Meet the world’s oldest Senate candidate

95-year-old Ken Hechler talks to Salon about his unlikely campaign to win Robert Byrd's Senate seat

Topics: 2010 Census, War Room, 2010 Elections,

Meet the world's oldest Senate candidateFormer West Virginia congressman and secretary of state Ken Hechler discusses life experiences before watching an advance screening of the new documentary about his career in public office at the Marshall University Drinko Library on Thusday, April 3, 2008, in Huntington, W.Va. A premiere viewing of the two-hour documentary "Ken Hechler: In Pursuit of Justice," will take place in the Memorial Student Center's Don Morris Room on the campus of Marshall University on Saturday, April 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Webb)(Credit: Mark Webb)

In his 95 years, Ken Hechler has recorded history from the front lines in World War II, debriefed Hitler’s top commanders before the Nuremberg Trials, advised Harry Truman, marched with Martin Luther King, published several books, been the subject of a documentary, and — somewhere between all of this — served nine terms in Congress and four as West Virginia’s secretary of state.

Earlier this week, he unexpectedly jumped into the race to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd, who passed away in late June at the age of 92. Running against Gov. Joe Manchin in the Democratic primary, Hechler will be (to put it politely) a prohibitive underdog. He talked with Salon on Thursday about his latest campaign and his long life — and even sang a few lines from a John Denver song.

You say that you aren’t running anyone and that you want to use this race to raise awareness of mountaintop removal from strip mining. Why single out this issue?

I’m not really running for the Senate, I’m running to enable the people of West Virginia to register at the polls their opposition to this devastating practice, which hurts so many people in the valleys when they dump the rocks in the soil and all the things that they’re blasting out of the mountains into people’s front yards. Ruining the aquifers so that if they have water wells they run dry and also drying up the streams where people are fishing and using for recreation. And it’s a practice that is so vicious that it outta be abolished. Every time a poll is taken in West Virginia it’s two to one in favor of abolishing it but there’s never been an opportunity for people to put it on the ballot and so I’m saying every vote for Ken Hechler is a vote tantamount to opposition to mountaintop removal. That’s the only reason I’m in the campaign.

So your goal isn’t to win?

The primary goal is not to win as much as it is to call attention to the issue and give people an opportunity to express their opinion on the ballot. That’s my primary aim.

How seriously should voters take your age into consideration?

They can take into consideration anything under the sun. They know me. They know that I’m 95 years old. They know that I’m giving them an opportunity to vote against mountaintop removal.



You’ve been described as an enemy of “machine politics.” What does that mean to you?

I’m not only an enemy of “machine politics,” but I’m also an enemy of discrimination and an enemy of the devastation of God’s creation; the mountains of western Virginia. I’m an advocate of protecting the environment. West Virginia is called the mountain state according to the song by John Denver, “Country Roads,” which starts (begins singing), “Almost heaven, West Virginia…” You don’t want them to say, “Almost level, West Virginia.”

Exactly. OK, a little bit about your personal history. You were drafted for World War II and ended up working as a combat historian. Can you explain importance of this kind of work?

Well, it’s very, very important not only to glorify the Army, but particularly to assemble lessons learned in combat for the purpose of educating the people at West Point and the service schools and the Commander General Staff Academy. That program was just getting off the ground when I went to Europe in the spring of 1944 and I helped to organize the administration of that program and to make sure that we covered all the strategic actions along the front lines. For example, I was about 10 miles away from the town of Remagen, between Cologne and Koblenz along the Rhine, when the electrifying news came in that we had captured the only bridge over the Rhine River that was still standing. The Germans waited until the last minute to destroy it because they wanted to retreat some of their big artillery and tanks towards the bridge so that we would capture that. It was a beginning of the end of the war, March 7, 1945, when that bridge was captured and war was over in Europe May 8, 1945. I wrote a book on it called “The Bridge of Remagen,” which was made into a full-length motion picture. The book sold 650,000 copies and, as I say, they made a movie out of it.

There was a film made about your life (2008′s “Ken Hechler: The Pursuit of Justice”) and it singled out the need to “establish justice” as the core of your political philosophy. What does establishing justice mean to you?

It means that legislation has got to be fair to all the groups and as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Equal rights for all and special privileges for none.” That is the root of my philosophy and it also motivated President Harry Truman when I was on the White House staff.

What threatens justice in the U.S. today?

Well, I think justice should involve the abolition of mountaintop removal and anything that discriminates against a group of people in this country.

You’ve spoken and written about your admiration for FDR’s leadership during the Great Depression. How do you compare the current White House to his?

Well, I think the Obama administration is doing its best, and I applaud the fact that they were able to get healthcare approved but in terms of the environment I think perhaps they could do a little better in terms of taking leadership. They’re trying to create too much of a balance between the coal industry and it’s devastating many of our areas. I’d love to push them a little more in terms of protecting the environment.

You were the only member of Congress to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma in 1965. Why did you do it — and why didn’t any of your colleagues?

I can’t answer the second part of your question, that’s up to the other people of Congress. I was on the Space Committee in Congress [we took] a group of U.S. senators down to Cape Canaveral to watch a space shot and I began to read about the billy clubs and tear gas, the beatings that those people like Dr. King … who were put in jail for disturbing the peace just because they were trying to carry out the 15th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees the right to vote for all people of all races and creeds. The Ku Klux Klan was trying to prevent that from happening. I asked myself, “What is more important for me, as a teacher of government who believes in the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to head a junket to Cape Canaveral or to be down at the front lines of democracy in Selma, Alabama?” That was an easy choice.

Where are the front lines of democracy in the United States today?

Here again, I have been eager to be in the front lines of democracy when protesting mountaintop removal. One of the reasons I’m running this year for the U.S. Senate is to give people a voice to show on the ballot where they stand. That’s part of the front lines of democracy. I also believe in the public financing of elections, which Theodore Roosevelt initially stood for, for the federal government, which is now in existence in three states, Arizona, Maine, and Vermont, and hopefully we can get it extended to other states.

You were arrested rather recently, within the last couple years, for protesting mountaintop removal.

I believe, as Martin Luther King did, that it is part of the American tradition to not be afraid to be arrested on behalf of a great cause where the law is not being enforced and the Constitution is not being enforced.

Will you travel your state as extensively in this campaign as you have in the past?

Well, I’ve got a lot of friends in West Virginia all over the state and I’m depending on them to help.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>