When Jonathan Miller called me and asked whether I would be interested in contributing a piece to a new website he was starting called “The Recovering Politician,” I was admittedly a little reluctant. First, I’m wary of the characterization of “politician” – not because of any negative connotation, but rather because I’m not sure I qualify since I never had sought elective office And irrespective of that first concern, I’m fully aware that it would be quite a stretch to claim that I’ve “recovered” from the extraordinary experience of serving in the United States Senate.
Last July, 2010, Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia appointed me to fill the vacancy caused by the passing of Senator Robert C. Byrd – one of the true lions of the Senate and West Virginia’s most beloved public servant. Senator Byrd cast quite a long shadow, and it was daunting to contemplate being appointed to fill the seat previously occupied by the longest serving legislative member in the history of the United States. I could not begin to replace Senator Byrd or ever hope to fill his enormous shoes, but what I could do was emulate his work ethic and commitment to West Virginia – which is precisely what I strove to do during my four months in Washington, a town ruled by Congress, blackberries and Members-only elevators, and a place where fame (and infamy) can come and go in a matter of hours.
Stacey King, Michael Jordan and teammates celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first NBA title
(Side note: Years ago, former Oklahoma standout and Chicago Bull forward Stacey King saw limited action in an NBA game, hitting a single free throw. That same night, his teammate Michael Jordan poured in sixty-nine points. Afterwards, King joked that he would always remember that game as the night that he and Jordan “combined for 70 points.” Similarly, rather that describing my term as “four months,” I usually characterize it by saying that Senator Byrd and I combined to serve over 52 years in the United States Senate. )
Within days of my arrival, men and women I had studied in law school were introducing themselves to me, welcoming me as one of their own, then asking for my vote in the same sentence. And I wasn’t alone; I was immediately put at the helm of a full Senate staff – many of whom had served for decades under Senator Byrd. I was given a personal secretary and press secretary – no longer would I be the one answering the phone in my own office. However, I declined the offer of a personal driver and did the unthinkable – walked myself to work.
In no particular order, here are some random recollections and highlights from that heady time:
Press coverage & John Daly’s Pants?
John Daly's pants
I had to adjust quickly to the media attention. I’d considered myself prepared for the press, after having spent four years as a senior staffer in the Governor’s office, doing the occasional TV or radio interview. Yet, the appointment shot the level of attention into the stratosphere, with newspapers, television, blogs and everything in between weighing in with their thoughts on the relative merits of my appointment. Nothing was off-limits. To the delight of my buddies, one website offered an online poll debating where my looks stacked up against my fellow Senators, while a local West Virginia paper registered their enthusiasm for the appointment by describing it succinctly as “a letdown.”
Indeed, the temporary burst of attention became so intense that on the day that my appointment was announced, I briefly topped Google’s Hot Searches, besting former NBA star Penny Hardaway, the iphone 4, and golfer “John Daly’s pants.” I haven’t had the inclination to go back and find out why Daly’s pants made the top 10 that day.
Read the rest of…
Carte Goodwin: My Brief but Fascinating Experience as a U.S. Senator