- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In 1955, the average salary was just over $4,000 a year, “The Honeymooners” debuted on television and Bill Haley and the Comets were red hot.

One thing, however, has remained constant since that time more than a half-century ago: Michigan Rep. John D. Dingell. The 82-year-old Democrat on Wednesday becomes the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives in its history, with a career spanning 11 presidents and nearly one-quarter of Congress’ entire existence.

Former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others on Tuesday night honored Mr. Dingell, whose district includes areas west of Detroit, at a reception in the Capitol building’s Statuary Hall - a fitting venue for a man who has now served for 19,420 days..

“Fifty-four years from now, or 154 years from now, when historians look back for models of public service, John Dingell will stand tall as an example of the best America has to offer,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat.

Mr. Dingell was a U.S. Army veteran working as a lawyer and a forest ranger when he joined the House at the age of 29 in December 1955 to fill the seat vacated by his father, who died in office. In the 53 years since then, Mr. Dingell earned a reputation as a liberal yet independent-minded legislator who used his influence as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee to shape policies relating to the environment, health care and the auto industry.

But it wasn’t his six-foot-three stature that intimidated those who came before Mr. Dingell’s congressional panel, which he led from 1981 to 1994 and from 2006 to 2008. His aggressive approach to government oversight - and his well-known penchant for asking witnesses a series of blunt “yes or no” questions - made him a feared institution when he conducted investigations.

In a move that rattled the Democratic establishment, Mr. Dingell was ousted from his chairmanship by California Rep. Henry A. Waxman in November. But his legacy as the committee’s top Democrat for 28 years is more than evident as Mr. Dingell has had a hand in writing some of the nation’s most well-known pieces of legislation, including the 1990 Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. As a tradition, at the beginning of each congressional session, Mr. Dingell introduces a national health care bill that his father, John D. Dingell Sr., sponsored.

“Serving in the House is indeed a very great privilege,” Mr. Dingell said Tuesday night at his reception, during which he thanked his entire family and extended family, as well as colleagues, such as Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, who has spent more than 20 years with him on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

While Mr. Dingell follows a largely liberal philosophy, he deviates in a few notable respects, including his former role as a board member for the National Rifle Association. In his remarks, Mr. Clinton shared an anecdote about a duck-hunting trip he took early on in his presidency, during which Mr. Dingell gave him credit for shooting a duck to help boost his image among Second Amendment advocates.

Mr. Dingell eclipsed the record of the now-deceased Rep. Jamie L. Whitten, Mississippi Democrat, who served from 1941 to 1995. He is currently the second-longest serving member of Congress behind Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, a Democrat who has been in Congress for more than 56 years.

The record for the longest tenure in Congress was set by the late Sen. Carl Hayden of Arizona, who spent a combined 56 years and 319 days in the House and Senate.

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