One in six former Iowa U.S. Senators died in office – although none in 80+ years

Among the pitches Chuck Grassley made last week as to why Iowans should vote for Republican Kim Reynolds in next month’s gubernatorial election, was the warning that the next governor could be appointing a new U.S. Senator should his health fail:

“Something could happen to me in the next four years. I don’t want a Democrat appointing my successor who would then be a Democrat, not a Republican. Keep that in mind when you work for Kim Reynolds.”

Grassley, who by all accounts is in reasonably good health, is still by far the oldest Iowan to serve in the U.S. Senate – clocking in at 85 years, 1 month, 14 days through Tuesday.

No other delegation member ever reached 80 years of age, although six served into their 70s:

  • Republican William Allison (1873-1908): 79 years, 5 months, 3 days
  • Republican Albert Cummins (1908-1926): 76 years, 5 months, 16 days
  • Democrat Guy Gillette (1936-1945; 1949-1955): 75 years, 11 months, 1 day
  • Republican John Gear (1895-1900): 75 years, 3 months, 8 days
  • Democrat Tom Harkin (1985-2015): 75 years, 1 month, 16 days
  • Republican Bourke Hickenlooper (1945-1969): 72 years, 5 months, 14 days

The average age of the state’s 32 former senators at the time of their (final) exit from the chamber was 59.3 years. [Four Iowans served two or more stints in the senate: Free Soiler/Republican James Harlan, Republican Samuel Kirkwood, Republican Smith Brookhart, and Democrat Guy Gillette].

To Grassley’s point, however, several Iowa U.S. Senators have died in office – five of the 32 former delegation members since statehood, or nearly one in six.

However, none passed away over the last 80 years – and the five who died in office all did so within a 36-year period.

Republican John Gear – the state’s 11th U.S. Senator – was the first to die in office in July 1900 before the start of his second term.

Long-serving GOP Senator William Allison died during his sixth term in August 1908 – followed soon thereafter by Gear’s successor, Republican Jonathan Dolliver, in October 1910.

Dolliver remains the youngest Iowa U.S. Senator to die in office at 52 years, 8 months, 10 days.

Allison’s successor, Republican Albert Cummins, died during his fourth term in July 1926.

The fifth and final Iowa U.S. Senator to pass away during his term was Democrat Richard Murphy in July 1936. Murphy, serving in his first term, died in an automobile accident in Wisconsin at the age of 60 years, 8 months, 11 days.

Grassley is already the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Iowa history at 37 years, 9 months, 28 days through Tuesday.

Senator Grassley passed Allison near the end of his sixth term in early June 2016. Allison served 35 years, 5 months, 1 day.

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  1. Nikoli Orr on October 31, 2018 at 1:17 am

    1. Nice play on “Win one for the Gipper”!
    2. Rather than tempting fate, he does have the entirely honourable option of RELINQUISHING his long-held seat, sometime before (ascended) Governor Reynolds’ departure in the event of her defeat (he is implicitly acknowledging that her chances of victory are somewhat less than even).

  2. Nikoli Orr on October 31, 2018 at 9:17 am

    3. a) It is a shame that the 17th Amendment failed to include a same-party interim appointee provision, one that would be applicable to all the States (currently in force only in WY, AZ, and perhaps a few others); the 17th decoupled the Senate from the machinations and turmoils of state legislative elections, but, unfortunately, not the gubernatorial contests. b) In order to make said provision effective, it would have had to make official party membership – or a formal lack of any – a requirement for each eligible voter in each State (via voter registration form, party-issued card, or other) – something which might not go over too well in some places, to say the least.

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