By Sarah Brennan
The intent behind political cartoons frequently is to challenge readers and to help them see political events and social issues from a different perspective. But, the relationship between cartoonists and the politicians they are satirizing is not always as adversarial as readers might assume. This cartoon, drawn in 1993 by Washington Business Journal cartoonist Bill Lemmer, offers a somewhat kinder picture of Washington politics.
In 1989, Byrd was appointed Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As appropriations chair, the Senator continued working to fulfill his 1959 promise to “put West Virginia on the map.” Byrd’s well-known projects included promoting tourism, improving infrastructure, and transferring 7,000 federal jobs from Washington, D.C. to West Virginia, which is primarily what the cartoon is referencing. In addition to securing several United States Coast Guard facility relocations to West Virginia, Byrd also urged the Federal Bureau of Prisons to open a prison near Beckley that created more than 250 jobs. $73 million in funding was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation in 1989 alone for Byrd’s Appalachian highway project that was responsible for road construction through Mingo and Randolph Counties. He also obtained over $50 million for the development of the New River Gorge National River facilities which would promote tourism in the southern part of the state. All in all, between 1989 and 1994, shortly after this cartoon was drawn, Byrd brought over $3.2 billion in federal funds for projects into West Virginia.
Lemmer’s cartoon is less of a negative caricature than what might be expected from political cartoons, given the frequent criticisms of Byrd and his projects. The caption does not pass judgment on Senator Byrd but instead brings to light the nature of his work in appropriating funds for his state in a lighthearted and amusing manner. The complimentary note that appears next to the cartoon in the image, which Lemmer sent to Senator Byrd along with the cartoon, reveals the appreciation that the cartoonist had for the senator and his work, and points to a less antagonistic relationship between author and subject than what is commonly assumed.
As to the criticism and less flattering press aimed at Byrd and the improvements he sought to make in West Virginia, the Senator did not appear to let it bother him. “I have no apologies to make for serving my people,” Byrd said. “As long as I am here, I am going to remember the people who sent me here.”
Byrd, Robert C. Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2005, 594.
Corbin, David A. The Last Great Senator. Robert C. Byrd’s Encounters with Eleven U.S. Presidents. Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2012, 55, 228-229, 231-234, 237.