West Virginia & Robert Byrd

Clarksburd, West Virginia on the Robert Byrd Highway ( US 50)

September 26, 2020

Imagine if Senator Byrd had not gotten billions of dollars poured into West Virginia. I had forgotten he was a Democrat. Hard to believe given all the Trump signs in the state. It is true that government bailing out a state is not something I associate with Republicans.

Here is his story and the story of his pork for his state.


Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr.; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from West Virginia for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd also served as a U.S. Representative for six years, from 1953 until 1959. He remains the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history; he was the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress until surpassed by Representative John Dingell of Michigan;  he was the last remaining member of the U.S. Senate to have served during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower; and he was the last remaining member of Congress to have served during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. Byrd is also the only West Virginian to have served in both chambers of the state legislature and both chambers of Congress.

Byrd served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950, and the West Virginia State Senate from 1950 to 1952. Initially elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952, Byrd served there for six years before being elected to the Senate in 1958. He rose to become one of the Senate's most powerful members, serving as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1967 to 1971 and—after defeating his longtime colleague Ted Kennedy for the job—as Senate Majority Whip from 1971 to 1977. Over the next three decades, Byrd led the Democratic caucus in numerous roles depending on whether his party held control of the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, President pro tempore of the United States Senate and President pro tempore emeritus.   As President pro tempore—a position he held four times in his career—he was third in the line of presidential succession, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Serving three different tenures as Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations enabled Byrd to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia.  Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending, while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state. While he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War earlier in his career, Byrd's views changed considerably over the course of his life. He would later completely renounce racism and segregation, and spoke in opposition to the Iraq War. Renowned for his knowledge of Senate precedent and parliamentary procedure, Byrd wrote a four-volume history of the Senate in later life.

Near the end of his life, Byrd was in declining health and was hospitalized several times. He died in office on June 28, 2010, at the age of 92. Byrd is the oldest member of Congress to die in office. He was buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

In referring to his economic contributions to West Virginia, Byrd said in 2000, "West Virginia has always had four friends: God Almighty,Sears Roebuck,Carter's Liver Pillsand Robert C. Byrd."

Byrd's steering of billions of Federal dollars to West Virginia earned him the sobriquets "King of Pork" by the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization Citizens Against Government Waste and "Prince of Pork" from other taxpayer groups.  According to Citizens Against Government Waste, Byrd was the first legislator to bring $1 billion of "pork" spending to his home state.  The group named Byrd its initial "Porker of the Year" in 2002.

In addition to providing Federal funding to special projects, Byrd also ensured that many Federal complexes were built in West Virginia, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Criminal Justice Information Services Division complex in Clarksburg, the United States Coast Guard's National Maritime Center in Kearneysville, and a training center and firing range for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Harpers Ferry.  Clarksburg's FBI facility was the first of the major Federal complexes to be built under Byrd's leadership as chairman of the appropriations committee.  In West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, Byrd helped bring ten federal facilities that employed more than 3,200 people.  None of these facilities are named for him, however.

The Clifford Hollow Bridge carries the Robert C. Byrd Highway over Clifford Hollow near Moorefield, West Virginia.

More than 50 buildings built with funds from US taxpayers directed to West Virginia are named for either Byrd or his wife, Erma Ora Byrd (née James).   Several transportation projects named for Byrd have gained national notoriety, including the Robert C. Byrd Highway.  Also known as "Corridor H" of the Appalachian Development Highway System, the highway was dubbed "West Virginia's road to nowhere" in 2009 after it received a $9.5 million earmark in the $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act.  The highway received another $21 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.   Critics argued the traffic on the highway was too light and the cost too high for the project to continue construction until its proposed completion in 2035.  The State of West Virginia argued the highway was necessary as "an ideal evacuation route for Washington, about 100 miles away, in case of an emergency.”

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Welcome to my webpage.  I'm on a journey across the USA to visit all 22 Paris' - and points in between.  I'll be sharing thoughts, photos and videos along the way - as I search for answers to questions that bother me so.


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