Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Musical Chairs In the Upper Chamber

In writing last week's post about the politics of small states, I came across the interesting Senate career of North Dakota's Kent Conrad. To recap, Conrad was elected to the Senate in 1986 with a pledge to serve only one term unless the budget deficit was reduced. When it wasn't he announced that he wouldn't seek re-election, allowing then House member Byron Dorgan to run for, and win, the Senate seat. However, a few months later, North Dakota's senior senator, Quentin Burdick, died. Upon entreaties from state Democrats, Conrad reconsidered his resignation and ran successfully in the special election to succeed Burdick. He has held that seat ever since. In fact, he resigned his first Senate seat early, allowing Dorgan to gain a month of seniority, and was sworn into Burdick's old seat the same day. Thus, not only does Conrad have the interesting history of holding both of his state's Senate seats, he held them both on the same day!!!

It turns out that Conrad is not alone in holding both of his state's Senate seats. In fact, he shares this bit of trivia with one of his colleagues--New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg. While I was aware of Lautenberg's entrance--exit--entrance to the Senate I hadn't realized the similarity with Conrad. In Lautenberg's case, he was first elected in 1982 to the seat vacated by previous incumbent Harrison Williams (who was convicted in the Abscam probe). After two successful re-elections, Lautenberg announced his retirement in 2000 and was succeeded by now NJ Governor Jon Corzine. When Lautenberg left, the Garden State's other Senator was Democrat Bob Torricelli. Due to campaign finance shenanigans (in New Jersey??!!), Torricelli abandoned his 2002 re-election campaign. In haste, Democrats turned to Lautenberg to keep the seat in the party's hands. He obliged, came out of retirement and won the seat (and was successfully re-elected last year).

Earlier this week I challenged my U.S. Congress students to find the similarity between Conrad and Lautenberg--having not discussed any of this with them. I thought it would take a few days worth of digging but within two hours two of them had solved the riddle. The offer of extra credit points, plus the internet, will do that I guess.

On a final note, there is one other recent member of the Senate who also has the distinction of holding both seats during their career--Washington's Slade Gorton. His case is perhaps the most interesting. Gorton, a Republican, first came to the Senate in the Republicans' 1980 Senate landslide, defeating Washington's longtime incumbent, and Senate titan, Warren Magnuson. 1986, as we know, was a very different year than 1980, and Gorton was swept out of office by challenger Brock Adams after just one term. Two years later, in 1988, Gorton re-emerged to seek the seat being vacated by the state's other Senator, Republican Dan Evans. Gorton won, defeating then House Democrat Mike Lowry. In 1994 (another great Republican year) Gorton was re-elected. In 2000, though, he was challenged by former House Democrat Maria Cantwell. In a razor thin race, Cantwell was victorious by a mere 2000 votes (and was since re-elected in 2006). Thus, Gorton has not only held both of Washington's Senate seats, he has also lost them both--Conrad and Lautenberg have held both having never lost. In addition, he has been both the junior and senior Senator from Washington for both seats!!!

So that's three senators who have held both of their state's Senate seats--a pretty fascinating bit of trivia. If anyone knows of others who have done this I'd be interested to know. There have to be earlier examples, especially from the period before the direct election of senators. Another bit of trivia I'm wondering about--again, please help--Has anyone ever been elected to Congress from two different states over the course of their career???

**Caricatures by Kerry Waghorn

**Update. One of my former students, via the comments section, identifies former Senator James Shields who, over the course of several decades in the mid 19th century, represented three states. Good work.


Walter Sobchak said...

I'm not sure if this counts, but it sure is interesting: Founding Father Thomas McKean served in the Congress as a delegate/representative from Delaware (even serving as President of the Congress), and voted for independence as a Delawarean. Somehow, at the same time he was in Congress, he served as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania (1777-1799) and then as Governor of Pennsylvania (1799-1808).

He may not have been elected to Congress from different states, but his dual-state political career is interesting nonetheless.

David said...


I distinctly remember giving tours of the Capitol during my semester in DC and while doing so, being an intern for Rep. Judy Biggert from IL, I always had to point out the statue of Senator James Shields. Senator Shields was a senator from Illinois, Missouri, and Minnesota throughout his political career. Hope that helps.