Pat Leahy is a familiar name in the North Country. He has been a member of the U.S. Senate longer than all but three others in history. And he represents the State of Vermont.
Leahy has announced that he’ll hand over the gavel at the end of this term, his eighth, declining at age 81 to run for a ninth term next year, by which time he’d be the third-longest-tenured senator ever.
Leahy is thus a frequent visitor to television airways across America. But he is particularly well known around here because he represents Vermont, so he’s seen and heard often on Channels 3, 5, 22 and 44.
Leahy has been a Democratic force in the Senate since first taking office in 1975. He is the only current member who was in office when President Ford saw the U.S. Olympic team off from Plattsburgh for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal that July.
Among Leahy’s proudest pieces of legislation have been bills to support the forestlands and farmlands of Vermont, increasing nutrition assistance across the country and helping veterans of the Vietnam War, all typically Democratic issues.
Patrick Leahy graduated from Georgetown University, where he studied law. At age 34, as a prosecutor in his home state, he decided to run for the Senate. Now, 47 years later, president pro tempore of the Senate, he is third in line to become president of the United States.
As president pro tem, he oversaw the impeachment of President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on Congress, during which Leahy, himself, had to flee attackers.
The retirement of an august colleague such as Leahy is about the only kind of development that seems to momentarily free our country and our Congress from the strangling divisiveness that has clutched us all. Tributes have been bipartisan.
But the political effects are certainly being considered and debated. Since Vermont is a very stout supporter of Democrats, most consider it likely he will be replaced by a Democrat, although Gov. Phil Scott is a Republican and has not yet indicated whether he will run to replace him. Scott has been a very moderate member of his party, a critic of former President Trump.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, is likely to fancy a run and would be considered a strong candidate.
Only two senators whose terms will expire mid term have yet to indicate whether they will run again: Republicans John Thune of South Dakota and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Close races are expected for Senate seats in at least four states, currently held by Democrats.
Leahy has expressed disappointment in how politics has taken over government and civilian dialogue. He has worked for more voter rights and has been frustrated by Republican efforts to block those pieces of legislation.
Some Americans have argued that Leahy and many others stand as examples of why we should have term limits on all levels of government.
But government then would be virtually the only employer punishing experience and rewarding inexperience. Leahy’s knowledge and vast background have led younger colleagues in incalculable ways.
His wisdom will be missed in Washington. But he has more than earned relaxation in Vermont.