You’re wrong if you thought Rep.-elect Nikema Williams, D-Ga., is the successor to the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
And you’re wrong if you thought the only runoffs in Georgia come on Jan. 5 between Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Lewis’ immediate successor is either former Atlanta city councilman Kwanza Hall or former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin. Both are Democrats. And they are facing one another in a runoff on Dec. 1 to fulfill the remainder of Lewis’ current term. The winner of this contest will serve for a few days then be out at 11:59:59 a.m. ET on Jan. 3, when the new Congress is scheduled to begin.
Williams will take office in January when the 117th Congress begins.
Georgia held two elections for Lewis’ seat on Nov. 3. Williams won the seat for the entire term. But, just like in the Peach State’s two Senate contests, no candidate secured 50.1% of the vote in the special election to finish Lewis’ term. That necessitates a runoff this week.
The House really doesn’t come back into session until Wednesday night. So it’s unclear if a winner of the runoff can be declared to be sworn in that evening – or even this week. But either Hall or Franklin will only be in Washington for a few votes over the next couple of weeks and serve as a House member for about a month.
Still, the winner of this race won’t be the shortest short-timer in the annals of Congress.
Rep. Effingham Lawrence, D-La., holds the distinction of serving in the House for the shortest period: one day between March 3 and March 4, 1875.
The service of Rep. Turner Marquett, R-Neb., was practically prolific compared to the term of Lawrence. Marquett doubled Lawrence’s tenure, serving in the House for two days between March 2 and March 3, 1867.
Believe it or not, the third-shortest term served in the House came just a couple of years ago. Rep. Brenda Jones, D-Mich., won the special election to succeed the late Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., on Nov. 6, 2018. Jones served 35 days until the term expired on Jan. 3, 2019. But the House delayed swearing in Jones until Nov. 29, 2018, because she continued to serve on the Detroit city council. The Detroit Corporation Council finally ruled that Jones could serve concurrently in Washington and in the Motor City – so long as she didn’t participate in Detroit city business during her brief House term.
Jones ran in the primary this year against Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Some analysts believed Tlaib could be vulnerable due to controversial statements she made during her first term. But Tlaib vanquished Jones handily in the primary.
Former Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, flipped the district of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, from red to blue in 2006. Democrats won the House for the first time in 12 years in 2006. DeLay resigned earlier in the year amid ethics and criminal charges. DeLay was convicted but later acquitted. A Texas court overturned the conviction. But DeLay was still on the ballot in November 2006, contributing to Lampson’s victory.
However, former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, R-Texas, ran unopposed in the special election to finish DeLay’s term. Sekula served for 51 days until Lampson took over in 2007. But apparently the 51 days were 49 too many for many of the congresswoman’s staff. Seven of Sekula-Gibbs’ aides quit abruptly just two days after she took office.
Sekula-Gibbs called it a “peculiar situation” and told yours truly “they just kind of left.” One aide suggested the congresswoman didn’t treat them well – a charge Sekula-Gibbs denied.
“I certainly didn’t get any feedback from them in that regard,” said Sekula-Gibbs at the time.
Former Rep. David Curson, D-Mich., won a special election in 2012 after former Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Mich., abruptly resigned. He also served 51 days. But Curson managed to keep his staff together during his brief tenure.
The United States Senate isn’t immune from fleeting service either. And in some ways, it’s easier for senators to serve abbreviated terms. Governors can appoint senators. The Constitution requires the election of House members.
Sen. Rebecca Latimer Felton, D-Ga., holds the distinction of the shortest Senate term. She served a day between Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, 1922.
Sen. Louis Wyman, R-N.H., served three days between Dec. 31, 1974, and Jan. 3, 1975.
The brevity of Wyman’s term is a fascinating one. Wyman initially seemed to have won the seat in November 1974 by 355 votes over Democrat John Durkin. Republican New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson then appointed Wyman to the seat in an effort to gain seniority over the rest of the incoming class. But Durkin demanded a recount. That showed Durkin defeating Wyman by 10 votes.
Under the Constitution, the House and Senate are the final arbiters of membership. The Senate debated the issue for weeks with Republicans filibustering an effort to seat Durkin. In August 1975, the Senate finally declared the seat vacant. Durkin prevailed in a special election over Wyman in September 1975.
Independent Sen. Dean Barkley of Michigan served for 59 days after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Wellstone died in a plane crash just before the 2002 midterm elections. Democrats hastily convinced former Vice President and Sen. Walter Mondale, D-Minn., to stand in for Wellstone. However, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., defeated Mondale.
But there was no special election to run out the string on Wellstone’s unexpired term. So independent Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Barkley to serve in the Senate for 59 days. Ventura initially said he didn’t plan to fill the seat. But Ventura argued Democrats parleyed Wellstone’s funeral into a political rally. So he tapped Barkley to retaliate.
Barkley chaired Ventura’s surprising gubernatorial win in 1998. Barkley was immediately courted in Washington, meeting with President George W. Bush and talking with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. He described himself as “half Republican” and “half Democrat.”
Then governor and current Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., appointed Sen. Carte Goodwin, D-W.Va., as a placeholder for four months after the death of legendary Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., in 2010.
Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., served for 133 days in 2009 and 2010 after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Sen. Mo Cowan, D-Mass., spent 165 days in the Senate after the appointment of former Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as secretary of state in 2013.
10,363 people have served in the House of Representatives. Either Kwanza Hall or Robert Franklin will constitute the 10,364th after Tuesday’s runoff election. But the winner will only participate in a handful of roll call votes over the course of a few weeks. The term will be one of the shortest in congressional history.
It is often said quality is more important than quantity. But that doesn’t always apply to ultra short-timers on Capitol Hill.