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February 03, 2013 9:00 AM Tom Harkin

By Jonathan Bernstein

I forgot to write a post about Tom Harkin’s decision, announced over the weekend, not to seek re-election next year.

I’ve never been a big Harkin fan, but make no mistake about it: the Americans with Disabilities Act was a major, major accomplishment. Harkin doesn’t get the credit alone; just in the Senate, Bob Dole was a major player. But if that’s all he had done in his career, and it isn’t, Harkin would still have left a lasting mark. I mean, literally. Young’ns may not realize that things such as regular curb cuts at intersections didn’t exist in many (most?) places before the ADA passed in 1990. I mean, let alone the employee protections, and other provisions.

Meanwhile, with John Kerry confirmed as Secretary of State today, we have four Senators from the 113th Congress who won’t be around for the 114th: Kerry (who will be 71 in January 2015), Harkin (75), Jay Rockefeller (77), and Saxby Chambliss (71). Jim DeMint is gone; he’ll be only 63 by then. The big one yet to drop, still, is Frank Lautenberg (would be 90); at the very least, he’s under a lot of pressure. So on the old, old, Senate, we’re off to a pretty good start for the next cycle as far as exits are concerned; now we just need some new Senators (such as Tim Scott) in their 30s and 40s.

Rumor has it that Harkin’s ADA was responsible for the loss of the fabulous Skyway to Fantasyland, but a bit of quick research suggests that’s not true. When the ADA passed, there were plenty of predictions that similar disruptions would be common, and for all I know some businesses really were harmed by the need to comply with the law. Even so: the gains from it were immediate and long-lasting, and as far as I can tell the law has been about as much of a success as you can get from public policy. I know it’s been a major help for my family over the years. So, thanks, Tom Harkin, and good luck enjoying your post-Senate years.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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