Sen. Robert Byrd, Longest-Serving Member of Congress, Dies at 92
June 28, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Senator Robert Byrd, the Democratic lawmaker from West Virginia, the longest-serving member of Congress, has died at 92. Byrd’s health has been failing in recent years. And he was pressured to step down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2008. The sight of an elderly Sen. Byrd arriving in a wheelchair to cast his vote for health care reform, to break the constant filibusters of the Republican caucus, became a visual symbol for the healthcare reform battle, energizing Democrats. When voting yes for the final measure in the Senate, Byrd honored the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a lifelong proponent of healthcare reform. “Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy! Aye!”
Byrd’s life and career in public service was not without controversy. He fought tirelessly for the poor residents of Appalachia, to bring services and revenue to his poor state of West Virginia, earning the title “King of Pork.”
But his early racism haunted Byrd in his later years. As a young man in the 1940s, Byrd joined the Klu Klux Klan and rose to become a leader in the racist organization. And he infamously filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, speaking over 14-hours railing against the measure.
In his later years he regretted his KKK membership and opposition to Civil Rights. Byrd called his membership in the KKK “the greatest mistake of my life,”that forever became an “albatross” that would always stain his career of public service.
“It’s a lesson to the young people of today, that once a major mistake has been made in one’s life,” he said, adding “it will always be there, and it will be in my obituary.” And so it is.
During the Bush administration he was one of only 23 Senators to oppose the Iraq war. And history has at least, proved him right on that stance.
Robert Carlyle Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on November 20, 1917, in North Carolina. When he was just a year old, his his aunt and uncle adopted him and he was renamed Byrd.
What will become of Byrd’s seat in the Senate? The Democratic governor of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, is expected to appoint a replacement, to serve out Byrd’s term until 2012. With the Senate struggling to find votes for a jobs bill, the final passage of Wall Street reform and a possible energy bill, the additional Democratic vote will be welcomed.
But, with the financial reform bill nearing, after a final measure was reconciled in the House committee, the Senate will be one vote short, until Byrd’s replacement can be appointed and sworn in.
Byrd’s wife Emma, died in 2006 at the age of 88. Sen. Byrd is survived by his two children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.