John Lewis Successor Chosen Tuesday Will Clock Days in Congress

  • Historically short time for next member from Georgia district
  • Other brief stints include two from Louisiana, Michigan

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The winner of Tuesday’s House runoff in Georgia will spend less time in Congress than they did on the campaign trail and join the ranks of members whose terms were defined by their brevity.

Two Democrats, former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall and former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, are competing to become the late John Lewis’ immediate successor and to serve for a month until the new Congress convenes the first week of January. That’s when Nikema Williams, a state senator who won a full term in the November general election, will take over the seat.

While the average House member had more than 8 years of congressional service at the start of this Congress and some measure their service in decades, the newest member of Congress will be marking the days and will go down as having one of the most fleeting appearances ever in the House.

Hall or Franklin, who’ve campaigned for two months since advancing from the Sept. 29 special election jungle primary, will complete the final days of Lewis’s 34th year in Congress with no chance of an immediate extension. For Hall, that’s enough.

In an interview, Hall said he wanted to run for the term to honor Lewis, who supported him in running for local office. And the short term was appealing — Hall wasn’t planning to re-enter politics, and the lame-duck agenda means the new member could vote on government funding, unemployment benefits, and possibly coronavirus relief.

“This is one of the most critical times in our country’s history,” Hall said. “Sometimes you step up to wash the dishes and next thing you know you own the whole kitchen.”

A Kwanza Hall campaign ad that aired ahead of the Sept. 29 primary.

Numbered Days

Lewis’ successor won’t be the first to enter Congress with little time left but will be one of the few to serve less than two months. The shorter stints were days in the single digits.

The first woman to serve in the Senate, Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, was appointed to fill a vacant seat in 1922 and served only one day. In her lone speech, Felton thanked her successor for saying “she shall have her day there.”

George Sheridan and Effingham Lawrence, both from Louisiana, are the only House members to have served one day — and it was the same day, March 3, 1875. Their congressional careers lasted hours but both received their two-year salaries, according to the House historian’s office.

The first representative from Nebraska logged only two days, and a South Carolina woman was elected to Congress in 1938 but was never sworn in.

Courtesy of Emory University
Robert Franklin

Lasting 33 days at most, Hall or Franklin will serve one of the shortest House terms in recent times.

In Michigan, David Curson served seven weeks after winning a 2012 special election and fellow Democrat Brenda Jones served 35 days after winning a 2018 special election to fill John Conyers’ (D) seat. Jones won the special election primary on the same day Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) defeated her in the primary to serve the next full term. The five-week congresswoman’s swearing-in was delayed while the House considered whether she’d have to resign from the Detroit City Council. In her final days in the Capitol, she introduced two bills, though the House took up neither.

In 2006, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R), a Texas dermatologist, also won and lost on the same day, limiting her time in the House to seven weeks. She was elected to fill the remaining term of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R).

“Although her term was brief, she says her time in Congress was one of the greatest honors and most thrilling experiences of her lifetime,” according to her bio on the Woodlands Township, Texas, board of directors website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Samantha Handler in Washington at shandler@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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