October 14, 2012

Senator Arlen Specter - The Maverick From Pennsylvania - Died Today

Senator Arlen Specter 1998
Senator Arlen Specter, 82, has died in Philadelphia.
Senator Arlen Specter, 82, the longest serving Senator in Pennsylvania history, died today in Philadelphia. His family issued a statement that he died of complications related to non-hodgkins lymphoma.

First elected to the US Senate in 1980, Specter was a moderate centrist Republican for most of his career. His willingness to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats, was legendary.

As the Republican party shifted further right, and became more extreme, Specter felt isolated and no longer felt that he had a home with the GOP.

After 44 years as a Republican, he switched sides in 2009, and he became a Democrat.
 
“I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania. I have decided to run for reelection in 2010 in the Democratic primary.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes about Specter in The New York Times
One of the few remaining Republican moderates on Capitol Hill at a time when the party had turned sharply to the right, Mr. Specter confounded fellow Republicans at every turn. He unabashedly supported Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, and championed biomedical and embryonic stem cell research long before he received his cancer diagnosis.

When he made a bid for the White House in 1995, he denounced the Christian right as an extremist “fringe” — an unorthodox tactic for a candidate trying to win votes in a Republican primary. The campaign was short-lived; Mr. Specter ended it when he ran out of cash. Years later, he said wryly, “I was the only one of nine people in New Hampshire who wanted to keep the Department of Education.”

He enjoyed a good martini and a fast game of squash, and was famous for parsing his words to wiggle out of tight spots. During Mr. Clinton’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction, Mr. Specter, objecting to what he called a “sham trial” without witnesses, signaled he would vote to acquit.

But a simple “not guilty” vote would have put him directly at odds with Republicans; instead, citing Scottish law, Mr. Specter voted “not proven,” adding, “therefore not guilty.”
Arlen Specter was a good man who served his constituents in Pennsylvania well. He was willing to challenge conservative Republicans when it was unpopular to do so. He was a politician who I long admired, and the US Senate was a more civil and respectable place with Senator Specter’s presence.

RIP Arlen Specter.

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