The late Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., was in Washington for a very long time, 52 years between his service in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
During his long tenure in federal government, he did a lot of admirable things. He proposed a Department of Peace for the executive branch, co-authored legislation that founded the National Air and Space Museum and did work to benefit the blind.
But he is really only remembered for one thing, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. He worked on this tirelessly, having introduced and sponsored it 11 times from its inception in 1942 to its passage in 1970. He worked through six presidential administrations, from FDR to Nixon, to get the voting age lowered. Why be able to die for your country, if you cannot vote?
That is the legacy of Jennings Randolph. To this day, he is celebrated for his dedication to voting rights and, to this day, the West Virginia secretary of state gives out the Jennings Randolph Award to high school classes that have 100% of their seniors registered to vote.
Despite all of the work one does, it is going to be just one or two things that define their legacy. When people one day look back on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., what will it be that defines him? I believe that he, like Randolph, will be remembered as a hero for voting rights, once the Freedom To Vote Act is passed into law.
As for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., how will she be remembered? As an ally who eventually came around once the time was right, or as an obstructionist, who fought against voting rights with everything she had?
We won’t know the answer for several decades but, in the meantime, one thing is clear, and West Virginians of all political stripes and all across our great state are clamoring for it: We must pass the Freedom To Vote Act, and fix our crumbling democracy, by any means necessary.