Former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh dies at 91

 politico.com  3/14/2019 2:09:00 PM   DAVID COHEN
Sens. Birch Bayh and Claiborne Pell appear in a Senate hearing.

Former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, an accomplished legislator who left his imprint on the U.S. Constitution and the world of sports, has died.

Bayh, who was also the father of another senator, was 91.

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During his three terms in the Senate, the Indiana Democrat was one of the main architects of the 25th and 26th amendments to the Constitution, as well as the unsuccessful Equal Rights Amendment. "Senator Bayh has the distinct honor of being the only American since the Founders to draft multiple amendments to the Constitution," the Fordham Law Review said in 2011.

He was also co-author of Title IX, a 1972 education amendment that required colleges to end quotas for women in higher education; it gave women equal opportunity to participate in sports, vastly altering the landscape of college, professional and Olympic athletics. He also once pulled Sen. Ted Kennedy to safety from a crashed plane.

“Birch had a knack for identifying major themes and taking action,“ Fred Nation, his former press secretary, said.

Nation added: “Whether pushing through school reorganization in the Indiana Legislature or shepherding presidential succession, the 18-year-old vote or ERA as constitutional amendments through the Senate, Birch had a knack for big issues.“

Bayh was the father of Evan Bayh, who served as a governor of and senator from Indiana. "I have always admired my father’s selfless commitment to helping our state and nation," Evan Bayh said in his farewell speech to the Senate. "I am proud to follow in his footsteps in the Senate and to share his name."

Birch Evans Bayh Jr. was born Jan. 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Ind. His father was a baseball and basketball coach at Indiana State University, which is now home to the Bayh College of Education. His mother, Leah, had taught home economics. Birch spent much of his childhood on farms, and he was heavily involved in the 4-H Club at Fayette Township High School.

Bayh enrolled at Purdue University, but after his first year he served two years as a military policeman in the Army in occupied Germany. Back at Purdue, he studied agriculture and was elected president of the senior class.

In 1951, at a National Farm Bureau speaking contest, Bayh met a young competitor from Oklahoma named Marvella Hern. She won the contest, but he won her over. "It was just plain old love at first sight," he told People magazine in 1974. The two were married in August 1952.

"The first time Marvella and I ever met, over lunch," Bayh told writer Melissa Isaacson in 2005, "we each said we wanted to make a difference with our lives, and we believed a career in government could do that."

In 1954, at 26, he was elected to Indiana's Legislature; he would soon become the youngest-ever speaker of the Indiana House. As he served, he earned a law degree.

Bayh was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, unseating three-term Republican Homer Capehart with 50.3 percent of the vote. His rural background helped him topple Capehart. Nation said Bayh “could genuinely talk farm issues and life as he traveled rural Indiana, tossing horseshoes at the county fair and visiting every known Dairy Queen.“

Bayh was part of a freshman class of Democrats that included Kennedy of Massachusetts, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and George McGovern of South Dakota.

Kennedy and Bayh were also paired by fate on the storm-soaked night of June 19, 1964. On a flight with his wife and Kennedy to the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention, their plane crashed into an orchard. The pilot and one other person died, but the Bayhs survived, and the Indiana senator was able to pull his injured colleague to safety.

"We’ve all heard adrenaline stories about how a mother can lift a car off a trapped infant," Bayh told The Hill in 2009. "Well, Kennedy was no small guy, and I was able to lug him out of there like a sack of corn under my arm.”

In Washington, Bayh had an impact through constitutional amendments. President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 had given rise to vital concerns: There was no mechanism in the Constitution to replace a vice president who became president; there was also nothing that could be done to fill in for a president who was incapacitated or went mad.

"We were confronted with the stark reality that the president is human," Bayh said in 2011.

Bayh and Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) introduced constitutional amendments that provided solutions to both of those problems; the two amendments were painstakingly reconciled and sent to the states. On Feb. 10, 1967, Nevada became the 38th state to ratify the 25th Amendment, making it part of the Constitution.

Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) said: “If it had not been for the perseverance, the patience, and the willingness to compromise which was manifested on a multitude of occasions by the junior senator from Indiana, we would never have gotten the resolution out of the subcommittee, much less through the full Judiciary Committee and then through the conference with the House.”

The amendment would be invoked in 1973 when a successor was needed for Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned. It would also be cited in arguments over President Donald Trump's fitness for office.

Bayh also authored the 26th Amendment, which lowered the minimum voting age to 18 from 21, a popular cause amid the upheaval of the Vietnam War. "The chief selling point," Bayh said in 2011, "was that you had young men over there that were dying in the jungles, who weren’t old enough to vote for the people that sent them there."

He was also the main Senate sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, which expired before being ratified by three-quarters of the states. Beyond that, he was a prominent legislator on a variety of issues, including civil rights, drug abuse and juvenile justice, as well as a leader in the efforts to defeat two of President Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominees.

Bayh had an interest in the presidency, but he never got close to it. Though an effective behind-the-scenes figure, he never managed to capture the national imagination.

"Bayh is not so much dull," Robert Sherrill wrote in The New York Times in 1970, "as he is cautious, cagey, constantly sliding around questions — a tough but modest professional who spent his formative political years learning how to maneuver a few progressive statutes through a mossback Legislature by cozying up to all sides and saying nothing for the record until he had strained it through several layers of friendly ears."

Sherrill added: "Bayh's ability to draw heavily from the conservatives in one fight and heavily from the liberals in another is no accident. He sharpens at every opportunity the politician's ideal ability to play both sides."

Bayh intended to run for president in 1972 but his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 1975, with his wife's cancer in remission, Bayh joined the wide-open Democratic field for the next presidential election. His campaign ended quickly, as he finished far behind Jimmy Carter in Iowa and New Hampshire. "Bayh's liberal supporters split in too many directions, and he never won a primary," Ira Shapiro wrote in his 2012 book, "The Last Great Senate."

In the interim, Marvella Bayh had become a full-time advocate for the American Cancer Society. But her cancer returned in 1978, and this time it was inoperable.

"She was scheduled," Shapiro wrote of a day in March 1979, "to receive the Hubert H. Humphrey Inspirational Award but could not appear because she was hospitalized. Accepting the award for his wife, Birch Bayh, near tears, had to struggle to regain his composure." She died April 24, 1979.

Bayh's Senate career ended the next year.

In a state that always leaned to the right, Bayh had survived close campaigns against William Ruckelshaus in 1968 and Richard Lugar in 1974, but the Republican wave of 1980 was too much for him. The 33-year-old Dan Quayle took 54 percent of the vote in ousting Bayh.

Despite the loss, Bayh worked in the lame-duck session with Kansas Republican Bob Dole to pass the Bayh-Dole Act, which was credited with helping academic discoveries make their way to the market. The law gave researchers who were funded by the government the chance to profit from their work. In 2005, Bayh was feted as helping to create the biotechnology industry with that law.

In 1981, Bayh married Katherine "Kitty" Halpin. His son Evan also rose to prominence, becoming Indiana's secretary of state (1986-89), governor (1989-97) and U.S. senator (1999-2011).

Over the ensuing decades, Birch Bayh practiced law, including at Venable LLP in Washington, and served on the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and other boards. His biggest cause: abolishing the Electoral College, which he regarded as outmoded.

"The most compelling reason for directly electing our president and vice president is one of principle," Bayh wrote in "Every Vote Equal," John Koza's 2006 book. "In the United States every vote must count equally. One person, one vote is more than a clever phrase, it's the cornerstone of justice and equality."

As the years went by, he gained increased recognition for the landmark Title IX, which is credited with giving many female athletes opportunities they had never had before and bolstering U.S. success in the Olympics and other international competitions in sports like basketball, soccer and track. Bayh sponsored the measure with Rep. Edith Green (D-Ore.).

In 2017, he told columnist Barbara Barker that his role in passing Title IX was "hands down" his most important legacy.

“I knew the need for it, but I could not have anticipated how wonderfully it would turn out," Bayh said. "My thoughts were about gender equality in education, in academics. I knew that women were routinely refused admission to many colleges, in many academic disciplines, received almost no scholarships, and that even women faculty were asked to join the spouses club on campus, not the faculty groups. I had no idea what it would mean for girls and women in sports!”

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