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February 24, 2014 12:32 PM The Dingell Era

By Ed Kilgore

From the snail’s-eye view of the cyclically obsessed, John Dingell’s announcement that he will retire from the House when his current term expires is just another sign—like the earlier retirement announcement of his old rival Henry Waxman—of a bad Democratic year. But Dingell’s House tenure has been so incredibly vast (he was in his tenth term when Waxman was first elected) that it’s worth pausing to gaze at it in awe.

After winning a special election held in December 1955 upon his father’s death (John Dingell, Sr., was first elected to represent Detroit in 1932), Dingell’s tenure spanned eleven presidential administrations. He served under ten different Speakers. He was fortunate to enter the House at the beginning of a forty-year continuous period of Democratic control of the chamber (the longest in U.S. history by a large margin), and then survived a twelve-year Republican interregnum before regaining and then relinquishing (displaced by Waxman in 2008) his Energy and Commerce gavel again. And if that wasn’t enough, he spent five additional years as a House page before entering the military during World War II (he and Texas’ Ralph Hall, who is at this point running for one more term, are the last remaining WW2 veterans in Congress).

Tip O’Neill’s memoirs were entitled Man of the House. But with a mere 36 years of service, he was a piker compared to Dingell. And if, as expected, John Dingell’s wife Debbie succeeds her husband next January, the Dingell dynasty could plausibly extend to a century (she’ll only be 78 in 2032). Just incredible.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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