The Accidental Senator

Article excerpt

Byline: Ted Kaufman

For more than 35 years, my life has been intertwined with Congress. But I had always worked in the legislative wings, serving first as a volunteer on Joe Biden's 1972 Senate campaign, then as his longtime chief of staff, and later as co-chair of the Center for the Study of Congress at Duke University, where I continue to teach. When Biden traded his Senate robes for the vice presidency last year, I was part of his transition team; I never considered that then-Delaware governor Ruth Ann Minner would appoint me to his old seat. After all, in politics, like volleyball, there are servers and spikers. So it came as a genuine surprise when Joe's son Hunter turned to me on a flight and asked, "Why not you?"

I could think of more than a few reasons why it shouldn't be me. I was almost 70 years old and had already paid the rent on a beachfront Florida condo for the winter. I was ready for a more contemplative life and greater stretches of time with my seven grandchildren. And I knew the less-than-flattering conventional wisdom: I would be a lame-duck senator with little ambition and no ability to get anything done. But the more I thought about it, and talked it over with family and friends, the more I realized that my situation was full of advantages. Far from being a bystander whom "no one will hear from," as one op-ed put it, I would be in a great spot--ideally positioned to move straight from the sidelines to the Senate floor.

With a great staff already in place and no plans to run for election in 2010, I could take on Wall Street--funneling my outrage at the financial crisis into concrete reforms--without worrying about the political blowback. I wouldn't have to fundraise or campaign, two tremendous time drains. And as a temporary senator on a two-year tour, I would not have to pace myself. …