Who is Sitting in That Empty Chair?

Mark Kleiman is unhappy that Norm Coleman persists in his election bid:

If I were a Minnesotan, I think I’d be pretty angry about the way that Norm Coleman and his friends in the national Republican Party have deprived the state of half its representation in the Senate.

Sadly, for the moment, the North Star State lacks two solons sticking their trotters into the slop trough.

Sad, but not unprecedented. The last decade of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th saw a sizable number of occasions when a state had only one senator due to the failure of the legislature to elect anyone:

53rd Congress: Wyoming

54th Congress: Delaware

55th Congress: Oregon

56th Congress: California, Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Utah

57th Congress: Delaware, Nebraska

59th Congress: Delaware

Delaware was a particularly egregious case. In the 57th Congress, Delaware had no senators at all. Philadelphia gas magnate J. Edward Addicks, who controlled a bloc of Delaware’s legislators known as “Union Republicans,” wanted to be one of the state’s senators but lacked to votes to put him through. However he controlled enough votes to prevent anyone from the “Regular Republican” faction from being elected. Eventually, a compromise was reached and at the very end of the Congress, L. Heisler Ball of the Regular Republicans and J. Frank Allee of the Union Republicans became Delaware’s senators.

It was antics like this that led to the 17th Amendment. Still, a state can be left in effect without a senator through illness; nothing forces a senator to resign. Most recently, Tim Johnson of South Dakota was absent from the Senate for 10 months due to a stroke, but returned and was re-elected in 2008.

Some never did, though. Karl Mundt of South Dakota suffered a stroke in 1969 that left him incapacitated. Loath to give up the opportunity for enhanced pension benefits, his wife ran his office until his term expired in 1973. Charles McNary of Oregon and Clair Engle of California were felled by brain tumors that left them incapable of functioning effectively.

Senile decay kept Carter Glass of Virginia away from the Senate from 1942 until his death in 1946, but he remained Virginia’s senior Senator despite calls he step down. In Robert Caro’s words:

Democrat Carter Glass of Virgina had ascended to the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee in 1932, when he was seventy-four. During the 1940s, Glass was very ill – had been very ill for years, sequestered in a suite in the Mayflower Hotel that always had a guard at the door. He had not even appeared on Capitol Hill since 1942. By 1945, there were even suggestions that perhaps Glass, then eighty-seven, should resign. But, as [Allen] Drury reported, “from the guarded suite…through whose doors no outsider has passed in many months to see what lies within, has come the usual answer. Mrs. Glass has replied for the Senator. The suggestion will not be considered.”

Through all this, the Republic hasn’t been well served but it has survived. And so it will be here. I myself don’t think Norm Coleman stands a chance, but I also don’t want to enshrine the view of the New York Times that every vote should be counted until the Democrat comes out on top, at which point everything has to stop.

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