The LuLac Edition #2229, October 14th, 2012
The family of former Senator Arlen Specter released the news this afternoon that Mr. Specter passed away today. Specter was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, this year and lost his battle this morning. He was 82. If you lived in Pennsylvania in the last twenty years of the 20th century, chances are Arlen Specter changed your life. Elected to the Senate in 1980 (he succeeded Richard Schweiker who went on to serve in Ronald Reagan’s cabinet) Specter had a huge list of accomplishments under his belt. Most notably he co-sponsored an amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, marketing, and financing of the nation's housing. The amendment strengthened the ability of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to enforce the Fair Housing Act and expanded the protected classes to include disabled persons and families with children Specter also was a champion for his adopted state of Pennsylvania. (He grew up in Russell, Kansas, the very same town that fellow Republican Bob Dole was from).
Specter made it a policy to visit every county in the state every year that he was in office. It would not be unusual to see him at a Senior Center in any one of the counties in the state. Specter also had a habit of dropping in on new businesses that migrated from other states. In 2003 Specter made a stop at the old Active quilting building in Plains when an on line travel company came to set up shop. He toured the facility and asked pointed questions as to the wages of the employees as well as the economic impact the facility would bring. Specter was legendary for his support of the Tobyhanna Army Depot too. It was not uncommon to have Specter lead the charge when a base closing committee was formed. It was Specter who made the case for the continuation of the work the Depot was doing. And the neat thing about this was that he could explain what the Depot did. While those visits to the 67 counties seemed like a seamless easily coordinated event, usually they weren’t. Specter packed his day with numerous constituency event and was very demanding on his staff. As a matter of fact in a 2002 PoliticsPA Feature reported that he was named the "Toughest to Work For.
Specter’s road to the Senate was not stumble free. In 1976 he ran against John Heinz in the GOP primary and was trounced. (Heinz went on to defeat Congressman William Green in the General Election). In 1978 Specter ran for Governor in a crowded field that included David Marston, Henry Hager, as well as the eventual winner Richard Thornburgh. In 1980 he was swept into office by the Reagan landslide.
A veteran of the Korean War, Specter won fame and in some quarters infamy as one of the Attorneys for the Warren Commission. Specter was recommended by then Congressman Gerald Ford. It was Specter's contention that “a single bullet” theory existed in the John Kennedy assassination. The theory suggested the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and wounds to Texas Governor John Connally were caused by the same bullet. This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two had been wounded by separate bullets within such a short time frame, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy. Using that national exposure Specter ran for District Attorney in Philadelphia and won in an upset. Two years later he over reached and tried to defeat the Democratic machine of then Mayor James Tate. He lost big. Returning to the District Attorney’s office, Specter focused on crime in the city and hired a cadre of young enthusiastic lawyers who shared his passions for long hours and getting the bad guys. One of his new hires was Ed Rendell who would later go on to political fame himself.
As a Senator Specter concentrated heavily on constituent duties. Letters would have a 5 days turnaround and his district offices helped answer questions and solve problems for anyone who sought help. On the national stage Specter was well known for some controversial headline grabbing news events. Here are just a few:
1. He opposed conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987 which set GOP conservative’s hair on fire.
2. However in 1991 he had angered women’s groups for his very tough and some say insensitive questioning of Anita Hill. during the Clarence Thomas hearings claiming she had committed "flat-out perjury" in her testimony.
3. During the Clinton Impeachment hearings, he did a political straddle. While he criticized the Republican Party for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Because he thought that Clinton had not received a fair trial, Specter cited Scots law to render a verdict of "not proven" on Clinton's impeachment. However, his verdict was recorded as "not guilty" in the Senate records.
4. In 2002 he authorized a vote for the Iraq War.
5. During the 2004 election, Specter, under fire by conservatives for his bipartisan cooperation with Democrats faced a tough challenge from Congressman Pat Toomey. Specter prevailed on his fellow contemporary Rick Santorum to endorse him although Santorum was closer ideologically to Toomey and even had President Bush campaign for him. When Bush came to Pennsylvania on campaign trips, Specter stuck to him like Velcro. Specter survived the primary (with help from Democrats like me who registered as Republicans in that 2004 primary) and then won re-election later that year.
6. Once back in office because of Bush’s primary election support, Specter talked of a possible impeachment of Bush. Specter was very critical of Bush's wiretapping of U.S. citizens without warrants. When the story first broke, he called the effort "inappropriate" and "clearly and categorically wrong." He said, he intended to hold hearings into the matter early in 2006, and had Alberto Gonzales appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer for the program (although Specter declined to force Gonzales to testify under oath). On January 15, 2006, Specter mentioned impeachment and criminal prosecution as potential remedies if Bush broke the law.
7. In 2007, Specter cosponsored the Equal Justice for United States Military Personnel Act of 2007 with Senators Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton, and Russ Feingold.
8. The beginning of the end of Specter’s career as a Republican started in 2009 when Specter voted in favor of the Senate's version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 10, 2009; he was one of only three Republicans to break ranks with the party and support the bill, which was favored by President Barack Obama and was unanimously supported by the Democratic senators. As a result of his support, many in the Republican mainstream have begun to set up ads calling for his removal from office.Specter was instrumental in ensuring that the act allocated an additional $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health over the next two years.
9. When Specter became a a Democrat in the Senate, he was denied seniority on Senate committees which was his calling card for re-election. During the 2009 debate on what would become the Affordable Health Care Act, Specter hosted many a town meeting that exposed just how raw the opposition to the health care legislation would get.
Specter ran as a Democrat in the 2010 election and was handily defeated by Pat Toomey. His age and the fact that he pledged in 2004 that it would be his last term most likely attributed to his political demise. After beating Congressman Bob Edgar, Women’s Advocate in the “Year of the Women” Lynn Yekel in 1992, and TV anchorman Ron Klein in subsequent re-election attempts, it was ironic that the only Democrat who could defeat Arlen Specter was Arlen Specter himself. Specter will go down in history as one of the greatest Pennsylvania politicians and statesmen of all time. Historically no one else served longer in the Senate. In person you needed to have your thoughts organized and your questions pointed. Specter valued his time and I saw first hand how he would not allow people to waste it. He was however deep down a great retail politician and his snarl could turn into a smile in an instant. He was accessible to the media and his constituents. Health wise he battled cancer and brain tumors with characteristic zeal and belief that he would prevail. He was a complicated fellow who most likely delighted in the fact the no one could ever pigeon hole him ideologically or politically. Specter was a practical politician. He knew that you could not affect change without first being elected. As a political junkie you had to love the guy for that.
Specter's passing comes at a time when both political parties and the nation are divided straight down the middle. Long gone are the days when a Republican like Specter could reach across the aisle and enact legislation without being pilloried as a pariah. In the next few days, many editorial writers in referencing Specter’s life and career will say or write, “You shall not see his like again” Sadly for our country that will also apply to an era when compromise and working together was not a political mortal sin punishable by banishment from Capitol Hill.