The son of a coal miner, he came of age during the Great Depression. He was first elected to public office in 1952 as a congressman. In 1958, he won the Senate seat that he would then hold for the rest of his life. His impact on West Virginians is deep - many have never lived in a world without him in federal office, and his generosity with taxpayer dollars is legendary. The numerous buildings, roads and other federally funded projects bearing his name are a permanent testament to his abilities as a pork wrangler, and are no doubt deeply appreciated by the citizens of his state.
His death brings up some interesting questions, however. According to West Virginia law, if a seat becomes vacant less than 2 years and six months before the next election, the governor has the ability to appoint a successor that will hold the seat until the next regular election. If the vacancy occurs more than two years and six months before the next regular election, the governor appoints an interim senator to hold the seat until the next regular election cycle, where it will be won in a special election for the remaining two years of the term. Byrd was up for reelection in 2012 so the two and a half year threshold is July 3, 2010 - next week. Which technically means the governor should be appointing someone for the next few months until the people can elect a new senator in the special election in November.
Here's where it gets interesting, though. According to state law, the governor decides when to declare the seat vacant. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Gov. Manchin might delay this declaration until after July 3rd. Why would Manchin do this? There are those who say that Manchin would like to appoint himself to the seat, which is perfectly legal and above board according to W. Va. law. What is NOT above board is the possibility that he may refuse to declare the seat vacant for a full week in order for him to fulfill his ambitions. But that's politics these days.
It will be interesting to see how the media paints Robert Byrd in the coming days. Let the revisionism begin.
They are already calling him a "respected voice of the Senate". They are also attempting to whitewash his KKK membership and civil rights opposition, with some going so far as to say that he was a champion of civil rights. Okay, sure, if by "champion" you mean someone who personally logged 14 hours filibustering the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
President Obama remembered him thus:
President Barack Obama said the Senate "has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason."
Principle and reason? That is an interesting choice of words. Here's a quote from Senator Byrd that will surely enshrine him forever in the Civil Rights movement and enforce Obama's view that he was a voice of principle and reason:
“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.”
Senator Byrd was the last living link between the democrat party and their racist, segregationist past. Now that he is gone, the full rehabilitation of the party can begin. And no doubt it will, starting with the Senator himself. His time in the KKK will be painted as youthful indiscretion, but that isn't a passable excuse for his filibustering, which he engaged in at the tender age of 46. To his credit, he did eventually vote for Civil Rights legislation, but one can't help but wonder, in light of the above quote - was it the extra four whole years of wisdom he accrued from one vote to the other, or the increasing political popularity of civil rights that changed his mind? He was, after all, a politician and, if his length of tenure is any indication, one who was quite savvy about reading public opinion.
There is a good possibility that Governor Manchin will wait until next week to declare the seat vacant, and will then appoint himself. The democrat leadership will table the votes until this is done. They can't afford to have another seat up for grabs in November. The voters of West Virginia are going to be hard-hit by Cap and Trade, which would drastically affect the coal mines that are the lifeblood of the state ("fix it or nix it" - my money's on them nixing it), so there is a possibility that they might elect someone who will oppose the legislation, be they democrat or republican. Better to leave the unenlightened masses out of the decision making.
Senator Byrd should receive all of the respect due to an elder statesman. Whether one agrees with him or not, he served his country for more than 50 years, and helped his state in many ways during his tenure in office. He was who he was, and there is no age limit on changes of heart. Whether he was sincere in his is a matter between him and God, but the earthly record should show all of his public opinions, not just the ones that suit the democrat party and their media lapdogs.