It's hard to gauge exactly what impact the death of Senator Robert Byrd and the defeat of long-time First District Congressman Alan Mollohan will have on the state of West Virginia.
Byrd's 52 years in the U.S. Senate and Mollohan's 28 years in the House put them in pretty powerful positions in institutions that are largely built on seniority. If seniority is the only way to gain power and influence in those two chambers, then the state's loss may be huge. Personally, I would like to think that good ideas and a willingness to fight for them can be just as important as seniority.
But Byrd is gone and Mollohan's a lame duck. The state of West Virginia will have to move forward.
Which is why this fall's election to select Mollohan's replacement and the decision on who will be eventually elected to fill Byrd's vacant Senate seat, are so important.
There are some who believe that a periodic change of elected officials is a good thing because folks who are in office too long may forget who it is that elected them. This has been the driving force behind so many efforts in recent years to limit the number of terms that elected officials can serve.
One thing I often like to remind term limit proponents of is: If FDR had been limited to two terms as President, as modern-day presidents are, his time in office would be seen as a failure since the Depression was still raging at the end of his second term. The fact that he was still in office for a third term and part of a fourth, gave him the opportunity to see the country through that difficult time and earn an honored place in American history.
On the other side of the term-limit argument are those who believe that good elected officials, who are doing their job and serving the people, ought not be forced out of office in the belief that new blood is ALWAYS better.
But if seniority IS the key to power in the U.S. House and Senate, then the state of West Virginia needs to select people who are in this for the long haul and not just wanting to serve a term or two to have something to put on their resume or their tombstone.
The voters need to do their best to elect candidates who won't embarrass us with any off-duty shenanigans or on-duty stupidity. We need office holders who will be passionate about their jobs and not merely be happy to put in their time. They need to know when to listen to the folks back home and when to lead the folks back home to a new understanding.
It is seldom that voters get to choose a new U.S. Senator, as witnessed by Byrd's half-century long tenure. The same is true for members of the House. But people in this part of West Virginia will get to do both in the next few months and in the next couple of years.
It is a job they best not take lightly.
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