Misremembering John Dingell

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John Dingell becomes the longest-serving House member in history on Wednesday, and to honor the Democrat from Detroit Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hosting a reception at the Capitol today. Bill Clinton and Carl Levin are scheduled to speak. During his 55-year run in the House, Dingell has maintained a pro-environment voting record, repeatedly proposed health care reform legislation, and even joined fellow Democrat John Conyers when Conyers sued (PDF) then-President Bush in 2006 for violating the Constitution (the case was thrown out).

But the elephant in the room will be Dingell’s close relationship with the auto industry, a connection seen as one major reason for Detroit’s foot-dragging on raising fuel economy and cutting carbon emissions during Dingell’s 17-year tenure as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, a position he lost in November when Californian Henry Waxman organized an intra-party coup to oust Dingell. Waxman’s rise to the chairmanship of the Energy Committee represented not only an geographic and ideological change (from Detroit to Beverly Hills), but a generational one as well (Dingell had been in the House for 20 years when Waxman arrived as a freshman).

I have a feeling no one will mention Dingell’s recent defeat at the reception. Here’s a quick list of other things about Dingell that probably won’t receive a mention:

  • Even though Dingell helped write the original CAFE standards in 1975, he has since resisted broad changes to emissions, fuel economy standards, and other regulations affecting the auto industry, including air bags. In 1989, when Nevada Senator Richard Bryan proposed a bill to raise CAFE standards to 40 miles per gallon, Dingell floated the idea of building a toxic waste dump in Bryan’s home state.
  • Dingell’s wife, Debbie, has worked for General Motors since 1977, when she joined the company as a lobbyist. Dingell’s own financial disclosure documents show he owns at least $600,000 in GM stock and stock options.
  • In 2002, a Pelosi’s PAC donated $10,000 to Lynn Rivers, a Democrat challenging Dingell for his seat.
  • As late as November 2007, Dingell was still pushing to keep SUVs classified as light trucks, a classification that subjects them to less-strict fuel economy standards.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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