On Wednesday U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) will become the longest-serving House member in U.S. history. In over a half century of service, the 82-year-old Dingell has been front and center for some of the most important moments in American history.
He has worked with 11 presidents, debated legislation in 37 different Congresses, and held court with countless leaders and other dignitaries. As Dingell approaches this unique milestone, the Times-Herald/Sunday Times asked him a few questions about his successes, his failures, and what lies ahead.
What is your proudest moment or accomplishment as a representative?
“The thing I am most proud of is that the people of southeast Michigan, the finest, most dedicated, wonderful people I have known, have continued to support me. Nothing in my political career means more than that.
There are several legislative accomplishments that I am proud to have been a part of -— such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Civil Rights Bills of 1957 and 1964 and Medicare.
I feel like we did a terrific job exposing government waste and fraud during my tenure as chairman of Energy and Commerce. All of those things have special meaning to me.”
What do you most wish you would have done differently?
“We need national health insurance, and we came very close in 1994. I think things would be much different for our automakers right now if we had gotten that done. I am taking a lead role in crafting national health insurance legislation and hopefully we can right that wrong.
I feel I voted the right way on Iraq , voting for the war in 1991, but against the current war we are in now, but I voted the wrong way on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.”
Are more campaign stops on the horizon, or are you looking toward retirement?
“That’s a decision for the good Lord, the people of Michigan, the lovely Deborah and me to make in the months ahead. We take a look every election and consider the circumstances. We will do that again this cycle. Right now, I feel very good and I am concentrating on the work that I have to do in the 111th Congress.”
What is most remarkable about the changes this country has experienced during your tenure, and is it better now or when you first took office?
“Its easy to talk about the advances in technology, medicine and other sciences, and clearly, we’ve made huge advances is civil rights.
When I campaigned in 1955, once of the major issues was the murder of Emmitt Till, an African-American teenager killed by a lynch mob after they accused him of whistling at a white woman walking along a Mississippi sidewalk.
Today, we have an African-American president who is extremely popular. Still, we have a long way to go on the issue of race, but I am pleased with how far we have come.
I think that we also take pride in how America hasn’t changed. It is still a free nation, filled with creative, innovative people who dream big and have even bigger achievements. Sure we have problems, but it is still the greatest country in the world.”