Partisan Politics Have Convinced Longest-Serving Congressman to Retire
Rep. John D. Dingell, the 87-year-old Michigan Democrat who represented districts including both Detroit and Dearborn over the course of his career, announced on Monday that he will not seek reelection after the end of his current term.
After winning a special election at 29, he entered the House of Representatives in 1955, filling the seat left open by his father’s death. Dingell spent the next 59 years in Congress, winning another 29 elections, taking on the symbolic role of dean of the House in 1995, and serving as the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for 16 years. In total, he has served under 11 presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama. June saw the passage of his 20,997th day as a U.S. representative, making him the longest-serving member of Congress. Previously, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, held the record.
“There’s little doubt that John Dingell is one of the most consequential members of Congress in the last century,” congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told the Detroit Free Press. “He’s been involved — and in a significant way — in virtually every major social policy advance or chance in [America] since at least the 1960s.” In Washington, Dingell was known as “Big John,” and while the name ostensibly came from his great height, his deep involvement in the political process can also explain the nickname.
Dingell’s tenure was historic not only for its length but for his vocal support of progressive causes like workers’ rights. He voted in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and he considers that ballot the most important in his entire career. Since his election in 1955, he has cast more than 10,000 votes and written parts of — or at least helped to approve — a number of the most important pieces of legislation of the last six decades, from the Affordable Care Act to the Clean Air and Endangered Species acts to Medicare, the government-funded health program for seniors.