I first started learning the U.S. senators when I was in London in 2005. With lots of free time, and in mourning for my grandparents’ deaths, I tried to memorize who every state voted for in every presidential election, as well as its two current senators. It is astonishing how many Senate seats have changed hands since then. Much of this is due to the three consecutive realigning elections we have had– the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008, that gave the party Congress and then the presidency, followed by 2010, a year of breathtaking success for the Republicans. Between these re-elections, death, inevitable retirements, and sexual scandal, a number perilously close to half of the body has been swept out since I first started learning who was in the Senate. Don’t believe me? Consider the following
1. Massachusetts: Ted Kennedy (D)–> Paul Kirk (D) –> Scott Brown (R)
- Kennedy passed away from brain cancer, and Governor Deval Patrick appointed Kirk, the caretaker of the JFK Library, before a special election placed Scott Brown into office, the first Republican to represent Massachusetts in the Senate since 1978.
2. Vermont: Jim Jeffords (I/D) —> Bernie Sanders (I/D)
- After switching from a Republican to a Democrat-caucusing Independent, Jeffords did not run for re-election in 2006.
3. New Hampshire: Judd Gregg (R)—> Kelly Ayotte (R)
- Gregg accepted, then declined, an offer to serve as Secretary of Commerce, ultimately retiring in time for the 2010 election.
4. New Hampshire: John Sununu (R) —> Jeanne Shaheen (D)
- Sununu was defeated in 2008 by his opponent in 2002, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
5. Connecticut: Christopher Dodd (D) —> Richard Blumenthal (D)
- Facing charges of sweetheart deals with housing firms, Dodd did not seek re-election in 2010.
6. Rhode Island: Lincoln Chafee (R) —-> Sheldon Whitehouse (D)
- Although the most liberal Republican in the Senate, Chafee lost in the Democratic wave of 2006.
7. New York: Hillary Clinton (D) —-> Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
- Clinton was appointed Secretary of State; Gillibrand was chosen by Gov. Dave Paterson to serve in her place, and subsequently won election in her own right in 2010.
8. New Jersey: Jon Corzine (D) —–> Bob Menendez (D)
- Corzine resigned after being elected New Jersey’s governor in 2005. He appointed his successor, Menendez.
9. Maryland: Paul Sarbanes (D) —-> Ben Cardin (D)
- Serving thirty years in the Senate, Sarbanes did not seek re-election in 2006.
10. Delaware: Joe Biden (D) —> Ted Kaufman (D) —> Chris Coons (D)
- Biden resigned his seat to assume the vice-presidency after the 2008 election. He requested Gov. Ruth Miner fill his seat with his long-time chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, who did not run in a 2010 special election, which Coons prevailed in.
11. Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum (R) —> Bob Casey, Jr. (D)
- Santorum lost his re-election bid in 2006 by a whopping 17%, an almost historic loss for an incumbent senator.
12. Pennsylvania: Arlen Specter (D) —> Pat Toomey (R)
- After serving nearly 30 years as a Republican senator, Specter switched affiliations to become a Democrat. He lost the Democratic primary to Admiral Sestak, who in turn lost the general election to Pat Toomey.
13. Virginia: George Allen (R) —> Jim Webb (D)
- Allen lost a very close race to former Navy secretary Jim Webb after hurling racial slurs at an Indian-American audience member.
14. Virginia: John Warner (R) —> Mark Warner (D)
- Warner (a former husband of Liz Taylor) retired after several terms. His seat was picked up by popular former governor Mark Warner.
15. North Carolina: Liz Dole (R) —> Kay Hagan (D)
- Bob Dole’s wife and a former cabinet secretary, Liz Dole lost to Kay Hagan in the 2008 race.
16. Florida: Mel Martinez (R) —> George LeMieux (R) —> Marco Rubio (R)
- Martinez resigned, and was replaced by Gov. Charlie Crist’s close associate, George LeMieux. Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, won an election in 2010– one of his opponents was, ironically, Crist– running as an independent.
17. Mississippi: Trent Lott (R) —-> Roger Wicker (R)
- Lott notoriously gave a speech arguing that the U.S. would have been better off if arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president. Lott resigned in disgrace, and Wicker was appointed to his seat by Gov. Haley Barbour.
18. Arkansas: Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D) —> John Boozman (R)
- After surviving a tough primary challenge from a more liberal Democrat, Lincoln lost her re-election race by double digits.
19. Tennessee: Bill Frist (R) —> Bob Corker (R)
- Bill Frist, then the Senate Majority Leader, did not seek re-election, in hopes of running for president in 2006 without having to divide his time in the Senate. Corker won the 2006 race against Harold Ford Jr.
20. Kentucky: Jim Bunning (R) —-> Rand Paul (R)
- Widely regarded as the Senate’s least efficient and intelligent member, Bunning retired in 2010, his seat won by libertarian Republican Rand Paul.
21. West Virginia: Robert Byrd (D) —-> Carte Goodwin (D) —-> Joe Manchin (D)
- Byrd, the longest-serving senator in American history, died in 2010. Gov. Joe Manchin sent young Carte Goodwin to take his place, ultimately winning a special election later that year to take his seat.
22. Ohio: Mike DeWine (R) —> Sherrod Brown (D)
- DeWine lost his 2006 bid for re-election.
23. Ohio: George Voinovich (R) —-> Rob Portman (R)
- Voinovich, a long-time fixture in Ohio politics, retired in 2010. Rob Portman, a former congressman and George W. Bush’s CBO guy, won his seat.
24. Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) —-> Dan Coats (R)
- After being passed up for consideration as vice-president, Bayh suddenly declared he would not seek re-election. Dan Coats, who served in Bayh’s seat before, won a return engagement to the Senate.
25. Illinois: Barack Obama (D) —> Roland Burris (D) —-> Mark Kirk (R)
- Obama resigned his seat shortly after his election as U.S. president. In a famously corrupt move, Gov. Rod Blagojevich shopped his Senate seat, deciding on former IL attorney general, Roland Burris. In a very close election, Republican Mark Kirk took the seat after the 2010 elections.
26. Wisconsin: Russ Feingold (D) —-> Ron Johnson (R)
- Feingold was the most prominent Democratic incumbent to lose his Senate seat in 2010.
27. Minnesota: Mark Dayton (D) ——> Amy Klobuchar (D)
- Named one of the “five worst senators” by Time magazine, Dayton retired but ran for governor four years later.
28. Minnesota: Norm Coleman (R) ——> Al Franken (D)
- In a very close election, Coleman was defeated by SNL alum Al Franken.
29. Missouri: Jim Talent (R) ——> Claire McCaskill (D)
- After a term that began when he defeated Mel Carnahan’s wife (appointed after Carnahan was killed shortly before election), Talent was himself deposed by McCaskill.
30. Missouri: Kit Bond (R) ——> Roy Blunt (R)
- Bond retired in 2010.
31. North Dakota: Byron Dorgan (D) —–> John Hoeven (R)
- Dorgan retired in 2010, replaced by longtime governor, John Hoeven.
32. Nebraska: Chuck Hagel (R) —–> Mike Johanns (R)
- An opponent of the war in Iraq, Hagel retired in 2008, and was replaced by Nebraska’s governor.
33. Kansas: Sam Brownback (R) —-> Jerry Moran (R)
- In 2010, Brownback retired his seat to run for governor of Kansas. He was replaced by Moran, who had represented Kansas’ sprawling first district.
34. New Mexico: Pete Domenici (R) —-> Tom Udall (D)
- In the Senate since 1972, Domenici finally retired. His seat was won by Tom Udall, the son of former Kennedy Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall.
35. Nevada: John Ensign (R) —-> Dean Heller (R)
- After a sex scandal and bribery charges, Ensign resigned in disgrace.
36. Utah: Bob Bennett (R) —-> Mike Lee (R)
- Unbelievably, Bennett, a reliable conservative, was booted out in a quasi-primary by the Tea Party-supported Mike Lee.
37. Wyoming: Craig Thomas (R) —-> John Barasso (R)
- Thomas passed away in 2006. Although Wyoming had a Democratic governor, he was obliged to choose between three candidates set forth by the Wyoming legislature. The guv picked Barasso.
38. Idaho: Larry Craig (R) —–> Jim Risch (R)
- Yet another sex scandal, conservative Larry Craig was found soliciting sex in a men’s bathroom in the Minneapolis airport. He retired in 2008, replaced by yet another governor.
39. Montana: Conrad Burns (R) —-> Jon Tester (D)
- In a close election, Burns was defeated by farmer Tester.
40. Gordon Smith (R) —-> Jeff Merkley (D)
- In 2008, moderate conservative Gordon Smith lost a close election to Jeff Merkley.
41. Ted Stevens (R) —> Mark Begich (D)
- Under federal investigation, Stevens was supposed to lose big time in 2008 when up for re-election. Instead, Palin-charged voters made this a very close race, but one ultimately won by Anchorage mayor Mark Begich.
So, holy crap– more than 2/5 of the Senate gone within one 6-year cycle. The absences will only get more pronounced in the 2012 cycle, when long-timers Kent Conrad, Joe Lieberman, Jeff Bingaman, Daniel Akaka, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jon Kyl, and possibly other long-termers will retire, to say nothing of incumbents who might be ousted. The Senate was designed to be a place where seniority may accrue, where friendships may be formed, and wisdom and experience might temper the fleeting passions of the House of Representatives, each member of which comes from a smaller, more factious population. This is one reason that I think term limits on congressmen are a astoundingly stupid idea. We need experience to run its course and provide insight; the Senate’s constitutional obligation to provide advice to the president does not mean much if it comes from naifs and novices. New blood doesn’t necessary make the body more accountable or more authentic.
This is a special problem when we explore the decline of bipartisanship, senatorial courtesy, and even across-the-aisle friendship. Now, I don’t believe in bipartisanship for its own sake; there are reasons I affiliate with the Democrats and I stand by those reasons. Yet, in a system rife with possible obstruction, filibusters, holds, stalls, line-items, vetos, and so on, bipartisanship is necessary. This process relies on the Senators trusting one another’s good will, of putting ideological argument aside when necessary to get the job done. One book on Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) emphasizes this beautifully. Another, soon to be published, argues that the last competent Senate took place in the late 1970s, where even under ideological pressures from the McGovernite Left and the New Right, it still functioned admirably during a tense period of time– because enough long-tenured members had served, and could trust on these sensible working relations to carry the day. I do wonder if we are past this manner of textbook-cooperation, where the Senate operates under the ideal circumstances of a government civics class “mock congress”. Perhaps my cynicism is unwarranted, but the recent events of the FAA holdup, the debt crisis stick-up, and possibly other unforeseen embarrassments, suggest that it is not. At least part of this may be due to the Senate’s unusually high turnover rate.