Monday, June 28, 2010

Robert Byrd 1917-2010 and Dolph Briscoe 1923-2010

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a fiery orator versed in the classics and a hard-charging power broker who steered billions of federal dollars to the state of his Depression-era upbringing, died Monday. He was 92.

Byrd was first elected to the Senate the year I was born, 1958.

In comportment and style, Byrd often seemed a Senate throwback to a courtlier 19th century. He could recite poetry, quote the Bible, discuss the Constitutional Convention and detail the Peloponnesian Wars — and frequently did in Senate debates.

Yet there was nothing particularly courtly about Byrd's pursuit or exercise of power.
Byrd was a master of the Senate's bewildering rules and longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls a third of the $3 trillion federal budget. He was willing to use both to reward friends and punish those he viewed as having slighted him.

"Bob is a living encyclopedia, and legislative graveyards are filled with the bones of those who underestimated him," former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, once said in remarks Byrd later displayed in his office.

Byrd had been a member of the KKK in his early years, and it was a Klucker that first suggested he run for political office.

Byrd's accomplishments followed a childhood of poverty in West Virginia, and his success on the national stage came despite a complicated history on racial matters. As a young man, we was a member of the Ku Klux Klan for a brief period, and he joined Southern Democrats in an unsuccessful filibuster against the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

He later apologized for both actions, saying intolerance has no place in America. While supporting later civil rights bills, he opposed busing to integrate schools. 

More here, here, and here. He was a titan of the Senate, and his passing leaves a chasm as great as Kennedy's.


Dolph Briscoe Jr., 87, a rancher, banker and businessman from the Texas Brush Country whose promise to restore integrity to a scandal-plagued state government propelled him into the Governor's Mansion in 1973, died Sunday at the family home in Uvalde.

Briscoe was governor precisely during the period of time I was in high school and then college.

The first Texas governor to serve a four-year term, he was re-elected in 1974 and then lost to Attorney General John Hill in the 1978 Democratic primary. In a stunning upset, Hill lost in the general election to Bill Clements, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Clements won, in part, because conservative Democrats were unhappy over Briscoe's loss and failed to support Hill.

*sigh* Some things just never change, do they?

Running as an outsider and challenging the stewardship of incumbent officeholders, he defeated Gov. Preston Smith and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes. In the general election, he beat Republican state Sen. Henry "Hank" Grover and Ramsey Muniz, the candidate of the La Raza Unida Party.

Then again ... how different do you think things would be in Texas if there were still an active La Raza Unida Party?

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