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The deaths of two very different former members of Congress this past week is a reminder of what a dynamic place Capitol Hill can be. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., and Sen. Maryon Pittman Allen, D-Ala., did not have too terribly much in common. But they became a small part of the whole that is the American experiment.
He was a black man from Oakland, a Marine, a social worker, antiwar activist, the first African-American to chair the House Armed Services Committee and chief antagonist against South African apartheid. After being elected to 14 terms, he became a Washington lobbyist and eventually returned to California and was mayor of Oakland.
She was an appointed senator, tapped to replace her late husband, James B. Allen, who died in office. Born in Mississippi, reared in Birmingham, Alabama, she was a journalist before and after public life. She was only a senator for five months but still racked up the highest absentee rate of all time, according to her obituary in The Washington Post.
She once knocked conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly as “about as feminine as a sidewalk drill,” and pegged Alabama Gov. George Wallace as a “little swaggering, power hungry gamecock,” the Post noted.
After losing her primary runoff and a shot at being elected to the seat in her own right, she wrote columns for the Post, then headed back South and became, among other things, a seamstress and interior decorator. It’s not hard to picture her, beehive hairdo and all, as an inspiration for one of the characters in the old “Designing Women” television show.
Dellums and Allen. They busted the molds.
This Week’s Podcast
Medical devices might seem like an unlikely summer topic for discussion, but considering the hundreds of millions of people opting for everything from pacemakers to birth control inserts to be inserted in their bodies, and the virtual lack of regulatory or congressional insight, well, maybe it’s worth a listen to our latest Political Theater podcast, with “The Bleeding Edge” filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering and CQ health editor Rebecca Adams.