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Friday, May 1, 2015

 5:38 PM 

Column: Kastenmeier hailed as a legislative giant

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

"Bob deserves this moment," former U.S. Rep. David Obey said of the late Bob Kastenmeier during a memorial for the former long-time Democratic congressman who represented the Madison area for 32 years. "His demeanor was restrained, but his determination was dogged," Obey eulogized as he noted that his friend probably wouldn't have wanted all the attention.

Obey was among the many current or former members of Congress to speak at or attend Wednesday's hour-long service in the Rayburn House Office Building. Former staffers, colleagues, friends and current Hill workers packed the Judiciary Committee room where Kastenmeier, as a committee member and subcommittee chairman, spent hours hearing testimony from philosophical foes as well as friends.

GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who years after Kastenmeier's 1990 defeat at the polls by Scott Klug rose to Judiciary Committee chairman and remains a subcommittee chairman, secured the room for the service. Among those paying their respects were current and former delegation members, including Obey,Tammy Baldwin, Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore, Ron Kind, Tom Petri and Bob Kasten.

Speaker after speaker told of his purity of heart and his resolve. Many listed his opposition to the Vietnam War and his historic "teach-ins" as reasons they admired the quiet lawmaker who hailed from Beaver Dam. In discussing his fairness, many cited how he forced the Judiciary Committee to vote on the impeachment charges against President Nixon individually rather than en masse.

"Bob could be a fighter ... but he could work effectively across the aisle," said former Rep. Matt McHugh, D-N.Y. "He was very humble, which is rare for our profession,'' McHugh added to laughs from the audience.

A WWII veteran and Vietnam War opponent, Kastenmeier had no use for the House Un-American Activities Committee and worked to "put it out of business," Obey said to applause.

Two of Kastenmeier's successors, the current 2nd District representative, Pocan, and Baldwin, who held the seat before becoming senator, talked about how Kastenmeier's service inspired them to seek office themselves.

Pocan, then a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Kastenmeier's re-election race was the first federal campaign he volunteered for. "He made you really want to work for him," Pocan said..

"He was a great leader," Baldwin said.

Others discussed his groundbreaking work in the areas of copyright and patents, both of which fell under his subcommittee.

"Copyright and intellectual property is basically not ideological," Kastenmeier once told an interviewer. "If you think the law has to be changed, updated, that doesn't really have anything to do with being conservative or liberal."

Kastenmeier wrote the bill that in 1976 updated copyright law for the first time in almost 70 years. In the area of copyright and patents, he wrote 48 laws, many of which dealt with technological advances. The 1976 law established copyright guidelines for radio, television, photocopying, tape recording and computer storage. Later legislation of his dealt with copyright protection for software and semiconductor chips.

His subcommittee also oversaw the federal judiciary, which he reorganized or revamped several times. In that capacity, he also wrote legislation that extended wiretap protection to cellphones for the first time and established the FISA court, much to many other liberals' chagrin.

His Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 outlines how the government can physically and electronically survey foreign powers and agents. It has its own court, which hears, in secret, evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies and grants wiretaps and surveillance of suspected terrorists, both abroad and domestically.

"Many laws should be called the Kastenmeier Act, but he never sought fame or credit," said Bruce Lehman, a long-time committee aide to Kastenmeier. "He just wanted to make America and the world better."

Kastenmeier died March 20 of heart failure. He was 91.

See Pocan's Congressional Record entry on Kastenmeier

See a congressional report on his legislative accomplishments

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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