Byrdland (a.k.a. How Weather Report and Jaco Saved the United States)

Recently, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, 92 years old, passed away after years of declining health.  After serving in the Senate for over 51 years and proceeded by 6 years in the House of Representatives, Byrd served in Congress longer than any other legislator in American history.  Many Democrats lauded him as a stalwart progressive and dedicated ally of the working poor of West Virginia and, as chair of the Appropriations Committee, Byrd sent billions of dollars home.  Indeed, Byrd “lost no opportunity to promote funding for programs and projects of benefit to the people back home.”  This dedication is admirable; West Virginia is among the very poorest States in the country.  It ranks in the bottom ten in education.  It is the second-fattest State in the nation and boasts the sixth-highest number of overweight and obese children.  Eighteen percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line.  Despite the valiant efforts of Senator Byrd and the amount of good he did for a State that has long been considered a non-priority, his actions raise the question of the proper role of national legislators.  Byrd no doubt served his constituents in West Virginia loyally, which certainly helped account for his record-setting length of service.  But did Byrd serve the people of West Virginia at the expense of the citizens of the other 49 States?  As a member of a national governmental body, Byrd certainly had a responsibility to the country as a whole as well as those who held him in office for so long.  Maintaining this balance between the State and the country which one serves seems like an especially challenging hat legislators must wear.  Whether members of Congress will assume a greater responsibility to their nation and not just their State or Congressional district is doubtful.  The nature of elections has changed.  The amount of money required is greater and the proliferation of the Internet and modern media has made it much easier for lesser-known potential candidates to reach a wide audience.  All of this adds up to keep incumbents on the defensive, spending more time raising campaign funding and less time legislating.  Still, incumbents in Congress win reelection greater than 90% of the time, showing that incumbents may be more comfortable than they seem.  Continuing to strike that crucial balance between state and national demands should remain a top priority for legislators.  While those dedicated public servants would be still at home without the voters in their districts, they owe their country the service it deserves.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: