When U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit resigned amid scandal last December, he had served in the House of Representatives for 52 years, 336 days — longer than all but two members in history. Only Michigan’s John Dingell and Mississippi’s Jamie Whitten had longer House careers.
The winner of this November’s election to fill the balance of Conyers’ term will serve one of the shortest tenures in history and will leave Capitol Hill less than two months later, on Dec. 31.
That should be Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who won the Democratic primary for the balance of Conyers’ term but lost the nomination for a full two-year stint to former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Assuming Jones does win in November and is willing to surrender her City Council seat for a brief stint in Washington, she’ll join the ranks of another recent Michigan short-termer, ex-U.S. Rep. Dave Curson of Belleville, who spent a mere seven weeks in Congress in 2012 after winning a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.
McCotter, a Republican from Livonia, resigned amid scandal, as did Conyers.
His Democratic replacement, Curson, didn’t seek a full term in the suburban district and – in an ironic touch – as HuffPost reported, “he and his four-person staff camped out in spare cubicles” in Conyers’ office.
Republican Kerry Bentivolio of Milford lost the special election to Curson but won the full term, only to be defeated for reelection two years later.
But Jones — again, assuming she takes the job — won’t be setting any shorttermer record. That’s held by Effingham Lawrence, a Democrat from Louisiana, who served for a single day after a twoyear fight to contest the election of a Republican rival.
Lawrence’s fleeting tenure, March 3, 1875, was the last day of the congressional session For comparison, House members on average had served 9.4 years as of 2017, according to a Congressional Research Service study.
Meanwhile in Michigan, the overwhelmingly Democratic and predominantly African-American residents of Detroit’s 13th Congressional District will have gone for 11 months without representation in the U.S. House — a shameful, inexcusable, outrageous denial of their rights by our Republican governor, Rick Snyder.
It was Snyder who decided to delay holding the primary for the balance of Conyers’ term until August, eight months after the beleaguered Conyers stepped down.
By contrast, it took only one month from McCotter’s resignation in July 2012 for the Snyder-scheduled primary in the usually Republican suburban district and only three months more to hold the general election that gave Curson his brief and unexpected moment in the D.C. spotlight.
A Democratic district — 11 months without representation. A Republicanleaning district — four months without representation. Does that sound fair?
— Capital News Service (Eric Freedman, who won a Pulitzer prize at The Detroit News, is a journalism professor at Michigan State University. A modified version of this commentary appeared in Domemagazine.com.)