presence and his wisdom as the years went by!
He will be missed, despite his mixed legacy, and this is a time to honor him with a state funeral worthy of one of the leading figures in Senate leadership history!