Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. – He began his Congressional career as a conservative Southern Democrat, one of the original Boll Weevils who often sided with President Reagan on Tax & Budget issues. And as Democrats rarely do these days, he was frequently at odds with his stridently liberal, party-line brethren. At 89 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days., Cong. Ralph Hall has seen it all while recently breaking a record previously set in September, 1930.
While becoming the oldest Member ever to vote, Hall cast his 18,549th vote on the House Floor Nov. 27th.
First elected to Congress in 1980, while still a youthful 57 years old, and following a 30-year career in State & Local politics, Hall has seen the U.S. House of Representatives … not to mention politics in general, experience changes few would or could have predicted during his Capitol Hill career.
Hall, who attributes much of his health and longevity to a daily 2 mile run, has been one of the rare few with the vision or wisdom to adapt as those changes took place, including switching political parties in 2004 in order to reflect the votering makeup of the 4th Congressional Distric of Texas, north-east of Dallas..
In the mid-1980s, Hall voted “present” rather than cast a vote for former Massachusetts Democrat and Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill to be speaker. While similar protest votes are more common these days, Hall’s message was virtually unheard of back then.
But the House’s leadership, happy just to have the district, much of which was once represented by legendary Speaker Sam Rayburn, never struck back. “I do what I have to do, and they do what they have to do,” Hall said at the time.
As the number of Southern Democrats declined through the Reagan & Bush years — then took a sharp dive in 1994, when Newt Gingrich, the “Contract With America” and the Republican Revolution earned the GOP the majority for the first time in 40 years — Hall continued to stick with the party of his ancestors, those Texans who would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican.
A year later, in 1995, he was one of the founding members of the now-denuded Blue Dog Coalition, and as Hall continued deviating from the party line — he sided with Republicans more often than any other Democrat.
Finally, in 2004, after a decade of speculation that he would bolt, Hall switched from Democrat to Republican under the pressures of redistricting, when a midterm map change left him with an even more conservative constituency than he’d had.
He easily won re-election as a Republican, and has been a reliable GOP vote ever since. Unlike the days when he would side with a majority of Democrats (against a majority of Republicans) only 40% of the time, Hall today holds a valueable committee chairmanship and is a reliable leader who sides 90% of the time with the majority Republican vote.
Now 89 years old, on November 27th, 2012, Congressman Hall officially became the oldest member of the U.S. House of Representatives to ever cast a vote – breaking the previous record set during September of 1930 by Rep. Charles Manly Stedman of North Carolina. Stedman died while in office, at the age of 89 years, 4 months and 25 days.
South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, just years ago, became the oldest ever to serve in Congress, and the only senator to continue serving past his 100th birthday.
A Long History of Service
If the saying “With age comes wisdom” rings true, then Hall’s Texas colleague and Chairman of the esteemed House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Dan Antonio) says Texas Cong. Ralph M. Hall (R-Rockwall,) may well be “the wisest man to have served in the House of Representatives.”
So said Smith on the House Floor Nov. 27th, as Hall’s milestone was celebrated and his House colleagues rose, 1-by-1, to honor him in a series of 1-minute speeches that make up what is known in House parlance as a “Special Order”.
“If there were a Congressional Hall of Fame, tonight would be Rep. Hall’s induction as the oldest — some would say the most seasoned — voting member in the House of Representatives,” Smith said.
In honor of the record-setting achievement, the House accepted a portrait featuring Hall and his late wife, Mary Ellen, who died in 2008. On his lapel, Hall is wearing a space shuttle pin, representing the Science Committee Chairman’s longtime commitment to the U.S. Space Program.
“I’m humbled and honored to have served the 4th District these past 32 years,” said Hall.
“I’m also honored to have served as Chairman of the Science, Space & Technology Committee the past two years, and to cast my vote tonight as the oldest member of the United States House of Representatives to do so.
“I’m proud of what this institution is capable of accomplishing when we work together, and that is what we must do for the sake of our children, and grandchildren’s future.”