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Joseph Stanley Kimmitt: Secretary for the Majority (1965-1976) and Secretary of the Senate (1977-1981)

Stan Kimmitt

“We used several gimmicks to help with that.”

Kimmitt talks about starting the Senate tradition of awarding the "Golden Gavel" as a means of encouraging freshman senators to preside over the Senate.

KIMMITT: During a session there is an absolute requirement that there be a senator in the chair. While I was here we worked on a cooperative and bipartisan basis. We had 68 Democratic senators at that time. We established a procedure in cooperation with Mark Trice, who was Secretary for the Minority, that the Democrats would open the Senate, regardless of the time of day, and preside until approximately two o’clock in the afternoon. Then the Republicans would take over and preside between 2:00 and 4:00 or sometimes 5:00. It gave a little flexibility and took some of the pressure off. But finding senators to commit in advance to sit in that chair when they had all of their state responsibilities in their home office, here in the Senate office buildings, when they had their committee responsibilities, their subcommittees and other requirements, speaking at luncheons, breakfasts and so on, was a somewhat vexing problem.

Now we used several gimmicks to help with that. One, if you remember, was the Golden Gavel Award. We started it with Patrick Hynes and I think it was Patrick's idea that the first senator to spend a hundred hours in the chair would win the Golden Gavel. We would have a little ceremony, and it worked well. The other more rational explanation for a senator sitting in the chair was there is no better place to learn the rules by observation and advice from the parliamentarian, learning other members by faces, desk locations, and their states. They learn procedures, not only the rules, but particularly the legislative procedures of the Senate while presiding over the session. So it was not entirely an unrewarding task they had. It was really an educational task. As a result, normally junior senators fulfilled the duty. Newly elected senators would be called when the Vice President was absent or after the President Pro Tem had delegated the duty. So you would usually get either the President Pro Tem or a senior senator to open the Senate with the Chaplain and initiate the procedures. But then within a relative short period a junior senator would relieve him.


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