Three veterans of Congress have been in the news in the past two days, none of them in a happy situation! 🙁
First, former Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens died in a plane crash at the age of 86! After 40 years in the Senate, he was convicted of corruption charges, although later the conviction was reversed, and the Justice Department decided to drop the charges, but only after Stevens had lost his Senate reelection contest. Stevens, the longest serving GOP Senator in history, left office under a cloud! 🙁
Then, New York Congressman Charlie Rangel mounted an awkward defense of himself in the House of Representatives yesterday, interrupting a vote on funding of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public servants, by a party line vote. His defense was an embarrassment, and made many fellow Democrats angry and frustrated, as his upcoming ethics trial will certainly hurt the image of the Democratic party, but Rangel, age 80 and 40 years in the House, made it clear that he was not going to disappear and admit any wrongdoing or resign, therefore burdening his party at a time when there are thirteen charges against him, and the tone of corruption is clear and evident. Rangel has given up his leadership of the Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House, but his refusal to admit any wrongdoing is a sad likely ending to a career which will probably hurt his party! 🙁
Now today, former Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski of Chicago, Illinois, who served 36 years in the House from 1959-1995, and was for 16 years Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, passed away at the age of 82.
He had been convicted and sentenced to prison for corruption after losing his seat in the 1994 Republican wave into power, which was helped by the controversy over Rostenkowski’s corrupt leadership. Bill Clinton later pardoned him, but still the corruption and conviction and imprisonment are part of the historical record! 🙁
So Stevens, Rostenkowski and now Rangel all had a lot in common: long term service in Congress, leaving Congress at advanced ages, all becoming involved in corruption that sullied their reputations, but all having made major contributions to the Congress before going over to the “evil” side!
All three can be seen as sad commentaries on the problem of longevity in public office! People can come to Congress with great idealism and decent motivations, but somehow longevity and gaining of powerful positions over time seems to lead to temptations and greed, part of the human condition! 🙁
While there is no way to enforce term limits, there is a growing argument for turnover and change so as to prevent temptation and greed taking over! No constitutional amendment is possible, but it becomes clear that the American people must take responsibility for promoting turnover so that power does not continue to lie in the hands of older, overly arrogant legislators!
Should anyone be the head of a committee in Congress for endless number of years? NO!
Should members of Congress serve more than the 30 years that marks most people’s careers in one employment position before retirement? NO!
It is up to us, the people, to enforce these changes, and argue that seniority and longevity have their limits, by their close attention to politics, and their votes! 🙁