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Byrd set to become longest-serving senator

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060606/lf_nm/byrd_dc;_ylt=AoUREIGICj3.LcZ7MfU_ie2yFz4D;_ylu=X3oDMTA0cDJlYmhvBHNlYwM- Byrd set to become longest-serving senator By
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 6, 2006
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060606/lf_nm/byrd_dc;_ylt=AoUREIGICj3.LcZ7MfU_ie2yFz4D;_ylu=X3oDMTA0cDJlYmhvBHNlYwM-

      Byrd set to become longest-serving senator

      By Thomas Ferraro 2 hours, 55 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Robert Byrd intends to mark the
      day he becomes the longest-serving U.S. senator next
      week much as he has the others in the last half
      century -- by working.

      "Records are fine," said Byrd, a Democrat who has held
      a number of Senate leadership posts. "But what's
      important is what I do for the people of West
      Virginia. They are the ones who sent me here 48 years
      ago."

      At 88, Byrd looks frail and walks with two canes. Yet
      he remains one of the most respected voices in
      Congress and a passionate defender of the U.S.
      Constitution. He evolved from being a young member of
      the Ku Klux Klan to a white-haired advocate of civil
      rights and an opponent of the Iraq war who has drawn
      praise from liberals.

      He is on track to set the record for Senate longevity
      on Monday, which would be his 17,327th day in office.
      That would pass the mark by South Carolina's Strom
      Thurmond, who retired in 2003 at 100, which made him
      the oldest senator too.

      Will Byrd ever reach that mark as well?

      "I have no idea. The Lord could call me home tonight,"
      he said, seated in his office near photos of his wife
      of 68 years, Erma, who died in March.

      "I love to serve. I love the Senate. I love the
      Constitution. If I could live another 100 years, I'd
      like to continue in the Senate," he said.

      Byrd is running for re-election in November to an
      unprecedented ninth, six-year term against Republican
      John Raese, a successful businessman.

      While Byrd is expected to win, critics have tried to
      portray him as out of touch with his state. His age
      could hurt him if he makes a verbal or physical
      stumble.

      Said Byrd: "The people of West Virginia have never let
      me down, and I intend to never let them down."

      DOLLARS FOR DISTRICT

      Byrd was first elected to the Senate in 1958 after six
      years in the House of Representatives. He was
      Democratic leader from 1977 to 1988, and he lets
      presidents know where he stands.

      "I'm not any president's man. I'm a Senate's man," the
      independent-minded icon told them.

      As the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations
      Committee, Byrd has helped direct billions of dollars
      in federal money to his chronically poor state.

      This has drawn scorn from critics, who accuse him of
      wasting money on pet projects, yet adulation from
      constituents for what they see as basics like roads,
      bridges and hospitals.

      Asked to name his top achievement, Byrd said: "I take
      great pride in having articulated over the years a
      love of this country's basic document, the
      Constitution."

      "I have tried to imbue others with the same feeling,"
      said Byrd, who carries a copy of the Constitution in
      his pocket and often pulls it out during Senate
      debates.

      "Nothing has ever been written like it before or
      since. It's responsible for every liberty, every
      freedom, we have," Byrd said.

      His passion for the Constitution, oratory and
      legislative skills have won notice. "Robert Byrd, the
      senior member of the United States Senate, may come
      closer to the kind of senator the Founding Fathers had
      in mind than any other," the Almanac of American
      Politics said.

      "He comes from the humblest of beginnings, and when
      first elected to the Senate ... he was scarcely
      noticed. Now he is ... an authentic power..."

      POWERFUL ORATOR

      Byrd's hands shake as result of a nonlife-threatening
      condition that forced him to put down the fiddle,
      which he learned to play while growing up dirt poor in
      the coal fields.

      But he can still deliver a fiery speech as arguably
      the Senate's top orator, particularly when taking on
      President George W. Bush over the Iraq war or the
      administration's domestic spying program.

      Byrd said early on he admired Bush. "I told Erma, 'I
      think he's going to be a uniter, not a divider.'
      That's what he said he would be," Byrd recalled.

      "But my hopes have not been fulfilled," said Byrd, who
      wrote a 2004 bestseller: "Losing America: Confronting
      a reckless and arrogant presidency."

      Byrd's once conservative views have moderated with
      age.

      Of the more than 17,500 votes Byrd has cast, he said
      his biggest regret was opposing the 1964 Civil Rights
      Act, a landmark law that brought down barriers to
      black Americans.

      Byrd's opposition -- he said he had constitutional
      concerns -- followed his brief membership in the Ku
      Klux Klan while in his 20s, which he later called a
      youthful mistake.

      He said his views changed most dramatically after his
      teen-age grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic
      accident that the senator said put him in a deep
      emotional valley.

      "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and
      think," said Byrd, adding he came to realize that
      black people love their children as much as he does
      his.

      The National Association for the Advancement of
      Colored People gave Byrd a 100 percent rating for his
      votes in the last Congress.

      Reflecting on his career, Byrd recalled his dealings
      with 11 presidents over the years, watching the nation
      grow from 48 to 50 states and seeing the Senate become
      more partisan.

      Byrd also remembered sending word to an inquiring
      President Richard Nixon in 1971 that he did not want
      to be considered for the U.S. Supreme Court.

      "I couldn't see myself sitting around reading briefs,"
      Byrd said. "I like being in the midst of things. I
      like to legislate. I feel I've done a lot of good."
    • Ram Lau
      The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave Byrd a 100 percent rating for his votes in the last Congress. Not bad for an ex-Klansman.
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 6, 2006
        "The National Association for the Advancement of
        Colored People gave Byrd a 100 percent rating for his
        votes in the last Congress."

        Not bad for an ex-Klansman. He's a great living example of how people
        can change for the better.

        Ram
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