EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

June 16, 2013

Column: Dingell's longevity in Congress is no cause for celebration

“A Thousand Days” was the poignant title of historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s book about the brief administration of John F. Kennedy. If a historian were to write such a book about the never-ending congressional career of Congressman John D. Dingell of Michigan, the title might be a clunky but appropriate “20,997 Days … And Counting!”

At 12:01 a.m. on June 7, Dingell became the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress. He was elected on December 13, 1955, to replace his father, who had died in office (and who had held the seat since 1933). While Dingell has not announced his intention to seek what would likely be another breezy re-election, he has not ruled it out, either.

Dingell was once my congressman. I was a summer intern in his district office in Dearborn, Mich., in 1993, and in his Washington, D.C., office in 1994. The duties were the usual for interns – answering phones, writing constituent letters, and running down to the House cafeteria to fetch the boss a BLT, cookie and Nantucket Nectar for lunch.

Dingell was kind to me. One night I was tapped to drive him to an event in the district. When I offered to use my car, he said “We’ll use my gas.” In retrospect, it was probably my gas anyway, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. Dingell’s staffers were, to a person, great – supportive, encouraging, and friendly.

Dingell once gave me an hour of his time during which he was quite frank about the stresses of political life on families. I asked him why he never ran for the Senate. He replied in all earnestness “I’m not interested in a demotion.”

That was a very important point. Dingell was at that time chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House. He had slowly climbed the old leadership ladder and wielded great power and influence. Nearly half of all legislation in the House passed through his committee. It was said that when someone once asked him what that committee’s jurisdiction was, he pointed to a photograph of Earth.

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