Robert Byrd, 1917-2010

It is not generally my custom to comment on the elected officials of states other than my own. However, the passing of Robert Byrd, until his death today West Virginia’s senior senator, as the longest-serving senator in U. S. history deserves some comment. His career was remarkable, rising as he did from West Virginia coal country poverty through the Ku Klux Klan to elected office and, eventually, to the U. S. Senate, where he has served since 1959.

He certainly was a good friend to West Virginia, bringing lots of federal money to the state, largely through locating all sorts of federal offices, highways, and institutes in the state where their presence made little more sense than they would have in the middle of the Oklahoma prairie. West Virginia returned the favor, maintaining him in office for more than half a century. May he rest in peace.

His death truly marks the end of an era, the last gasp of the Solid South (at least solid for Democrats).

Under West Virginia law, the state’s governor, a Democrat, will appoint Sen. Byrd’s successor. State law also calls for a special election to elect a permanent replacement to serve out the balance of his term. McCain carried West Virginia by a substantial margin in 2008 so I would expect a very hard-fought race for the seat.

I’m not familiar enough with West Virginia politics to speculate on the outcome but there is a bare possibility that West Virginia could present Republicans with the 10th seat needed to take control of the Senate, ironic considering the seat had been filled by a man who had been a Democratic powerhouse since before most Americans were born.

James Joyner has a good round-up of media reaction to the news.

Joe Gandelman also has a round-up of media reaction as well as some blogospheric reaction.

1 comment… add one
  • His death truly marks the end of an era, the last gasp of the Solid South (at least solid for Democrats).

    You’re a smart man, but this is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen you write.
    West Virginia exists precisely because it made a conscious decision to secede from the South. The state even paid “reparations” to Va. until 1939.
    In national politics, the chief complaint I’ve always heard is that WV swings back and forth like a bell. It went for Dukakis, but then for Bush-twice. It’s society is not typically “southern”; in fact, social conventions vary all over the state, which exists both above and below the Mason Dixon Line and pushes as far east as the Pittsburgh area. The best way to classify it is maybe Appalachian- but the most accurate thing to say is that it simply resists firm classification.
    I ought to know; I was born and raised there.
    But there’s no use arguing with most people who pontificate about WV- I should know that by now, as well. Few of them have ever lived there, or even bothered to visit.

    Sorry to sound so irritable, but geez, you can do better.

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