Rep. William H. Natcher, a courtly and ever-vigilant Democratic legislator who earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for his unbroken string of 18,401 votes in Congress, has died at the age of 84.
The Kentucky congressman died Tuesday night of heart failure at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, according to a statement from his office.
Since June, 1992, Natcher had been chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls most discretionary spending. His record 40-year string of consecutive floor votes ended March 3 when his failing health prevented him from reaching the Capitol.
A day earlier, he had been wheeled onto the House floor on a gurney for what would be his final vote, hooked to oxygen and intravenous tubes.
Natcher later said that he knew his unbroken series of votes would come to an end, but said he would try to keep it up “because I believe members of Congress should vote.”
The House halted business to honor him when the voting streak hit 18,000 in June.
Obviously proud of his record, Natcher once confessed to The Times that it could also be a burden hung around his neck. “I wouldn’t say it’s an anvil--but it’s something similar,” he said.
President Clinton, who recently presented the hospitalized Natcher with the Presidential Citizens’ Medal, commented from his vacation retreat in Coronado, Calif.: “Some may think that Bill Natcher’s death marks the end of an era in politics. I hope not. I hope that Congressman Natcher’s devotion to public service serves as an inspiration to the young men and women of America for as long as his voting record stands.”
In 40 years on Capitol Hill, Natcher never took a campaign contribution, filmed a political advertisement or even hired a press secretary.
He won 20 elections the old-fashioned way, by driving by himself around Kentucky’s mostly rural 2nd District, shaking hands and stopping to chat. He paid his campaign expenses out of his own pocket and rarely spent more than $10,000 on a campaign.
Natcher was born in Bowling Green and grew up on a Kentucky farm. He graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1930 and received a law degree from Ohio State University in 1933, later practicing law in Bowling Green.
Natcher is survived by two daughters, Celeste Jirles of Cambridge, Ohio, and Louise Murphy of Los Angeles, and several grandchildren.