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Inouye’s death ends Senate’s 50-year club
Chamber unlikely to see a new gerontocracy of ‘lions’
Question of the Day
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s death last week ended the more than 50-year reign of the Senate “lions” — a select group of iconic, long-serving members whose presence connected the chamber to some of the most important events of the past half-century.
Gone is the last active senator elected in the 1960s or before. Gone is the last senator to have served during the Watergate scandal era.
Only one senator remains who was in the chamber during the Vietnam War: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who took office less than four months before United States’ involvement in the conflict ended.
And with Mr. Inouye’s passing, only one other World War II veteran remains in the Senate — Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, who joined the chamber in late 1982, almost 20 years after Mr. Inouye.
“This is pretty close to the end of an era of senators that have this deep commitment right down to their bones and arteries for the Senate, somebody who’s devoted his life to it, where the institution is as important as anything else,” said Norman Ornstein, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr. Inouye, a Hawaii native and the first Japanese-American elected to Congress, was the last of the so-called “lions.” He was preceded in death by fellow Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts in 2009 and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia a year later. Combined, the three men had a more than 147 years experience in Congress‘ upper chamber.
All three enjoyed a Senate tenure unlikely to be matched soon.
Mr. Kennedy’s successor, Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown, a former Massachusetts state senator, rode an initial tea party wave to win a special election in early 2010. But he lost his re-election bid last month to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, and his political future is uncertain.
Later in 2010, Joe Manchin III, then governor of West Virginia won a special election for Mr. Byrd’s seat after it was occupied briefly by placeholder Carte Goodwin, who was 36 at the time — 56 years younger than Mr. Byrd. Mr. Manchin was re-elected in November, but at age 65, he won’t be able to match Mr. Byrd’s 51 years in the Senate.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a replacement for Mr. Inouye, choosing from a list of three candidates selected by the state Democratic Party. Whoever is appointed will serve until a special election in 2014.
The Senate itself also has evolved: With voters more willing to reject incumbents, membership is no longer viewed as a lifetime post.
“For a lot of people coming in (now), the institution is a vehicle for getting policies they prefer, or even a place where you can be a big shot,” Mr. Ornstein said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, for example, announced this month he was resigning to run the Heritage Foundation, saying he will have a greater impact on the conservative movement leading the influential think tank than by staying in the Senate.
And President Obama served less than one term in the Senate before he was elected to the nation’s highest office in 2008.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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