Saturday, June 8, 2013

Damn! Dean Dingell's Definitely Delivered!

Courtesy McClatchy Newspapers/Eastern Echo

I know some people think politicians shouldn’t stay in their jobs for more than a few years but I disagree. I think it depends on the person.

The late Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina), who was in the U.S. Senate for almost 48 years, was opposed to civil rights (although he wasn’t opposed to impregnating a 16-year-old African-American girl who worked for his parents when he was 22 and having a secret daughter with her), married a 22-year-old employee when he was a 66-year-old senator, and sent a secret memo to Nixon administration officials urging that John Lennon be deported because of his politics. This guy shouldn’t have eaten at the public trough for so long.

Charlie Rangel (D-New York) has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since I was eight years old. In July of 2010, the House Ethics Committee charged Rangel with 13 counts of violating House rules and federal laws. He was found guilty of 11 of the charges and formally censured (which means little in the whole scheme of things). This guy shouldn’t still be eating at the public trough.

The late Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who was in the U.S. Senate for 40 years, was investigated by the FBI and found guilty of corruption as he campaigned for re-election in 2008. Charges included steering federal dollars to personal friends, failing to report large gifts, and making false statements about extensive remodeling at his home in Girdwood, Alaska. He lost his re-election bid by 3,724 votes. It’s good that Alaska’s electorate removed this guy from the public trough.

JFK and Dingell
But Michigan’s John Dingell, who became the longest-serving member of Congress in American history yesterday – he’s served since 1955, seven years before I was born – is different. I don’t know the guy but I assume he came up believing public service is a noble profession, that it’s a gift to be able to make life better for people, because he’s spent so long doing so much for so many of us. One doesn’t become the Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives by being self-serving and unscrupulous and taking one’s constituents for granted.

Anita and I attended a Michigan League of Conservation Voters fundraiser at the Ark in Ann Arbor a few years ago and Congressman Dingell was there. I don’t remember if he was being honored by the group or was just there because the event was in his district but I remember being impressed by the guy.

Debbie and John Dingell
Although he was 81 and was joined onstage by his cane, he was commanding and compelling. I thought it was noteworthy that someone who sided with the domestic auto industry on every issue – including opposing enhanced fuel efficiency standards and alternative energy vehicle production – was willing to hang out with a bunch of environmentalists who blame the internal combustion engine for some of our air pollution problems. (The congressman’s wife, Debbie, works for General Motors, is the granddaughter of GM’s founders and is a major political force in her own right.)

His comfort and confidence might have had something to do with the fact that he created the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, helped snag federal funding to clean up the Rouge River, and helped enact many of our country’s most important environmental laws, including the Water Quality Act of 1965, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act of 1977.

The more I researched Congressman Dingell’s record, the more impressed I became. In no particular order, obviously:
  • In 1965, he helped create Medicare to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older regardless of income or medical history.
  • He voted for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. (Among other things, the bill enhances judicial and law enforcement tools combatting violence against women and improves services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.)
  • He voted to restore funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998.
  • He voted to prohibit drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • He voted for campaign finance reform in 2001.
  • In June of 2007, he and Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-New York) introduced a gun control proposal requiring the head of each federal agency with records pertaining to people who shouldn’t own or buy guns to share that information with the Attorney General so it can be included in our background check system. The bill was signed into law in January of 2008. It’s interesting that Congressman Dingell co-sponsored this legislation; a former NRA board member, he’s in the past opposed most gun control measures. (See postscript below.)
  • A World War II veteran who’s always won re-election by double-digit margins, he’s one of the most powerful guys in Washington.

As with every politician who has a lengthy voting record, I don’t agree with every position he’s taken:
  • He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. (The U.S. Supremes are currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA, signed into law by Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.)
  • He was a supporter of the Vietnam War until 1971.
  • In 1993, he voted for the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” amendment which prohibited openly homosexual folks from serving in the military. (The policy was repealed in the fall of 2011).
  • In 2007, he tangled with then-colleague Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) over creating a new energy task force. (That same year, during a C-SPAN interview, he said he was thinking about proposing a new carbon tax to limit greenhouse gas emissions. See “John Dingell’s Carbon Tax Bill is Designed to Be Unpopular,” October 3, 2007.)
  • On September 14, 2001, he voted to authorize Dubya to “use the United States Armed Forces against anyone involved with the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and any nation that harbors these individuals.” (However, he voted against the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” that started the Iraq war.)
To be sure, not everybody digs Dingell. But wasn’t it Churchill who said something about how making enemies means you’ve stood for something?

Thanks for leaving such an indelible mark on our quality of life, Congressman Dingell. I appreciate your truly remarkable service and don’t mind at all that you’ve eaten from the public trough for so long.

Click here to read, “John Dingell's list of accomplishments as long as his career,” June 7, 2013. And watch this video from last Monday night to see Stephen Colbert ask Congressman Dingell if he was a Whig or a Bull Moose when he first ran for office:

P.S. I vaguely remember back in the late 1980s or 1990s when John Dingell’s son, Chris – who was a state senator at the time – received a lot of press attention for dropping his loaded pistol on the Senate floor. Thankfully, Dingell, now a Circuit Court judge, didn’t hurt anyone. Google must be broken because I couldn’t find anything validating my recollection.

P.P.S. It’s kind of cool that Congressman Dingell’s dad, John D. Dingell, Sr., represented the same district in Congress from 1933 to 1955 when his son took over.

P.P.P.S. My favorite line from Congressman Dingell’s Colbert Report appearance: “’Compromise’ is an honorable word.”

Sources:, Library of Congress,,, Dingell press release, Detroit Free Press, U.S. Department of Justice.

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