Pfaff pays tribute to Birch Bayh
INDIANAPOLIS – Here is the text of remarks given today by State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) on the floor of the Indiana House commemorating the life of Senator Birch E. Bayh, Jr., who passed away Wednesday:
“I have the privilege to represent the same area that Sen. Bayh did from 1954-62: the city of Terre Haute and the greater West Terre Haute area.
“Sen. Bayh was born in Terre Haute and attended city schools, where his father, Birch E. Bayh, Sr., was the director of physical education. Young Birch spent most of his time on his grandparents’ farm in Shirkieville and attended high school in New Goshen. His grandmother, mother and his father all attended Indiana State Teachers College, now Indiana State University. They were all school teachers, imbuing him with a respect for education and teaching, which he carried with him throughout his legislative career.
“He attended Purdue University, majoring in agriculture, and returned to run the family farm. He served in the U.S. Army in postwar Germany and smuggled seeds from his Indiana farm to help the locals grow food at a time when food scarcity was still a problem.
“At a national speech contest in Chicago, Birch lost the national title to a young woman from Enid, Oklahoma, Marvella Hern, who he soon married.
“For several years, he ran the family farm, and in 1954 at the age of 27, he was elected to this Indiana House of Representatives, serving the area I now represent. A year later, son Evan was born in Terre Haute. Eventually, Birch decided to give up farming, and enrolled at the Indiana University Law School. In just his third term, he was elected Speaker of the House while still in law school.
“Sen. Bayh has said that the legislative accomplishment he was most proud of came not in the U.S. Senate but in the Indiana General Assembly, when in the 1959 session, with the assistance of fellow Purdue Ag alumni Representatives Don Foltz and Wayne Townsend, Indiana school reorganization was passed to help Hoosier students compete in a new age.
“In 1962, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating incumbent Homer Capehart in a major upset by 10,000 votes. During his 18-year career, Sen. Bayh was a key factor in what a recent book titled, ‘The Last Great Senate,’ which remade much of America with the New Frontier and the Great Society.
“Sen. Bayh is best-known for being the author of two constitutional amendments, the most of any legislator since the founding fathers. The 25th Amendment, passed after the assassination of President Kennedy, put in place a system of presidential succession and removal. This amendment was successfully used in the Nixon-Ford transition. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, providing a voice for men and women old enough to serve our country in the Armed Forces, but not to vote. He had sponsored similar legislation unsuccessfully here in our Assembly in the 1950s.
“He also wrote two other amendments: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed both houses of Congress, but fell short of the states needed for ratification. His other amendment, still debated today, was to abolish the Electoral College and give every man and woman in the United States an equal voice in choosing the president.
“I stand here today as a beneficiary of another one of Sen. Bayh’s initiatives, Title IX of the Higher Education Act. Thanks to Title IX, colleges and universities have to provide equal opportunity for men’s and women’s athletics. By the time I was in junior and senior high in Terre Haute, there were active athletic programs for women, and I took advantage of them. Thanks to the ripple effect of Title IX, I was awarded a basketball scholarship to West Point.
“Sen. Bayh often noted that athletics wasn’t the key reason for Title IX. Instead, it was to provide equal access for women to colleges and universities, outlawing quotas based on sex. His wife Marvella had been denied admission to a Virginia graduate program due to a quota, and quotas also existed at medical and law schools. Think of the effect Title IX has had, especially on the number of women lawyers and doctors now practicing.
“Whether the issue was voting, or education, or rights for all Americans – male or female, young or elderly, black or white – Sen. Birch Bayh was a major force for equal protection under the law.
“Sen. Bayh also exercised the power that all of us here in the General Assembly have – he took care of his constituents. He often noted that the only thing he could do for his hometown of Shirkieville was get the state Department of Transportation to put a flashing light at the only town intersection of U.S. Highway 150. It is still flashing today. And one of his final accomplishments for Terre Haute was federal funding for the Third Street Railroad Overpass, which I travel almost every day.
“The list of Sen. Bayh’s legislative accomplishments is long. He was a staunch supporter of education, civil rights, and he pushed for an honorable end to the Vietnam War. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he fought and defeated two Supreme Court nominees, generally now regarded as two of the worst nominees in American history. He took stands that weren’t always popular with voters back home in Indiana, but in which he believed in and improved the life of Americans.
“Sen. Bayh was the proud father of two sons. Our former governor and U.S. Senator Evan Bayh was born to his first wife Marvella, who had her own impressive career, but lost her life to cancer in 1979. After his marriage to current wife Kitty, another strong and accomplished woman, Birch fathered another son, Christopher, now an attorney here in Indianapolis. Birch was the proud grandfather of Beau and Nick Bayh, who graduated from university this year and are now serving in the Marines and Army respectively.
“All of us in this room are proud to call ourselves Hoosiers. We are proud of the many elected officials, Democratic and Republican, who have served in the General Assembly, our executive branch, as our representatives in Washington, as vice president, and in the state and federal judiciary.
“Few have worn the title Hoosier with as much pride and distinction as Sen. Birch Bayh, truly a great American whose legacy has helped all of us in this room today and future generations of Hoosiers and Americans.
“We offer our sympathy to the Bayh family and our prayers for Sen. Bayh. And all of us salute a life well-lived, dedicated to his state and nation, and proof that one man, one woman, can make a difference.”