Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, has earned several age-related distinctions in the past year, including oldest member ever to serve in the House and oldest person to vote on the House floor.
But Hall is not one to cling to the past. Hall, who turned 90 earlier this month, spent Memorial Day weekend in 2012 skydiving to honor people serving in the military, as he himself did during World War II. The idea wasn't entirely out of the blue, given that Hall still runs two miles almost every day, but he admitted at a panel discussion last summer that the stunt was mostly motivated by politics.
Hall faced two primary challengers in 2012, and rumors circulated that the incumbent was ailing. The Dallas Morning News reported that Hall made the decision when confronted with flagging poll numbers as the primary neared. "I was jogging my two miles, and I looked up and saw an airplane. I thought if I could jump up and touch that airplane, they'd know I was able to be a dang-good congressman," Hall told the crowd at a transportation and infrastructure summit last August. The jump occurred shortly before the June 2012 primary.
Hall said at the summit that his skydiving endeavor was inspired in part by octogenarian former President George H.W. Bush, who had invited the congressman to join him on his own jumps. Hall, known for his droll sense of humor, said of his family, "I had to lie to them the night before that I had canceled it." Hall went on to win the GOP primary with 58 percent of the vote to his opponents' 21 percent apiece, and handily defeated his Democratic challenger in the general election.
Hall, who was first elected to the House as a Democrat in 1980 after a career in law and local politics, finally decided to switch parties on Jan. 2, 2004, after the 2003 redistricting. He said that his Democratic Party affiliation had limited his ability to get appropriations for his district, and Republicans were pleased to welcome him to their side of the aisle. Hall, who served as chairman of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee after he changed parties, helped to enact the energy bill of 2005 and later fought Democratic proposals to raise taxes on oil companies. He became chairman of the Science and Technology Committee in 2011, championing NASA's International Space Station, which is controlled from Houston. But Hall is not a big fan of NASA's climate-change research, and he has held heated hearings on the partisan dispute over global warming.
Hall joined Twitter in February of this year, using his first tweet to send a greeting in honor of Ronald Reagan, who would have been 102. "I did work with him, and he was a great, great president," Hall told Dallas-Fort Worth station KXAS-TV. "He was a great guy, and I was very fond of him." His office uses the account to keep followers apprised of Hall's activities and legislative priorities.
This month, a few days after reaching the nine-decade mark, the Houston Chronicle reports, Hall announced plans to seek reelection in 2014, citing his desire to "help elect the next Republican president." He said his constituents in his district, which stretches from the northeast corner of Dallas eastward to the state border with Arkansas, have urged him to remain in office.
Hall, who was unavailable to comment for this story, served as a lieutenant and aircraft-carrier pilot during World War II. He's one of only three veterans of that war remaining in Congress—the others are Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Of course, he boasts of a longstanding commitment to preserving Social Security and Medicare, both of which he became eligible for 25 years ago.
Hall is widowed with three children.
The Almanac of American Politics contributed
This article appears in the May 31, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.