The U.S. Senate lost one of its great progressive champions this morning, as Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey died due to complications from viral pneumonia. He was 89 years old.
His office issued a statement this morning, noting many of his career highlights, including:
* Passing the law that banned smoking on airplanes;
* Authoring the law that prevented domestic abusers from possessing guns;
* Writing landmark drunk driving laws, including the nationwide .08 blood alcohol standard and the 21 year drinking age law;
* Co-writing the new GI Bill for the 21st Century;
* Authoring the “Toxic Right to Know” law to empower the public to know what pollutants are being released into their neighborhood.
Despite his failing health – Lautenberg’s presence in the Senate has been intermittent in recent months – the New Jersey Democrat was nevertheless still active in governing, championing gun reforms earlier in the spring and co-sponsoring a new bill modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act.
His passing also marks a generational shift in the chamber – Lautenberg was the last remaining World War II veteran serving in the Senate.
Looking ahead, the Democrat had already announced his retirement plans, shortly after Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) launched his own Senate bid, and there will be an election for a new term in November 2014. In the interim, however, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will reportedly appoint a temporary replacement to fill the vacancy, in advance of a special election.