Leahy to become longest serving Senator in Vt. history

12/22/08 5:51PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP/T. Talbot
(Host) Later this week, Senator Patrick Leahy will become the longest serving U.S. senator in Vermont history. Leahy will eclipse the previous record set by Senator George Aiken.

VPRs Bob Kinzel takes a look at Leahy's long career in the Senate.

(Kinzel) George Aiken represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate for 12,412 days between 1940 and 1975. Leahy won the open seat that resulted from Aiken's retirement and he was sworn into office in January of 1975 when he was 34 years old. He's been re-elected five times.

Leahy has cast almost 13,000 votes in his Senate career - he says one of the most difficult was one of the earliest. Leahy was a member of the Armed Services committee, and in April of 1975, he voted to end funding for the Vietnam War:

(Leahy) "It's interesting it's hard to find anybody who supported that war now but I'm the only Vermonter who ever voted against the war in Vietnam and it ended basically by a one vote margin I think that was a very memorable thing."

And of all the votes that he's made, Leahy says there's one that he's most proud of:

(Leahy) "That's the vote against going to war in Iraq I felt we should have gone into Afghanistan caught Osama bin Laden not be distracted by Iraq now thousands of lives later and a trillion dollars lost I think most people wish we'd all voted that same way."

Leahy also disclosed for the first time that President George H.W. Bush sent him on a very sensitive diplomatic mission to the Middle East after the first Gulf war in 1991:

(Leahy) "He wanted me to carry personal messages to the leaders of a couple of countries in the Gulf states where there had been some friction and so I went and carried the messages for him and carried their messages back and I'm being purposely vague because of the nature of what was involved."

Leahy is known as the cyber senator in Washington because of his early interest in the Internet, he's invited the members of the Grateful Dead for lunch in the Senate Dining room, and he's launched a very personal crusade to remove millions of landmines throughout the world.

Ellen McCulloch Lovel worked as Leahy's chief of staff for 11 years between 1983 and 1994. She now serves as the President of Marlboro College. She thinks there's a good reason why Leahy has had a successful Senate career:

(McCulloch-Lovell) "What he hasn't ever lost is this wonderful mixture of realism and idealism and you know he's a real Vermonter and he never in all these years he hasn't lost his Vermont values."

Leahy is a big Batman fan and he's even had small parts in a few of the Batman movies. McCulloch Lovell thinks Leahy admires what Batman represents - a fight for good over evil forces - forces she says Leahy witnessed first hand as a prosecutor in Chittenden County:

(McCulloch-Lovell) "Maybe his love of the Batman character shows a couple of sides to him... this is a person who wants to do good a warrior in that sense...his time before the Senate showed him the dark side of human nature and he's realistic about that as well about how people behave."

Leahy is also known for using humor to make important policy statements on the Senate floor. In 1989, he urged his colleagues to reject a proposed federal balanced budget amendment.

He said it was a simplistic solution to a complicated problem and he argued that members of Congress should have the courage to vote against excessive spending - then he quoted the Wizard of Oz:


(Leahy on Senate floor) "What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage ! What makes the hottenhot so hot what makes the ap in apricot what have they got that I ain't got ? Courage ! Now Mr. President, the cowardly lion finally got his courage we ought to get a little."

Leahy will officially surpass George Aiken's record on Saturday.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

Photo: U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., takes a bite of an ice cream sundae named after him in Burlington, Vt., Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. Ben & Jerry's unveiled an ice cream sundae in honor of Sen. Patrick Leahy becoming Vermont's longest serving U.S. senator. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot) 

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