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America's Oldest Congressman, Ralph Hall, Keeps Running At Age 90

At the age of 90, Congressman Ralph Hall is the oldest person in Congress. That hasn’t stopped the Republican from pursuing an 18th term. This time, Hall has some stiff competition in the March 4 primary from opponents who say it's time he retires.

In the 4th Congressional District, which runs from Rockwall County to East Texas and along the Red River,  Hall is well-known and admired by many, including Ralph Preuss of Sulphur Springs.

“He’s a gentleman,” says Preuss, who's 53. “He stands up for what’s right. He’s kind. He listens to his constituents.”

But not everyone feels that way.

“I think he’s been there too long,” says Angie Smith, a Hopkins County resident. “It’s time for fresh blood. With someone different, we’ll have different viewpoints.”

Smith was at a recent Republican Party event in Sulphur Springs, where voters paid $15 to eat barbecue and shake hands with GOP candidates, including Hall and three of his opponents. Two other GOP candidates – Tony Arterburn and Brent Lawson – were not there.

His challengers have criticized Hall for not attending many public events.

Critics say it's time for a change

Hall is a few months shy of turning 91, but ask him about his age and you’ll hear this:

“If I didn’t feel fine, if I wasn’t healthy as a radish, if I hurt even the end of my toe, I wouldn’t be running.”

And running – literally – is another thing he says he isn’t giving up.

“I still run two miles every morning," Hall said. "I’ve been doing it 30 years."

In case there’s any doubt, he says there’s a photo of him running around the U.S. Capitol. Most of the time though, he says he runs indoors, at his home in Rockwall or in Washington.

Being fit in his 90s is one thing, but it’s his effectiveness that opponent John Ratcliffe questions.

“He falls into a class of politicians that have gone to Washington and stayed too long and made a lot of promises they haven’t kept,” Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe is a former U.S. Attorney and former mayor of the small town of Heath. He’s currently a partner at the law firm run by John Ashcroft, the former attorney general.

“As a Republican for the last five years, I’ve seen GOP leadership get outworked, outsmarted, outmaneuvered and beaten by Obama and the Democrats and I’m just tired of it,” Ratcliffe says.

"Age is an issue"

Hall is a World War II veteran, a Navy pilot who went on to practice law in Rockwall. He started out as a Democrat and switched parties in 2004. He served as chair of the Science, Space and Technology Committee in the House. The first North Texas reservoir in nearly three decades is being named after him.

Hall’s other opponents include Lou Gigliotti, a Plano businessman. He’s a former race car driver and stunt man on "Walker Texas Ranger." He's also run against Hall two other times.

“Age is an issue whether they want to admit it or not," Gigliotti says. "There’s not a company in America that would hire a CEO that’s 91 years old.”

Gigliotti applauds Hall’s dedication and service, but says voters should look past the iconic image.

“One of the real problems with Ralph Hall is that the pictures he uses in his ads and website are 20 years old,” Gigliotti says. “So we’re running against that legend and that myth.”

Opponent John Stacy, who’s 34, says he’ll bring new voices to the Republican Party. Stacy’s a former Fate City Council member.

“It’s not about Congressman Hall, period. When I started filing, I didn’t know if he was going to file or not,” Stacy says. “I’m running because I’m scare to death of the direction of my country.”

"Pray for your enemies"

Hall says the reason he’s running again is so he can straighten things out in in Washington. Like many Republicans, he says he's no fan of Obamacare. He explains why in his own unique way.

“Once his Obamacare falls and it’s gonna fall if we just leave him alone,” Hall says. “I pray for him, but I looked up one time and I thought I saw God rolling his eyes at me. But you’re supposed to pray for your enemies, and he’s the enemy of my children, my grandchildren.”

Whoever wins in the March 4 GOP primary will likely hold the office. The winner will face a Libertarian candidate on the November ballot. No Democrat has filed.

Hall says this is his last time to run. But, then again, he has said that before.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.