After a long illness, Sen. Robert Byrd died this morning at 3am. The conservative West Virginia Democrat became the longest-serving member of Congress in history and died at age 92, reports The Washington Post.
"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. On the Appropriations Committee, he pumped billions of dollars worth of jobs, programs and projects into a state that ranked near the bottom of nearly every economic indicator when he began his political career as a state legislator in the late 1940s. Countless congressional earmarks later, West Virginia is home to prisons, technology centers, laboratories and Navy and Coast Guard offices, despite being a landlocked state."
"Mr. Byrd’s perspective on the world changed over the years. He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War only to come to back civil rights measures and criticize the Iraq war. Rating his voting record in 1964, Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal lobbying group, found that his views and the organization’s were aligned only 16 percent of the time. In 2005, he got an A.D.A. rating of 95.
Mr. Byrd’s political life could be traced to his early involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, an association that almost thwarted his career and clouded it intermittently for years afterward. In the early 1940s, he organized a 150-member klavern, or chapter, of the Klan in Sophia, W.Va., and was chosen its leader at a meeting. After the meeting, Joel L. Baskin, the Klan’s grand dragon for the region, suggested that Mr. Byrd use his 'talents for leadership' by going into politics. 'Suddenly, lights flashed in my mind!' Mr. Byrd later wrote. 'Someone important had recognized my abilities.'
Mr. Byrd insisted that his klavern had never conducted white-supremacist marches or engaged in racial violence. He said in his autobiography that he had joined the Klan because he shared its anti-Communist creed and wanted to be associated with the leading people in his part of West Virginia. He conceded, however, that he also 'reflected the fears and prejudices' of the time."
Byrd served 51 years in the Senate, longer than anyone in our history. And with his six years in the House, Byrd also had the record for the longest-serving member of Congress. "He also was the only West Virginian to be elected to both houses of the state legislature and both houses of Congress,' adds the Washington Post.
Byrd was very lackluster on LGBT rights and boasted a dismal 22% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Byrd did support 2009's Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Act, though.
In May 2010, the ailing conservative Democrat surprised observers and announced he would support a compromise toward repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ... but only after insisting upon a 60-day congressional review period.
West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin says he has not yet made a decision on Byrd's successor, but will not appoint himself to the seat, the AP reports.