Remembering Sen. Carl Hayden

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd on Wednesday became the long-serving member of Congress. He took that record from Carl Hayden, a seven-term Senator from Arizona who represented the state for 20,773 days. Jack August, executive director of the Barry Goldwater Center for the Southwest, talks about Hayden's long political career.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There is one man in Washington who's held on to his job for 56 years and 320 days. He probably proclaims that longevity in a statement today titled "On Becoming the Longest Serving Member of Congress in History." He is Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, age nearly 92. And we wondered whose record did Senator Byrd break today. Well, the answer is the record of the late Senator Carl Hayden, Democrat of Arizona. And to learn more about him, I'm joined now by Arizona historian Jack August, author of a book on Hayden called "Vision in the Desert."

Hi, welcome to the program.

Mr. JACK AUGUST (Author, "Vision in the Desert"): Great to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: And I should say the record that Carl Hayden set was broken today was 20,773 days. When did he serve exactly?

Mr. AUGUST: Well, he was elected at statehood to the House of Representatives at a special election in 1911. He was the first federally-elected official in the baby state of Arizona, the 48th state, and served there from 1912 to the election of 1926 when he ran for the U.S. Senate and was elected. And then subsequently, every six years, he was elected through the final - his final election was 1962 at the age of 84, and he served until 1968 - January of '69, when Senator Goldwater succeeded him.

SIEGEL: Now, I remember when Carl Hayden was the president pro tem of the Senate in the 1960s. What's the explanation for his incredible longevity on Capitol Hill from the '10s to the '60s?

Mr. AUGUST: Well, I think one thing is that states like Arizona, which were new states, quickly learned the advantages of seniority particularly in committees. In the Senate, Hayden was quite astute in positioning himself to gain positions, ultimately becoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And so there is little Arizona out in the middle of nowhere and certainly controlled a good deal of the purse strings in the federal government. And through the '40s, '50s and the '60s with the rise of people like Lyndon Johnson and others, they had to go to Senator Hayden and seek his approval for various things. So he was well-positioned.

SIEGEL: Now, for younger listeners, they should know that in Senator Hayden's day, there were no broadcasts of Senate debates, there are no speeches of him from the floor. But even if there had been recordings and broadcasts in those days, you wouldn't hear much of this.

I read that after taking part in a filibuster in the '20s against what would become the Hoover Dam...

Mr. AUGUST: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...he didn't make another floor speech for 20 years.

Mr. AUGUST: That's correct. He was known as the silent senator, Robert. However, when he was maneuvering the committees, he had his finger on everything, and so he had to do very little speaking on the floor of the Senate. And so in that way, he turned silence into a form of political power.

SIEGEL: The Arizona that Carl Hayden would have been born into was literally in a different century, almost in a different epoch of American history.

Mr. AUGUST: Yes, he was always mystified in World War II when people jumped out of the planes and yelled Geronimo, because Geronimo, in his life, killed a couple of his kid friends, his boyhood friends. And you think about that, he grew up with that and the end of the American Southwestern frontier, if you want to call it that. And then later he sees the first automobile to arrive in Arizona Territory, I believe it was an Apperson Jackrabbit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AUGUST: And then ultimate, at the end of his career, the Appropriations Committee, he's funneling money to send people to the moon. So just the broad stroke of his lifetime and the technological innovations that happened parallel to his political service were remarkable. And I think in many ways, Senator Byrd also has had that broad view of American history.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. August, thank you very much for talking with us about him.

Mr. AUGUST: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Jack August, Arizona historian, talking with us about the late Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona. His book about Hayden is called "Vision in the Desert."

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