2010 Year in Review: Politics

We have quite a tricky relationship with the men and women who run our country. We admire them, but we're also frustrated by them. They can inspire our deepest patriotism, and they can make us swear off politics for good (until a few days later when we can't resist the call of the Op/Ed section any longer). We're rarely at a loss for words when it comes to politicians, and when one dies, the loss is strongly felt. Some of Legacy.com's most-visited Guest Books of all time are for politicians. These deaths inspire us to share our condolences, memories, and opinions on their best – and worst – policies and actions. We lost politicians both popular and controversial in 2010. Today we remember a few of them.

Robert Byrd (AP Photo)Robert Byrd (11/20/1917 – 6/28/2010) was a Democrat from West Virginia who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1953 to 1959 and in the U.S. Senate from 1959 until his death. He held powerful positions in the Senate, including Majority Whip, Majority Leader, and President pro tempore. He was the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, having been elected to nine consecutive terms. He was well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and for the government-funded college scholarships and grants he helped create. And he was criticized for his early support of segregation and his filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, though he later renounced those views and stated that he regretted them. He was strongly against war in Iraq, and he said that of the thousands of votes he cast as a Senator, he was proudest of his vote against the Iraq war resolution.

Alexander Haig (AP Photo)Alexander Haig (12/2/1924 – 2/20/2010) served as Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and Chief of Staff under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was also a four-star U.S. Army general who served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He was the White House Chief of Staff at the height of the Watergate affair and did much work to keep the government running as smoothly as possible while President Nixon was preoccupied with the scandal. His role in the transition from Nixon to Ford was crucial. Haig's ability to keep things going in times of crisis was called upon again after the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981 – though his assertion of being "in control" of the situation was questioned by some, who thought he was suggesting he was truly in charge of the country rather than simply holding down the fort, as he intended. After an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for President in 1988, he hosted TV programs on business education and review.

Walter Hickel (AP Photo)Walter Hickel (8/18/1919 – 5/7/2010) was Governor of Alaska for two nonconsecutive terms, 1966 to 1969 and 1990 to 1994. He identified with two different parties, running as a Republican in 1966 and with the Alaskan Independence Party in 1990. The AIP move seems to have been largely for political gain, since he never truly embraced the party’s views – notably, he wasn't in favor of Alaskan secession, a key party policy – and by the end of his term, he was back to the Republican Party. Between terms as governor, Hickel served as Secretary of the Interior under Richard Nixon, where he was noted for his strong pro-environment views – and for his very public statements against the treatment of Vietnam War protestors. His plea for Nixon to have more respect for the country's young people and consider their pleas to end the war led to his firing from the position in 1970. The dismissal stung, but it didn't put an end to Hickel’s involvement in politics. In addition to his second gubernatorial term, he made prominent political endorsements and served as head of the Northern Forum on polar issues.

Richard Holbrooke (AP Photo)Richard Holbrooke (4/24/1941 – 12/13/2010) was a U.S. diplomat whose vast knowledge of foreign policy made him an indispensable part of the government for decades. He held a wide variety of positions over his years of service: Assistant Secretary of State for both Europe and Asia, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan…the list goes on and on. He advised John Kerry and Hillary Clinton in their presidential campaigns, and he was a top foreign policy advisor. Holbrooke wrote a draft of the Pentagon Papers, the now-famous report on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. His tenacity helped get things done – he was known as a bulldog who would keep pushing until he got results. That tenacity, coupled with his knowledge and skill, led him to serve under every Democratic president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.

John Murtha (AP Photo)John Murtha (6/17/1932 – 2/8/2010) was a Democrat from Pennsylvania who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1969 to 1973 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1974 until his death. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran who fought in the Vietnam War and was awarded the Bronze Star, he was known for his views on military force. In 2002, he voted in favor of the resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq, but he began to change his mind on the matter over the next few years. By 2005, he was calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He weathered criticism and accusations of cowardice for his change of heart, but he maintained his stance that our military had overstayed its usefulness in Iraq. Further criticism was levied against Murtha for his willingness to earmark funds for projects of personal interest, and for his opposition to ethics reform. Murtha was also noted for his views on gun control (he was against it) and health care (he supported comprehensive reform).

Ted Stevens (AP Photo)Ted Stevens (11/18/1923 – 8/9/2010) was a Republican from Alaska who served in the U.S. Senate from 1968 to 2009. He was President pro tempore of the Senate and was the longest-serving Republican Senator in history. Stevens advocated legislation to combat climate change, supported stem cell research, and worked particularly hard on programs that would benefit his home state. One of these was the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," an idea for which Stevens received much criticism. Gentler ribbing was directed his way when, in a hearing on network neutrality, he referred to the internet as "a series of tubes." Amidst controversy and a trial over failing to report gifts, Stevens lost the 2008 election. Yet he was loved in Alaska for many years – named Alaskan of the Century in 2000, he also lent his name to Anchorage's airport.

Other notable political deaths in 2010:

Dolph Briscoe, a two-term Governor of Texas in the 1970s

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Sen. John Edwards, who advised her husband in his presidential and vice-presidential bids and advocated for a better healthcare system

Kenny GuinnGovernor of Nevada from 1998 to 2007

Wilma Mankiller, the first female Cherokee Nation Chief who led the tribe from 1985 to 1995, helping to increase tribal enrollment, decrease unemployment and build new health centers and children's programs

Charles Mathias, U.S. Senator from Maryland who was a leader on civil rights and environmental issues

Karen McCarthy was a former U.S. Representative from Missouri who worked on homeland security and environmental issues

Robert Mosbacher, U.S. Commerce Secretary under George H.W. Bush

Owen Pickett, a former U.S. Representative from Virginia who served on the House Armed Services Committee

William Saxbe, a former U.S. Senator from Ohio who served as Attorney General under Nixon and Ford and as United States Ambassador to India

Theodore Sorensen, a key aide to President John F. Kennedy and the president's primary speechwriter who helped pen some famous turns of phrase

Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior in the 1960s who made huge strides to protect America's wilderness

Charlie Wilson, U.S. Representative from Texas immortalized in the book and movie Charlie Wilson's War, about his push for Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan