Harry S. Truman was president during Byrd's first 17 days in Congress. "I think he was the greatest Democratic president in my lifetime. He was thrust into a position of power and responsibility. He acquitted himself well. He showed stamina, determination and backbone, so lacking in so many places today."
Byrd said Dwight D. Eisenhower was the "greatest Republican president" during his career.
In his January 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower warned: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Echoing Eisenhower, Byrd said earlier this year, "For all of their blustering about how al-Qaida is determined to strike at our freedoms, this administration shows little appreciation for the constitutional doctrines and processes that have preserved those freedoms for more than two centuries."
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said: "When Senator Byrd defends civil liberties, he knows full well those liberties and freedoms were attacked on 9/11. But now more than ever, we need the strength and backbone of a Robert C. Byrd to ensure we do not lose our civil liberties through efforts of our government to provide for our security."'Why shouldn't he fight for equality?'
Byrd also fought threats to American jobs. He believes the North American Free Trade Agreement hurt companies and workers alike by eliminating hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs in steel, agriculture, clothing and shoemaking.
In May, Byrd urged senators to reject "fast-track authority" to allow all future presidents "carte blanche to determine what will be contained in a series of trade agreements." Byrd lost that battle, 66 to 30.
"Enacting fast-track," he said, "not only provides the president with unfettered authority to negotiate trade agreements. It also prevents the Senate from exercising its constitutional responsibility to reject or modify trade agreements that are not in the best interests of the American people."
In an interview earlier this month, Byrd said: "The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce. Not that I expect to see every toothbrush and toothpick and every fiddle bow. But in the fast-track process, Congress gives up its power. We deprive ourselves of the right to debate and amend."
In May, Byrd said, "Increased globalization encouraged American industries to pack up and seek other lands where labor is cheaper, and industries do not have to comply with the environmental and safety standard that we have in the United States. ...
"Globalization has also left our industries more vulnerable to the unfair, predatory trade practices of foreign countries. Look at the American steel industry, which has been absolutely devastated by the dumping of cheap foreign steel."
Byrd and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., were among the most vocal leaders of the Senate Steel Caucus that convinced President Bush to impose three years of tariffs on steel imports in March.
Ken Hall, president of Teamsters Local 175 in Kanawha City and lead negotiator for national United Parcel Service contracts, believes Byrd "has done an incredibly good job of balancing the interests of business and working people.
"I admire him for trying to protect workers' right to union representation, particularly in the Homeland Security legislation. The first ones on the scene in New York after 9/11 were thousands of union members driving truck equipment, firefighters and police officers. Union members had a huge presence trying to find survivors and working on cleanup."
Byrd has continued to bring thousands of jobs to West Virginia through building roads and new federal offices for agencies, including the FBI, NASA, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Department of Energy, Bureau of Prisons and Department of Defense.
Over the years, some have criticized Byrd for being a "king of pork."
"But why shouldn't he fight for some kind of equality for West Virginia?" Caperton asked.
Fred VanKirk, West Virginia secretary of transportation, said, "Senator Byrd enjoys his role in being able to bring money to the state.
"How can people criticize him when Senator Trent Lott [R-Miss.] got between $14 [billion] and $15 billion to build a seaport in Mississippi? Or when [the late House Speaker] Tip O'Neill [D-Mass.] got billions in federal money to upgrade interstates through Boston?"
This year, Byrd also worked to increase funding for federal-state efforts to preserve the stories of veterans, including a joint effort by West Virginia University and the Library of Congress.
WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. said, "This project, in which veterans' accounts are recorded for future generations, will have many benefits, not the least of which is to give us all the resolve to work for global peace and to remember those who preserved American freedom."
Eric Foner, a Columbia University history professor, said he admires Byrd's leadership in two areas.
"One is his effort to get more federal funding to promote the teaching of American history in high school. As an historian, I applaud that. I think that whatever one's personal point of view, greater knowledge of American history is important in a democracy.
"I also salute him for his courage in raising serious questions about the administration's course toward war. A lot of people have been cowed, unwilling to appear unpatriotic or afraid of being accused of being weak. Democracy requires vigorous debate about issues like this."The possibility of war in Iraq
This is the fourth time the Sunday Gazette-Mail has named Byrd West Virginian of the Year.
In 1974, the paper praised Byrd for rising "from Raleigh County poverty to leadership in Congress"; in 1977 for attaining "national power as Senate majority leader"; and in 1990 "for bringing billions of dollars' worth of federal projects to West Virginia."
Mollohan said: "Senator Byrd is the conscience of the Senate. No one, Democrat or Republican, whether they agree or disagree with his politics, does not respect him.
"Presidents disregard his counsel at their own peril. He rightly recognizes the executive and legislative branches are co-equal. He fully understands the checks that the legislative branch can impose on the executive branch, particularly through the appropriations process, where he is perfectly positioned to effect those checks."
Byrd leaves no doubt he wants to see Saddam Hussein gone. "He has promoted the starvation of Iraqi children so that he and his cabal can live in palaces. Saddam Hussein is a scourge on the people of Iraq and a menace to peace," he told the Senate.
"When the president is ready to present his case to Congress, I am ready to listen. But I am tired of trying to connect dots in the dark."
Ronald L. Lewis, a West Virginia University history professor, said, "His stand on a possible war has been courageous, as were his cautions about losing civil rights when everyone seems to be on a bandwagon."
Byrd knows who is likely to suffer most from war.
"We may soon send our sons and daughters to fight, and perhaps die, in the sands of the Middle East. But thus far, we have encountered only a wall of secrecy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue - a wall built on the pillars of executive privilege."
In September, Byrd warned about biological weapons created by a "witches' brew of pathogens" shipped by the U.S. to Iraq between 1980 and 1993.
"We have a paper trail," Byrd told the Senate. "We not only know that Iraq has biological weapons, we know the type, the strain and the batch number of the germs that may have been used to fashion those weapons. We know the dates they were shipped and the addresses to which they were shipped."
Byrd criticized Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for refusing to answer any questions about these shipments.
"In the event of a war with Iraq, might the United States be facing the possibility of reaping what it has sown?" Byrd asked in September.
Florine Warden, an 84-year-old Democratic activist from Beckley, has known Byrd for decades. "Senator Byrd is tops. They will take him out when they carry him feet first. He is right about Bush and Iraq. We will live to regret this.
"I hope and pray the good Lord will leave him here until we get this mess straightened out. Or millions of people here and all over the world will suffer from what our government might do."
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.