IT UNITES PEOPLE IN SURGARY HAPPINESS
Another Halloween has come and gone. If you’re wondering what to do with your leftover trick-or-teat candy, here’s a thought: perhaps you could share it with politicians in Washington. It seems there’s a stash of sweets hidden away on Capitol Hill. And here’s the story of how it came to be.
Back in the early 1960s, a fellow named George Murphy was looking for a new career. He’d been a movie star in the 30s and 40s, appearing in more than 40 films. With his acting career over, Murphy was in the market for a new line of work. He decided to use his celebrity status to seek public office (something Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger would later do). Murphy was elected United States Senator in 1964 and traded Tinsel Town for Capitol Hill.
Then as now, desks in the Senate chamber are assigned by seniority. Spots up front (where the TV cameras can easily catch them) are held by veterans and rarely change hands. Murphy was stuck in the back with other freshmen.
He also had a sweet tooth. During his time as a Hollywood hoofer, Murphy had to stay trim. Now in his 60s and his dancing days long past, he could indulge in candy to his heart’s content. There’s a Senate rule against eating in the chamber, so he quietly hid hard candy in his desk where he secretly enjoyed it during long, dull debates.
In 1968, Murphy was assigned a new desk. It was still in the rear of the room, but it was located on an aisle that got plenty of foot traffic. Whenever colleagues stopped to chat, the California Republican would reach inside his wooden desk (a handcrafted replica of the original 48 desks installed in 1819 after the British burned the Capitol) and secretly shared a piece from his candy cache.
Word quietly began circulating among the other 99 senators, “If you’re hungry, swing by Murphy’s desk. He’s got candy there.” Murphy was a friendly man and didn’t need sugar coating to persuade him to pass around the sweets. Party labels didn’t matter; Democrats and Republicans alike got the goodies.
Murphy was flattered by the new-found attention. He made sure his desk was always fully stocked and spread the word that colleagues were welcome to drop by and take a piece if he wasn’t there.
It wasn’t long before a nickname was born. It had become the Candy Desk. (Only three others in the chamber have their own name: the senior senator from Mississippi gets the Jefferson Davis Desk, Kentucky’s senior senator holds the Henry Clay Desk, and New Hampshire’s senior senator occupies the Daniel Webster Desk).
Murphy’s political career didn’t last (he was defeated for reelection in 1970), but the Candy Desk did. Senators knew a good thing when they saw it and weren’t about to let it go. Arizona’s Paul Fannin kept the tradition going. Others followed after him.
In the early 1980s, Idaho’s Steve Symms expanded the secret offering to include a variety of confections supplied by national candy and chocolate manufacturers’ associations.
Some senators consider the Candy Desk’s Golden Age to have been 1997-2007 when Rich Santorum sat there. Being from the Keystone State, you can bet it was continually supplied with sweets shipped straight from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Although its precise location has moved slightly over the years, the Candy Desk has almost always been found on the right (or Republican) side of the chamber and is usually hosted by a Republican senator. Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey is its current custodian.
But that’s as partisan as it gets. Regardless how heated the issues are or how fevered the rhetoric grows, there are no Republicans or Democrats who reach inside for a treat – just hungry men and women eager to pop something sweet into their mouth.
The Candy Desk may be the only place in Washington these days where you will always find satisfied smiles.
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