U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, an orator of booming voice, a lawmaker of impeccable integrity and a visionary of the potential for all Americans, leaves with his passing a legacy of moral leadership.
Mr. Cummings, son of a sharecropper, served as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Reform, a group integral to investigations into alleged wrongdoing by the administration. At the same time, he never lost touch with his roots, which included two summers as a steelworker at the now defunct Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point southeast of Baltimore. He consistently supported labor rights, pay equity and increases in the minimum wage.
Just this past Labor Day, he lamented that the Senate has refused to consider House-passed measures that would raise the minimum wage and reduce pay inequities. He said then, “Unfortunately, too many Americans have been left behind in the modern economy. Every month, working families scrimp and save, only to struggle to afford childcare . . . and across the country, labor unions are being attacked and are losing their right to organize.”
In 2011, when Mr. Cummings took over as minority leader for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he talked about how his experience working in the Bethlehem steel mill shaped his view on the role of government. He said that after just half an hour in the mill, black soot filled workers’ noses. He wondered how many who labored there eight hours a day for 40 years suffered lung disease as a result and died too early.
The government has a role, he said, to implement air quality and safety regulations to preserve the lives of such workers and protect their communities. “I think it’s important for industry to do well,” he said, “but I want them to do well and do good at the same time. If I’m going to err on the side of a person’s welfare and safety, that’s where I’m going to err.”
That is the kind of leader Mr. Cummings was. America’s workers will miss him.