Congress

Former Indiana Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh dies at 91

Bayh was considered the father of Title IX

Former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh and actress Holly Hunter listen to actress Geena Davis during a February 2003 news conference on protections of athletic opportunities for women. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, the man behind the landmark Title IX legislation, died Thursday morning from pneumonia at the age of 91.

Besides serving in the Senate for three terms, the liberal Democrat was also the father of former Indiana Gov. and Sen. Evan Bayh, who lost a comeback Senate bid in 2016. 

The elder Bayh first ran for the Senate in 1962 at the age 34, after serving four terms in the Indiana House of Representatives, where he became speaker at age 30. He made a short-lived bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

After three terms in the Senate, he was swept out in the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide (when Republicans picked up 12 seats), losing to congressman (and future vice president) Dan Quayle.

The Title IX amendment to the 1972 Education Act opened access to all educational opportunities to women, including school sports. Bayh’s longtime friend and former Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton painted the legislation as Bayh’s crowning achievement. 

“It was an extraordinary legislative achievement and very lasting,” Lee told the Indianapolis Star.

Bayh authored two constitutional amendments. The 25th Amendment changed the order of presidential succession. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. He was also involved in the writing and passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

Bayh’s son remembered his father’s civil rights legacy Thursday.

“He had a natural sympathy for the underdog and the downtrodden. So that’s why he always tried to champion opportunity and decency for people who are born without a lot of either,” Evan Bayh told The Indianapolis Star. 

Along with former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Bayh was also behind legislation that allowed universities to bring inventions from federally-funded labs to market. 

Republican Sen. Todd Young, who defeated Evan Bayh by 10 points in 2016, praised the elder Bayh on Thursday as a “modern-day founding father.”

Freshman Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican, also remembered the former Democratic lawmaker. “Though Birch Bayh left his indelible mark on our Constitution, our universities, and the history of the United States Senate, he was first and always a Hoosier,” Braun tweeted Thursday.  

Bayh was good friends with the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who came to the Senate at the same time and with whom he worked on civil rights legislation. Their close relationship went beyond the Senate. Bayh rescued Kennedy from a plane crash that left the Massachusetts senator with a broken back and killed one of his aides and the pilot.

Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, praised Bayh's public service and "remarkable sense of humor" in a statement on Thursday. 

"There is another, quite personal reason that Birch Bayh was special to our family — he saved Ted’s life by pulling him from the wreckage of a small plane crash in 1964 when they were headed to the Democratic State Convention in Springfield, Massachusetts," she added. "Ted never forgot it nor did the rest of our family." 

Also watch: McConnell gets choked up saying goodbye to longtime staffer Stew

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