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Longest Serving U.S. Congressman Enjoys Serving the People of Michigan

The Honorable John Dingell has served in the U.S. Congress for more than 50 years. Known as the dean of the House of Representatives, Congressman Dingell has earned a reputation as a champion of working families, a crusader on issues of health and social security, and a protector of America's natural resources and endangered species.

John Dingell comes from a political family. His father was elected to Congress in 1933, and represented his working-class neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, for nearly a quarter of a century. When his father died in office in 1955, his son -- by this time a successful attorney -- won a special election to succeed him.

"My dad served 23 years. He came in with (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt. He served through the Depression (of the 1930s), through World War II and through the Korean War," Congressman Dingel says. "He was a great supporter of labor, working men and women and he was particularly interested in health care, social security and programs like that."

Like father, like son. John Dingell has been a leading supporter of similar policies. He led the fight in the House of Representatives for passage of the Medicare Act of 1965, which provides guaranteed medical care for aging Americans. It was his father's diagnosis of tuberculosis that led to Dingell's passionate feelings about the need to provide Americans with affordable health care.

"My father was fired from his job and was sent to die of T.B. It was in those days, in 1914, a death sentence, and fortunately he survived," Dingell says. "I have found that the biggest problem I think Americans have is their inability to pay for and have the benefit of decent health insurance."

So at the beginning of every congressional session, John Dingell still introduces the national health insurance bill that his father sponsored when he was a member of the House.

The congressman is also passionate about protecting the health of the nation's environment. In 1973, he fought for passage of a revolutionary bill called the Endangered Species Act.

"It was a very important piece of legislation. We in this world are borrowers of the world from future generations," he says. "We have a duty to return it to them in as good a shape as we can, (a) clean and wholesome environment and in a condition where future generations will be able to enjoy the world in a decent fashion and where there will be resources and so forth for them. I think no man or no nation has the right to exterminate any species of animal or plant or fish or bird."

In 1995, 40 years after his special election, John Dingell became the longest-serving member of Congress. He still holds that distinction.

He says he has enjoyed working for the people of Michigan, and the rest of the country, as well.

"Politics in this country is and should be public service. It should be about how we define and carry forward the public interest, how do we help people, how do we make this a better country, how we make sure the government is fair and meets the needs of the people that the government is there to serve," the veteran Congressman says.

As the son of an immigrant Polish family, John Dingell has a tremendous pride in his country.

"In my view, America is a wonderful great nation, a wonderful place, there is more freedom here than anywhere else in the world and there is more economic opportunity," he says. "People here live by and large very well and it's a wonderful place to live and I want to see to it that to the best of my ability we keep it that way."

As the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Dingell says he would like to be remembered as a public servant who "tried to serve, take care of the people. That he knew about their problems and worked to solve them. That he was available, that he tried to be helpful in areas of real concern to people who were not able to help themselves, and he tried to make government work and serve people well."

Throughout his half-century in Congress, John Dingell has seen the United States face a multitude of challenges and crises, and he's seen America helping other countries to face their crises, too, crises brought on by war, famine, disease, or natural disaster. Congressman Dingell says America must continue to play a generous role in the world, and he hopes his legislative efforts to that end will continue to enjoy the support of the people of Michigan, as he runs for re-election in November.

For earlier profiles in VOA's
American Profiles series click here