I, too, had aspirations of composing a "Year in Review," but thought better of it when I realized the Red Sox win, the presidential election, the death of Arafat, and the Olympics could very well take me months to comment on. (That and I've now discovered The West Wing which has taken over my life!) So instead, I've chosen to mention the 2004 departures in the U.S. Senate.
There are four retiring senators. From the right side of the isle depart Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) and from the left side of the isle depart John Breaux (D-Louisiana) and Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina).
I'm a CSPAN junkie if there is such a thing. I'll watch floor debates and roll calls for hours. Not to mention the weekend Book Notes and the various briefings. There is nothing that entertains me more...beside the late Strom Thurmond himself...than Fritz Hollings. One late night I watched Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and Fritz argue the merits of water rights for hours, only to conclude that they were on the same side, arguing for the sake of arguing. It was great! And one day a good friend of mine asked who my favorite senator is, not an entirely unusual question for me to be asked, and fully expecting my answer to be Ted Kennedy, I may have surprised him when I said Fritz--a fine liberal who is noticeably fiscally conservative.
Beside the numerous contributions Fritz Hollings has made in his 38 years of service in the Senate, his colleagues also retiring this year, have also made noticeable changes in the Senate. Campbell was nearly a martyr for the Native American plight. Still fighting the noble fight, often standing alone (and voting alone), Campbell will continue to support Native American rights following his retirement in his home state of Colorado. John Breaux, not necessarily one of my favorites in the Senate, but I suppose an admirable politician, spent a great deal of time and money on the latest Medicare bill. His strength coming from his more moderate platform. And Don Nickles...an interesting man to say the least. Certainly molded by the Reagan years and fiscally conservative to a fault, his departure may be the only one I am openly receiving.
Though I often wonder what influence 4 men, "pretty low on the totem pole," as Campbell puts it, have on American policies, laws, and culture, I haven't been disappointed by the efforts of these 4 men. They've seen many changes in the Senate in their time of service including shift of control and leadership to the rising role of women in Congress. They've weathered many storms and for the most part walked away victorious.
If I were a senator I'd hope to have the zeal of Strom Thurmond, the determination of Robert Byrd, the natural political ability of Ted Kennedy, and now I can add the bluntness of Fritz Hollings and the dedication of Ben Campbell.