2009 Marks a Year of Notable Anniversaries

Posted January 22, 2009 at 1:50pm

Correction Appended

The year 2009 will go down in history for many reasons, and not just because the first black president was sworn into office. In fact, this year will be full of history-making events and milestone anniversaries for a number of Members of Congress.

It’s a banner year for Alaska and Hawaii. In 1959, both were admitted as states and gained Congressional delegations in 1960. Since then, Alaska has always had just one at-large Member, while Hawaii has always had two Members. The resulting reapportionment of Representatives — which still needed to add up to 435 — meant that 16 states lost members of their delegations.

And in an indirect way, that loss added up to a win for a man who became the longest-serving Member in the Senate’s history. West Virginia was one of the states that lost some of its delegation. At the time, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) was a Representative for the state.

He had already served in West Virginia’s House and Senate before being elected to three terms in the U.S. House. Ironically, Byrd’s Senate victory that year came at a time of great turnover in the West Virginia delegation, and not just because of reapportionment. In 1958, both Senators serving the state had gotten their jobs in special elections after the previous two Senators died. Byrd defeated one of them, Republican William Revercomb, that fall. There hasn’t been a Republican elected to the Senate from West Virginia since.

Byrd was part of a large freshman class but took advantage of his friendship with Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas) to get a seat on the Appropriations Committee in his first year. Among the others in his class was Connecticut Sen. Thomas Dodd (D), best known today as the father of one of Byrd’s current colleagues, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), himself a Senate veteran of almost 30 years.

Byrd wasn’t the only current Senator having a big year in 1959. Daniel Inouye (D), the Senate’s second-longest-serving Member, came to Washington as one of Hawaii’s first two Congressmen. Current Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R) joined the Iowa House of Representatives in 1959; now his grandson serves there. Edward Kennedy (D) was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in history, and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) graduated from Helena High School.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), now the longest-serving Member of the House, began his third term, having been elected to fill the vacancy created by his father’s death in late 1955. Dingell will celebrate an even more impressive anniversary on Feb. 14: He will become the longest-serving Member of the House of all time.

Back in 1958, one of Dingell’s legislative aides was John Conyers (D), now a fellow member of the Michigan delegation and the second-most-senior Member of the House.

A few Capitol Hill anniversaries go well beyond the 50-year marker. The Russell Senate Office Building, for example, opened its doors a century ago in March. It was not the first or the largest office building — Cannon opened a year earlier on the House side with almost 14,000 more square feet — but it housed the entire Senate. It was named after longtime Georgia Sen. Richard Brevard Russell Jr. (D) in 1972.

In 1859 (150 years ago), Senate meetings were moved from the Old Senate Chamber to the chamber in use today, and the Supreme Court moved in. (The court moved to a separate building across the street in 1935.) In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities” following a raucous campaign season. Better known as the Hatch Act, the law still prevents civil servants from engaging in partisan activities 70 years later. The Supreme Court upheld that law in 1947 and 1973.

Shorter anniversaries abound, too. Twenty-five years ago now-Sen. Roland Burris (Ill.) lost the Democratic nomination for Senate to then-Rep. Paul Simon, who went on to serve Illinois in the Senate until he lost the Democratic nomination for president in 1996. Among Simon’s campaign aides was 24-year-old Rahm Emanuel, now chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

Of the 100 Members of the Senate 25 years ago, 13 are still in the Senate today. On the House side, 36 Members still in office today served in the 98th Congress.

Ten years ago, now-retired Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was sworn in as the new Speaker. That same year, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began her first contest with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as her rival, ultimately defeating him for the Majority Whip title in October 2001.

In 2009, Pelosi and Hoyer work together, with Pelosi as Speaker and Hoyer as Majority Leader. If politics make strange bedfellows, time also gives us a clearer sense of how historic events still affect how Members do business today.

Correction: Jan. 27, 2009

The article incorrectly stated that President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Hatch Act into law. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.