Effect of the Midterm Elections on Historians

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[T]here are some casualties of the elections including several long-term friends of the history and archive communities who went down to defeat. Most notable is Jim Leach (R-ID) who was a prime mover and supporter of the House Humanities Caucus. Leach is also one of the few strong and vocal Republican voices for the humanities and also a staunch advocate for funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) which the White House Office of Management and Budget has been trying to zero out for the last two years. In the Senate, Mike DeWine (R-OH) who has been one of the prime movers of the “Presidential Sites Improvement Act” (S. 431) – legislation that seeks to provide up to $5 million a year in federal cost-share funds to support presidential sites – also tended to be pretty good on issues of concern to our communities.

Historians and environmentalists have reason to rejoice at the defeat of outspoken (actually just plain rude) cattle rancher Richard Pombo (R-CA), the present House Resources Committee Chair (and former National Parks Subcommittee Chair) who was soundly defeated by Democrat challenger Jerry McNerney who is an alternative energy proponent – his profession is that of a wind-power engineer.

Also on the positive side, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) won 64% of the electorate against his millionaire Republican challenger who pulled about 34% of the vote. While the victory is by a smaller margin than Byrd’s last election win six years ago when he captured 78% of the West Virginia vote, he returns to the Senate's as the institution's senior senator – the longest lived member of that body. If the Democrats take control he will be the most powerful member as he is poised to once again regain the chair of the Appropriations Committee. That’s good news for programs like the “Teaching American History” initiative.

Some prognostications: In the House, the senior Democrat on the House Committee of Education, George Miller, should he become Chair, would be a forceful advocate for federal grants of students and education reform in general. Good news in the education realm also if the Democrats take control of the Senate – Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would probably become Chair of the Senate Education Committee. However, it is still unclear what Kennedy would do regarding the two issues of prime concern to history educators – the reauthorizations of the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) and the Higher Education Act.

If Henry Waxman (D-CA) becomes the Chair of the Government House Reform Committee there will be – in the words of Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and author of the online publication “Secrecy News” -- “a new day in Washington.”

Chris Shays (R-CT) the present chair of the Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations narrowly managed to hold onto his House seat. Shays has been a national leader in confronting the problem of overclassification of government records and has earned the respect of many who are concerned with these issues. This last Congress, he has conducted three hearings on secrecy in government and has probably done more useful work on this issue than any other member of Congress. If fellow New Englander Patrick Leahy (D-VT) rises to become Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee there would be, in Aftergood’ s view, be “an earthquake – a good one” as there would be a significant change in direction in terms of greater government accountability and oversight in the Senate as well.

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John R. Maass - 11/8/2006

I love how this article describes Sen. Byrd's opponent as a "millionaire Republican challenger." Why describe him based on his net worth? Isn't Byrd a millionaire too?!?! If not, there are plenty of millionaires on the Democratic side, so this kind of insinuation is really disingenuous. I also see how for some reason, the author does not describe the West Virginian as "former Klansman Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)...."