From the Detroit News:
John Dingell, 84, plans to run for a 30th term and extend his reign as the dean of the U.S. House…
Dingell, who began his career on Capitol Hill at age 29 when he filled the seat of his father, faced a tougher than usual campaign in 2010 against Rob Steele, a tea party favored Republican. In the end, Dingell pulled out with a 17-point lead.
Now, I’m not for a second hopping on the term-limits bandwagon. I think that having experienced legislators is essential in passing on the experience of past generations of government to the leaders of tomorrow. But 60 years in Congress is enough – and Dingell isn’t even the oldest member of the House! That accolade would go to Ralph Hall, a Texas Republican born in 1923 (!) who currently chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. And the Senate is just as bad. Granted, Robert Byrd passed away back in 2010, and he was Congress’s longevity champion, born in 1917 and first elected to the Senate in 1959. But even now, the oldest members, Daniel Inouye, Frank Lautenberg and Daniel Akaka, were all born in 1924. The average age in the Senate is 61 (58 in the House). Most people would agree, I hope, that having the country run by a bunch of geriatrics and late-middle-agers is not necessarily good for democracy, much as I respect the three current sitting octagenarian senators.
And why are things the way they are? I don’t think that it’s a shock to most people to suggest that seniority rules and the power of incumbency play a major role. While partisanship is often decried in America, this is one domain where strengthening party leadership at the expense of individual members could help. The Republicans have more or less done away with the seniority principle, and instituted term limits on committee chairmanships, while simultaneously giving greater power to the leadership to pick chairs. Maybe that’s why the average House Republican is 54 years old, while the average House Democrat is 60. If seniority, and thus incumbency, mattered less at the ballot box, then we might get a slightly more representative legislature. That’d probably be good for everyone.