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Responsible adults only: former parliamentarian Alan Frumin ’68 discusses the U.S. Senate

By Rebecca Costello on February 18, 2013
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What’s behind the recent dust-up over the filibuster? Alan Frumin ’68, recently retired parliamentarian of the United States Senate, probably knows more than anyone. And he wants a new sign over the Senate’s chamber door: Responsible Adults Only.

As the U.S. Senate’s parliamentarian, Frumin was the chief arbiter of its procedural wrangling for nearly two decades. He joined the office in 1977 and held the top job from 1987 to 1995 and from 2001 until his retirement in early 2012.

Having scrupulously maintained a nonpartisan stance, Frumin is the only person to have been promoted to the position of chief parliamentarian by both political parties. His job on the front lines was meant to be behind the scenes; in fact, he never once granted an interview to a member of the fourth estate.

But Frumin broke his silence post-retirement when he gave the inaugural Edgar Shor Lecture at Colgate in October. (The lecture honors the longtime political science professor who for years led Colgate’s Washington, D.C., Study Group beginning in the early 1960s.)

In his talk, Frumin shared experiences and insights about the Senate from his singular perspective on the inner workings of the country’s political process.

Not long after that campus visit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to reform the filibuster on day one of the new Congress. By early December, Frumin found himself speaking out, defending the filibuster on MSNBC, and being summoned back to Capitol Hill for meetings with senators in advance of their late-January vote on the issue.

The winter 2013 edition of the Colgate Scene features an adaptation of Frumin’s talk on the Senate today: Would the founders approve? Should you? You can read it here.

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