Veterans of the Senate

Brett Favre, the man who started in 275 games straight, shaped and influenced the way people reflect on football. Even Bears fans like me acknowledge the superhuman strength and endurance Favre displayed in his years with the NFL. Furthermore, Favre will have a lasting impact on youths who aspire to be quarterbacks. But what about the Senators who have served the United States of America for years on end. Sponsoring bill after bill and pushing for the rights and liberties of the American people. Who were the Senators that served the most amount of time, leaving an impact on American politics for years to come?

Below maps the Senators who have served for the longest uninterrupted time period starting with the 80th Congress which began in 1947. The longer the streak , the longer the time that Senator was a Senator.

It’s immediately evident that incumbents do quite well in the Senate; if you’ve won a few a elections, you’ll probably win a few more. Some senators have held their seat for an impressive number of years. Are those that served in congress for the longest number of years truly incredible Senators? It’s hard to say, but one measure could be to look at the lives they lived and the bills they sponsored.

The first graph below displays the number of bills sponsored per year by each of the top three longest uninterrupted serving Senators: Robert Byrd, Daniel Inouye, Edward “Ted” Kennedy. Also included is the average number of bills sponsored by a Senator. The trends are difficult to see due to the noise caused by the election cycle. This is what causes the up and down nature of the graph.

The second graph below averages the number of bills passed over a congressional session or a two year time period. This helps reduce the undulation.

Inouye sponsors an inspiring number of legislation while Byrd barely ever breaks the average. Kennedy also pushes along a fair number of bills. To note, bills vary drastically in their size and scope – some bills simply elect a person to a position while others overhaul immigration.

It’s one thing to sponsor a bill; it’s quite another thing to get a bill passed. Below inspects how successful each congressman was at passing bills. Again the second graph averages the number of bills passed over two years to stymie the undulation.

These graphs elucidate exactly why Kennedy earned his nickname “The Lion of the Senate.” Kennedy, by comparison, pushes heaps of bills through Congress. Inouye passes a respectable number of bills, while again, Byrd lags behind the other two and passes enough bills to be about par for the average Senator.

Robert Byrd (D)

51 years

Bills #
Sponsored 453
Passed Senate 47
Became public law 20

Robert Byrd was born November 17th, 1917. He has held the longest streak as Senator for West Virginia. Byrd’s political affiliations are nefarious at best; incredibly he was elected 9 times. Byrd, as a youth, is quoted saying:

“I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”


Growing up, Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Byrd was also a participant in the 83-day filibuster of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s worth noting that he did vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1968. He also is the only Senator to vote against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, the only two African-American supreme court nominees. He has repeatedly renounced his past actions in his memoirs. In 1994, Byrd’s views began to dramatically change from segregationist southern democrat to that of a progressive democrat. In the 2003-2004 congressional session the NAACP announced that Byrd’s voting record was 100% inline with the NAACP. He even latter pledged $10 million in funding to Martin Luther King Jr.’s National Memorial. It’s unclear if Byrd’s racial views ever changed or he was in fact simply pandering to the values of the American people. In 2001, he was quoted saying in an interview with Tony Snow about his views on race:

“They’re much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime … I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us … I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ We practice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.”


In light of the recent events, I think it’s fair to say that racial problems are not “largely behind us.”

Daniel Inouye

49 years

Bills #
Sponsored 2327
Passed Senate 123
Became public law 54

Daniel Inouye was a Japanese-American born September 7th, 1924 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Inouye is well-known for his service in World War II. When Pearl Harbor began he immediately began aiding the wounded in a nearby Red Cross station. Inouye even attempted to enlist in the military but was denied acceptance because he was of Japanese descent.

Inouye’s time with the military is nothing short of extraordinary. Eventually when the US Government started enrolling Japanese-Americans, he was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Inouye had become squad leader when the team was given the order to go to Naples, Italy. While he was in Italy, he was ordered to attack a heavily manned road near San Terenzo. In a heroic effort, Inouye launches grenades into enemy machine gun nests. He wipes the first bunker and continues to the second enclave. He throws two more grenades. The second machine gun nest is destroyed, but Inouye collapses from blood loss due to the wounds he has sustained. Inouye crawls further to take the final nest. A rifle grenade hits him and tears off his arm. He then throws another grenade to capture the last bunker. He’s taken under immediately care, but doesn’t leave the scene until the team has secured the area.

Inouye returns to the United States without an arm and unable to fulfill his passion to become a surgeon. In consideration of this, Inouye studies law and becomes a member of the US House of Representatives in 1959 (the first Japanese-American to become a member of Congress).

His contributions to the government and law-making are numerous. During his time in Congress he served as Chairman for the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. He helped to also pass and sponsor many pieces of legislation. It also should be noted that there were allegations of sexual harassment against him in the 1992 election. Inouye’s hairdresser said he had forced himself sexually upon her.

When he announced that he would run for a 10th term, the lucid Inouye was quoted saying:

“I have told my staff and I have told my family that when the time comes, when you question my sanity or question my ability to do things physically or mentally, I don’t want you to hesitate, do everything to get me out of here, because I want to make certain the people of Hawaii get the best representation possible.”


Edward “Ted” Kennedy

46 years

Bills #
Sponsored 1221
Passed Senate 162
Became public law 90

Edward “Ted” Kennedy was born February 22nd, 1932 in Massachusetts. Kennedy was the brother of both John Kennedy (former president) and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. He was, as mentioned above, known as the “Lion of the Senate” for both his influence over the Senate and his long tenure. He’s cited as working with Republicans to pass a wide variety of laws on many issues including immigration, education and civil rights.

Kennedy, as a youth, was expelled from Harvard for two years for academic reasons. He joined the military and was posted to Paris, France. After the two year military stint, he was again accepted at Harvard where he excelled at football. So much so that the Green Bay Packers attempted to recruit him. Kennedy turned down the offer and pursued law school to prepare for a life in politics.

Kennedy’s nearly pristine record was stained during the Chappaquiddick incident. Kennedy purportedly accidentally drove off a bridge with Mary Jo Kopechne in the passenger seat. Kennedy was able to free himself and escape. Hard to say what actually happened that night; it seems highly plausible that it was a mistake (though I find it hard to believe no alcohol was involved as Kennedy states) but there are a few pieces to the story that seem a bit odd: he left the scene and did not report the incident until 9 hours later; Kopechne did not tell anyone she was leaving and her key and purse were found at the party she was leaving; Kopechne died of suffocation and probably was alive in the vehicle for a few hours. The incident is no doubt complex. You can read more here. Kennedy later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. He never served any jail time due to his age and character. It must be nice to have a lot of money.

After the incident Kennedy told his voters:

If at any time, the citizens of Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator’s character or his ability, with or without justification, he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duties, and should not continue in office. The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile. So I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it I seek your prayers. For this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.


Beyond that Kennedy got in a few more scuffles with the media about his personal life. Notably he was photographed having sex on a motorboat (not with his wife). However, Kennedy managed to overcome his turbulent personal life to continually get elected. During his time he authored a myriad of keystone legislation a couple were the Health Insurance Portability and the Accountability Act - allows people to maintain health insurance after leaving a job, Children’s Health Act - increased healthcare for children under 18.

For the most part, Inouye and Kennedy have earned their spot in the Senate. They’ve succeeded in passing more bills than your average Senator and have built lives characterizing American values. Americans have appreciated this fact and have continually reelected them. Byrd is a slightly more perplexing case. Byrd is an unlikely candidate to be the longest serving Senator for the United States, which brings into question the degree of meritocracy within the Senate. As more and more money pours into campaigns, one can only hope that merit and ideas are the core reasons that Senators and other candidates get elected into public offices. It’s a reminder to look deeper at the candidates that are running for office and not just the red or blue next to their name.





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