Writings and observations

Closing in on a record

Peter DeFazio

Peter DeFazio

Representative Peter DeFazio erred a bit the other day, on a matter of record. From the David Steves blog Capitol Notebook (Eugene Register Guard):

“U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio opened a state Capitol news conference Friday with this bit of trivia: When he completes his current term, in January, 2011, he will have served 24 years—tying the record for longevity for any Oregon congressman.” There was a punch line to this: The other 24-year guy, Al Ullman (also a Democrat), went no further because he lost his bid for re-election in 1980, thereby becoming the classic case study of an incumbent losing touch with his district. (DeFazio, who seems also to be mulling a run for governor, is highly unlikely to fall victim to the same problem.)

DeFazio’s glitch: Ullman doesn’t hold the Oregon/U.S. house longevity record. That is held by Willis Hawley, best known nationally as the co-sponsor of the trade-limiting Smoot-Hawley Tariff, “which raised import tariffs to record levels, and, as many historians claim, contributed to the circumstances which resulted in the Great Depression.” He was ousted in 1932, not coincidentally. so one point DeFazio made stands: both representatives serving longer than he has were bounced out by the voters.

Or, as David Sarasohn of the Oregonian wrote in his entertaining rundown today about the state’s House delegations, “So on the one hand, Hawley helped make the Great Depression even more depressing. On the other hand, he’s the most famous Oregon congressman ever.”

(A Sarasohn glitch: “Bob Duncan was elected to the House from the 4th District in the 1960s, then moved to Portland and was elected from the 3rd – the only Oregonian sent to Congress from two different districts.” Not the only: There was Denny Smith from the 2nd and 5th; and you could stretch it add Walter Lefferty from the 2nd and 3rd.)

The most notable data point to emerge from looking through the longevity runs of Oregon representatives is how the terms in office generally have been lengthening, Hawley and Ullman notwithstanding. Apart from freshman Kurt Schrader, all of Oregon’s current House members are in their sixth terms or more, and Schrader’s predecessor was in her sixth. Call that the marker of a trend . . .

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