Robert Byrd (D-WV), the longest longest serving member of Congress in history, has passed away at the age of 92 at 3 a.m. Monday at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, VA. Most remarkable, Robert Byrd never lost an election and served 51 years in the US Senate. It was just yesterday that we learned that Byrd’s condition had taken a turn for the worse and that he was in serious condition.
Robert Byrd: 1917 – 2010, Rest in Peace
Starting in 1958, Mr. Byrd was elected to the Senate an unprecedented nine times. He wrote a four-volume history of the body, was majority leader twice and chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee, controlling the nation’s purse strings, and yet the positions of influence he held did not convey the astonishing arc of his life.
A child of the West Virginia coal fields, Mr. Byrd rose from the grinding poverty that has plagued his state since before the Great Depression, overcame an early and ugly association with the Ku Klux Klan, worked his way through night school and by force of will, determination and iron discipline made himself a person of authority and influence in Washington.
This is hardly the time or place for a political commentary on Robert Byrd, that will be done in a later post. Today, we say goodbye to a US Senator that certainly did bring home the bacon to the Mountaineer state … Robert Byrd, dead at the age of 92. Rest in Peace.
First was the self-appointed champion of the Constitution, brandishing his breast-pocket copy of the government’s foundational document on the Senate floor while inveighing against usurpation of the Senate’s powers by the executive branch.
Second was the crafty legislative pro with one hand in the pork barrel, the Democratic majority leader and Appropriations committee chair who managed to slip into legislation so many programs benefiting his state that more than 30 federally funded buildings were named after him.
A senator starting in 1959, Mr. Byrd at first voted the conservative southern Democratic line. He strongly opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He likened antipoverty measures to rent supplements, and voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that set the stage for U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
Yet by the late 1970s, when he was first named Senate Majority Leader, the one-time kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan had moderated his position on social issues to the point where he favored the Equal Rights Amendment.
He was also known as the “King of Pork,” using top positions on the Senate Appropriations Committee to steer federal spending to his home state — one of the nation’s poorest.
Byrd relished the title.
“Pork, to the critic, is service to the people who enjoy some of the good things in life, and I’ve been happy to bring to West Virginia the projects to which they refer. I have no apology for it,” he said.