5 of the Longest-Serving Politicians

We look at those Americans that have served in office the longest.

Statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his memorial in Washington, D.C.

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No matter where you go in America today, in person or online, the conversation always turns to elections. It doesn’t matter if it’s the one that we just had or the one that’s still a year away; the idea of who holds office is striking a chord like never before. While the last two major elections saw a tide of upsets, the constancy of some politicians in their positions made us wonder: who are the longest-serving elected Americans? The presidential answer is easy, particularly since he was elected to his fourth term 75 years this month. Some of the others will definitely surprise you.

1. President: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

It would never happen today, partially because we changed the law. Through a run that began with the election of 1932, FDR was elected to the presidency four times. From his initial inauguration in March of 1933 until his death in office in April of 1945, he served just over 12 years. Roosevelt came into office on a tide of sentiment that hoped he could turn around the country, then in the grip of the Great Depression. He would send the nation on an ambitious course of infrastructure and economic improvements under his New Deal, but the true test came with the advent of World War II. FDR guided the U.S. through arguably its most tumultuous years outside the Civil War. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the Allies triumph; he died just under a month shy of victory in Europe.

2. Senator: Ted Kennedy (1962-2009)* and Strom Thurmond (1954-1956; 1956-2003)

Photo of Senator Ted Kennedy
Senator Ted Kennedy, 1987. (Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock.com)

We added an asterisk for longest-serving senator, because there’s a difference between “total years” and “in a row.” Ted Kennedy, the youngest brother of president John Kennedy, served as a senator from Massachusetts for 46 years and 292 days; nicknamed “The Lion of the Senate,” he wrote more than 300 bills that became laws. The closest to that record is South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, who was in for 47 years and 159 days total; however, his streak was interrupted because he briefly resigned in the 1950s to run in the next election due to complications in state politics. Thurmond had the distinction of holding the longest speaking filibuster in the history of the Senate; unfortunately, his 24-hour-and-18-minute effort was made in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The longest-serving congressmen that boasted combined House and Senate time were West Virginia’s Robert Byrd (57 years and 176 days), Carl Hayden of Arizona (56 years and 319 days), and Daniel Inouye from Hawaii (53 years and 118 days).

3. Representative: John Dingell (1955-2015)

Photo Senator John Dingell
Senator John Dingell in 2010 (Susan Montgomery / Shutterstock)

Hailing from Michigan, John Dingell served in Congress for a staggering 59 years and 21 days. Dingell’s tenure is part of a family legacy. He took over for his father, who held the spot for 22 years before Dingell’s own election; he was succeeded by his wife, Debbie, who first won the seat after his 2015 retirement and remains in office at this writing. A champion of the auto industry, the environment, medical care, and civil rights, Dingell was heavily involved in historic legislation like the Medicare Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and more. He was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014; Dingell died in February of this year at age 92.

4. Governor: Terry Branstad of Iowa (1983-1999; 2010-2017)

Photo of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in 2015
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in 2015. (Rich Koele / Shutterstock)

Terry Branstad presents another case with special circumstances. There’s no dispute about him having the longest uninterrupted tenure as an American governor; he was in office for 16 straight years from 1983 until 1999, toppling a record that had stood since 1804 (that had belonged to New York governor and eventual fourth vice president of the United States, George Clinton). However, Branstad stepped completely away from politics  and was president of the Des Moines University until returning in 2010 to be elected two more times. He resigned in 2017 after being appointed the U.S. Ambassador to China; Branstad has actually been friends with People’s Republic of China president Xi Jinping since 1985, when Jinping visited Iowa as part of an agricultural delegation visit

5. Mayor: Hilmar Moore of Richmond, Texas (1949-2012)

From September 22, 1949 until his death on December 4, 2012, Hilmar Moore served as mayor of Richmond, Texas; a tenure of just over 63 years. Like John Dingell, Moore’s father was also mayor of the city prior to the younger Moore’s election; Moore’s widow, Evalyn, also succeeded him, and remains mayor today. A life-size statue of Moore was placed outside Richmond City Hall in 2008. According to an interview with the Houston Chronicle in 2008, Moore was instrumental in getting the city’s restaurants and other facilities to become racially integrated in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Featured image: Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Memorial, Washington D.C. , USA / Shutterstock.com.

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