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Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Va.) Passes at 92

| On 29, Jun 2010

Despite his checkered past, Sen. Robert Byrd did a lot of good for the people of West Virginia.

The oldest member of the Senate and the longest serving one in U.S. history, Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), passed away Monday morning. He was 92 years old.

Though he was a very powerful member of Congress, he was considered a “salt of the Earth” kinda guy who stuck close to his rural West Virginia roots.  He was beloved in his state and worked tirelessly on its behalf, despite its image of poverty and mostly-rural communities.

His resume reads like a political scrapbook, of sorts.  He served in both house of the West Virginia State Legislature and the Congress.  He sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and was Speaker of the House twice.  When he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, he put himself through law school by taking night courses.  He’s the only member of Congress to have served and gone to law school at the same time.

One thing, however, I didn’t know about Sen. Byrd was his former affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. WTF?? He also filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  He opposed President Lyndon Johnson’s “War On Poverty” programs in the 1960’s.  When he sat on the Appropriations subcommittee of the District (of Columbia) in the 1960s, he often berated mostly-black residents for being unemployed and/or unwed parents.  He was once quoted as saying, “We can take the people out of the slums, but we cannot take the slums out of the people.” Oh really?  I hate to speak ill of the dead, but those points definitely got my side-eye.

On a positive note, he did increase federal funding to D.C. and supported community items such as parks, playgrounds, and public schools.  He always seemed to be in favor of items that supported his “up by your bootstraps” mentality.

His racial views changed later in his life, allowing him to gain some political capital along the way. By 2003, he turned his attention toward George W. Bush and his shame of the Iraq war (though he supported the Vietnam War).  In 2004, Byrd wrote a book titled, “Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency,” that became very popular in its attack of the Bush presidency and war strategies.  Sen. Byrd would later go on to support Barack Obama in his bid for president of the United States.

An unnamed replacement for Byrd’s Senate seat will serve until the end of his term in November 2012. At that time, the voters will decide who takes the seat.

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