He served in WWII, earned a degree in Economics financed by the GI Bill, and worked his way up a little known payroll company called Automatic Data Processing…becoming its CEO in 1975. Moving to politics in 1982, he was New Jersey’s longest serving senator, the oldest sitting senator, and sadly, he passed away June 3, 2013 of viral pneumonia at the age of 89.
Looking back over Frank Lautenberg’s track record, one can’t help but feel like the loss of something tremendous. There aren’t any senators like Lautenberg left in Congress today. Not just because he was the last “New Deal Liberal,” but because of what being a senator meant to Frank Lautenberg. He has resigned from politics twice, and both times he hoped he could get back in. The last time was about three months ago when he acknowledged that because of his health, he would not be running for a sixth term. Even as he made that statement, he followed it up with a hope that something would go wrong, and he’d be “called back” to Congress.
If you are under the age of 45 you probably haven’t heard of Frank Lautenberg. Not because he hasn’t done anything remarkable, but because he never cared for the spotlight, acknowledgement or infamy. He cared about the United States of America, and he cared about Americans. That was evident with his voting record, his humanist legislation, and his refusal to stop doing something he excelled at and that he loved.
Try to find a scandal on Lautenberg and you’ll find they both center on other people; and they both allowed him to take a seat in New Jersey’s senate. The first was in 1982 when Democrat Harrison Williams was busted in the FBI sting operation ABSCAM (named for the “Abdul scam”) that targeted corrupt political officials taking bribes for political favors. Lautenberg slid into William’s nomination and defeated Republican challenger Millicent Fenwick who was very active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 50’s.
The other came in 2002. In 1999 Lautenberg was not getting along with his colleague Robert Torricelli whom he suspected of coaxing others to run against him in the upcoming election. When Lautenberg brought his findings before members of the Democratic senate, it’s been reported that Torricelli shouted in front of everyone, “You’re a fucking piece of shit and I’m going to cut your balls off!” Lautenberg retired in 2000 and missed working in Congress, missing the feeling that his voice made a difference in people’s lives, so it was through scandal again that he was able to jump back into politics virtually unscathed. Senator Torricelli was winning elections, but he was also facing unavoidable federal corruption charges and New Jersey looked to Lautenberg to jump in and finish the term. Once he did, he stayed as long as he could.
Senator Frank Raleigh Lautenberg left behind an incredible legacy of monumental changes made for the sake of Americans, not for the sake of big business, lobbyists or fat cat donations...
We have him to thank for the Toxics Release Inventory which mandates that companies disclose what chemicals they are releasing into the environment. He fought very hard to try and stop big oil companies from receiving billions in tax breaks to no avail, and voted for all pro-environmental legislation that ever went before Congress during his tenure. Lautenberg championed tax incentives to people that use alternatives to oil, and was not afraid to take on OPEC when no one else would. He was responsible for raising the legal drinking age to 21, making sure that people could no longer smoke on airplanes or in restaurants, and for the .08% blood alcohol level. He was in favor of and voted for women’s reproductive rights and supported stem cell research.
Despite voting in favor of DOMA in 1996, Lautenberg was a supporter of the LGBT community. He voted to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, he voted to expand the definition of a hate crime to include those targeted because of sexual orientation, and he voted against any ban against same sex marriage, speaking openly of his support of marriage equality in his later years.
Most notably is the Lautenberg Amendment, which states that if you have been accused of a crime of domestic abuse, you are prohibited by law from purchasing a gun, even if you are with the police or in the military.
Frank Lautenberg didn’t go to Congress to line his pockets, sell his soul, or sell out his country, and that alone would make him the last of a dying breed. What he did with his time he spent on this earth speaks volumes about the kind of man that he was. His existence has made the quality of all our lives so much better in this country. Had he been around longer, he would have tried to do so much more.
With all the good he has done, I’d personally like for your last impression of Frank Lautenberg to be of how he challenged Republicans, standing on the floor of the senate calling Dick Cheney the lead chicken hawk in a political party of chicken hawks.
Mr. Lautenberg, thank you for showing us, and reminding us, what being a Congressman or woman should represent, and thank you for giving us, and this country, your life.
“…The Republicans in Congress claim they’re concerned about the budget balance, but it’s a disguise! It’s not true! It’s a lie! That’s not what they want. They want — they want other people not to be able to have their own opinions. They don’t deserve the freedoms that are in the Constitution! But we’ll give it to them anyway.”-- (D) NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg, March 2011