California's early senators chosen by state legislature

September 9 marks the Golden State’s 160th birthday. It also marks the beginning of California's representation in the U.S. Senate.

Senators serve six-year terms. In any given election year, a third of the Senate faces re-election. That divides the lawmakers into three tracks — or “classes.” But when a new state is admitted, two senators arrive in Washington at the same time. So what happens to that pair of freshmen?

Senate Historian Donald Ritchie says when new senators show up to be sworn in, "the first thing they need to do is to essentially draw lots to see which class that they will go into."

Ritchie says when Alaska became a state in 1959, the Senators flipped a coin. "The coin actually fell on the floor and the two Senators immediately got on their knees to see who had won because it was going to be a four-year or a six-year term."

Ritchie says there’s no record of how California’s first pair of Senators decided who got the longer term. But the election pattern they began in 1850 exists to this day. Oh, and who were those first Senators? That story tomorrow.

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