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David Helfenbein Headshot

Story Time with Robert C. Byrd

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I once tattled on a fellow Senate Page for breaking a piece of a chandelier, right off the floor of the United States Senate. To this day, I am proud of my action. I don't even remember the kid's name, and quite frankly, I highly doubt I'll ever see him again - but yet I am still disturbed by what he did.

I am one of those people who consider our government institutions sacred. I have twice been lucky enough to see the Oval Office, once lucky enough to walk into it. Regardless, each of these two times I had chills. While working in one of the Senate Office Buildings, I would sometimes stare out of the window at the Capitol dome. And at the Department of State, I would often walk into the Treaty Room - the room where the Secretary of State signs treaties with foreign nations and answers the press' questions alongside foreign leaders.

So what is my point here? Am I just a guy who gets caught up with incredible and historic buildings in Washington, D.C.? Big deal; one would hope others do as well. Well, first, not everyone does. And if you work for the government and you are able to access such rooms - even a few times in your work experience, and you don't feel anything - does this mean something bad about you? Of course not! After all, I may just be on a polar extreme. Still, here is what I think, plain and simple: if you are a member of Congress and this is your third term or fifth term and the Capitol Building means nothing to you at this point, then get out. I think it's time to go.

As I previously mentioned, however, I was fortunate enough to serve as a United States Senate Page back in 2003 and it was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Not only was I able to be on the floor of the U.S. Senate every weekday, but I was able to interact with Senators, one of whom just passed away: Robert C. Byrd. And as many Pages my year and likely other years know, the Senator used to sit and talk with us often for hours.

Three things about Senator Byrd are certain: he once knew how to play the fiddle, he deeply loved his wife Erma (he always wanted to go home and have dinner with her and never with us, because I used to ask) and no one - and I mean no one - in that chamber understood the U.S. Constitution better than that man. In fact, if there were anything that Senator Byrd didn't know in the Constitution (and I highly doubt that this was the case), he wouldn't have to travel too far to look it up; he always carried a pocket Constitution with him in his pocket.

Now, before everyone starts posting comments: I know well that Robert Byrd's past was not perfect and I cannot account for this. What I can say is as follows: he seemed to be a good man when I knew him.

My favorite moment with him was when he looked at me, hand trembling yet pointing at the floor outside the Senate chamber and he said: "This is the First Branch of government. This is where the power resides." Truth be told, he is right about Congress being the First Branch. Our founders designed the Constitution that way. (Congress is mentioned first, Article One.) In terms of power, well, I guess that's debatable. And that's likely why the old man used to get so heated during his last few years in Congress during the Bush administration. The only problem is no one seemed to listen to him; many appeared to respect him but disregard him as senile. Sure, maybe in the last year or two he was. But when I knew him, in 2003, he wasn't.

And you know what? If more people had listened to some of Senator Byrd's speeches on the Senate floor during Bush years we might not be in some of the messes we are in right now.

David Helfenbein has also posted this blog posting on his site, http://www.TheBeanPredicts.com, under his blog, The Bean Blog.