by Karl Kurtz
I enjoy reading Gail Collins in The New York Times as much as I do any columnist, not because I always agree with her but because of her clever and engaging prose. Here's a recent example in a column last weekend, "Putting the Fond in Farewell."
Nowhere is the need for the graceful exit more apparent than in our politics. This week Senator Robert Byrd turned 92. He has been in office for more than 50 years. That’s an all-time record for Congress. In fact, it is probably a record for every deliberative body since Athens in the Age of Pericles.
That's a marvelous turn of phrase, but unfortunately, Ms. Collins, it's not even a record for a deliberative body since Wisconsin in the age of Eisenhower. Sen. Byrd was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, two years after Sen. Fred Risser (photo) was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly. A Democrat from Madison, Risser fought the tide of the landslide reelection of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Risser was elected to the Wisconsin Senate in 1962 and has been serving there ever since.
A nit-picker could say that Byrd is the longest-serving in the same chamber of a "deliberative body" (compared to Risser who has served in two different chambers in the same state legislature), but we would suggest caution in making that claim. NCSL has pretty good knowledge of records for length of service by state legislators since the 20th century, but we can't track earlier periods in American history.
And for an international perspective, check out "Longest Serving Legislator in the World? Not" about Chaudharry Prem Singh, who was elected to the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the same year that Sen. Byrd was elected to the U.S. Senate. We don't know what month Chaudharry was elected, but the odds are that it was earlier than Byrd's November 2008 election and that he took office before Byrd on Jan. 3, 1959.