By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Sunday Times Newspapers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) is set to achieve a unique milestone this week, when he will take over the title of longest-serving House member in history.
On Wednesday, Dingell will surpass former Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten for the singular distinction.
The historic occasion will occur earlier than first thought, however, as House historians initially had the date pegged for Valentine’s Day. But a day-by-day count of their time in office actually indicated that Wednesday, not Saturday, would be the day that Dingell passes Whitten.
“I’ve made a couple of math mistakes in my day, so I can hardly blame the people that came up with the original number,” Dingell said. “I’m just glad the House historian’s office found the error and Congressional Research Services worked with historians to get it right.”
When he passes Whitten, Dingell also will become the third-longest-serving legislator in U.S. history. Ahead of him are 92-year-old Robert Byrd, a still-active senator from West Virginia, and the late Carl Hayden, who represented Arizona in the House and Senate for nearly 57 years.
Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House, said of the milestone: “The United States has the second-oldest Constitutional government on Earth. On Feb. 11, 2009, Congressman John Dingell will begin his 19,420th day in the House of Representatives, a period of service that is almost a quarter of the whole history of Congress. John Dingell’s exceptional service is a historic milestone that should be celebrated.”
Dingell first went Capitol Hill in 1955 after winning a special election to replace his father, who died in office. In 26 elections since, the 82-year-old Dingell has won every time by double digits.