The Senate's longest serving member, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, has died at the age of 92. The Senator, a former Ku Klux Klan member, had evolved during his time in office and was generally considered LGBT friendly for the past few years.
Under West Virginia law, the Governor will appoint Byrd's replacement. If the appointed term is shorter than two years and six months, the appointed senator will fill out the rest of the term, but if the term is longer than that a new election will need to be called for this November. Senator Byrd died a week before the deadline, but his replacement won't be named until after the July 3rd cutoff. Experts are still arguing whether or not an election will be required this year.
While West Virginia is a conservative state, it is dominated by the Democratic party and the Governor is a Democrat. Byrd will be replaced by a Democrat, but in a year that Republicans are expected to win overwhelmingly at the ballot box, the last thing state Democrats want is an election in November. The state's other Democrat Senator, Jay Rockefeller, is also considered an LGBT ally.
After the jump are statements from President Obama and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Statement of the President on the Passing of Senator Byrd
I was saddened to hear this morning that the people of West Virginia have lost a true champion, the United States Senate has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason with the passing of Robert C. Byrd.
Senator Byrd's story was uniquely American. He was born into wrenching poverty, but educated himself to become an authoritative scholar, respected leader, and unparalleled champion of our Constitution. He scaled the summit of power, but his mind never strayed from the people of his beloved West Virginia. He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time.
He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors. His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history. He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator.
We take solace in the fact that he is reunited with his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma; and our thoughts and prayers are with their daughters, their grandchildren and great grandchildren, and all the people of West Virginia who loved Robert C. Byrd.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) achieved much for his state of West Virginia and the nation. Some of his votes over the years were controversial and not where most Americans stood. But Senator Byrd evolved in his thinking on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' as did our country. His evolution is mirrored in his votes on DADT - seventeen years ago Senator Byrd voted for DADT; last month in the Senate Armed Services Committee he voted for a path to repeal the law. We hope the new Senator from West Virginia will follow the lead of Senator Byrd on this issue.