West Virginia U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, who had served in the Senate for 51 years, died early this morning. He was 92.
His death is not only sad for his loved ones, but frankly, for Barack Obama's agenda. Senate Democrats were hoping he could make it through to vote on a final financial reform bill in the next week. You may recall how he was brought in on his wheelchair to vote on the final health care passage in the Senate earlier this year.
Byrd was first elected to the House in 1952, and will perhaps best be known for all of the pork he brought home to his home state. He will also be remembered for being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940's. And for filibustering against the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and for voting against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Politico reports today, he had apologized often for those elements of his past, and in fact he was a solidly liberal vote in the Senate in recent years, and endorsed Barack Obama earlier in the 2008 nominating contest.
In fact, in recent years he had become almost a folk hero to the anti-war left for his powerful opposition to the Iraq War. In 2004 he wrote and published the book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency.
On the day the U.S. began attacking Iraq - March 19, 2003- Byrd said in the Senate:
Today I weep for my country," he said in a speech on the Senate floor. "I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed."
The New York Times reports that he certainly did change ideologically over the years. According to Adam Clymer:
Rating his voting record in 1964, Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal lobbying group, found that his views and the organizations were aligned only 16 percent of the time. In 2005, he got an A.D.A. rating of 95.
West Virginia has more than 30 federal projects named after. Byrd, including two Robert C. Byrd U.S. courthouses, four Robert C. Byrd stretches of roadway, a Robert C. Byrd Bridge, two Robert C. Byrd interchanges, a Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam project and the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
Byrd apparently spent some time in Tampa. According to Clymer's obituary in the NY Times, during World War II, Byrd worked as a welder in both Tampa and Baltimore.. Byrd wrote four books. He compiled speeches about the Senate into a four-volume history of the institution, published from 1989 to 1994.
He married his high school sweetheart, Erma Ora James, in 1937. She died in 2006, after 68 years of marriage.