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John Byrnes, 8th District Congressman: 1913-1985.

Posted February 23, 2021

I am John W. Byrnes. I served as a U.S. Congressman for the Wisconsin 8th District for 14 terms from 1945 – 1973. I hold the record for longest serving 8th district Congressman, 28 years.

I was born on June 12, 1913, the oldest of 3 children to Charles and Harriet (Schumacher) Byrnes. When I was 3, I contracted polio and had to wear a brace on one leg the rest of my life. My parents taught me to accept that I would always be physically impaired. However, they encouraged me not to let that stop me from doing what other boys did. I played baseball; I batted and one of my friends ran bases for me. I even played golf. Because athletic pursuits were not my strength, I pursued oratory and debate from 7th grade on.

Graduating from East High School, I attended UW-Madison and majored in economics graduating in 1936. That is probably why my expertise in Congress was in tax policy. Graduating from law School at Madison in 1938, I returned to Green Bay to establish the law practice of Hanaway and Byrnes and also took a part time job as an assistant banking commissioner with the state Banking department.

In 1940 I threw my hat into Republican state politics by running for State Senate and won handily. Four years later I ran against LaVerne Dilweg, former Packers player and one term Democratic Congressman. I won and my long career in the U.S. House of Representatives began.

Long considered one of the brightest members of Congress, I became very powerful as the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee working with Chairman Democrat Wilbur Mills. I served on that committee with Wilbur for 25 years. Because of our great ability to work together and to compromise when we had differences, we accomplished much on important issues.

After retiring, I stayed in Washington to lobby for the law firm of Foley and Lardner of Milwaukee which had an office in Washington. I enjoyed that but as I got older my body started wearing out. In January of 1985 I flew back to Wisconsin for a physical exam at Marshfield to see doctors at the Clinic. Tragically, I had a stroke right there and a few days later I died, January 12, 1985.