Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Retiring Senators

Posted on November 30, 2010

Mr. President, 16 Senators will retire this year. There is also a pretty big turnover in this body, but that is a lot of Senators at once. We are losing an enormous amount of talent, but, of course, we are gaining a lot of talent with the new Senators.

I wish to show my respect for those who have served, which I will do in a summary fashion because we are talking about 16 individuals with very complex and distinguished backgrounds.

One might ask, what are the characteristics of a Senator? There are a lot of different answers to that, depending on your background and attitude toward politics and government, I suppose. I have always thought that one characteristic of almost every Member of the Senate is that he or she probably was a first grader sitting in the front row, hand in the air waiting to be recognized. This is an eager bunch or you would not have gotten here.

Second, it is a group of risk-takers. Most people who end up in the Senate get here because a lot of other people who wanted to be Senators were standing around waiting for the right time to run. A lot of people who were elected to the Senate seemed to have no chance of winning at the time they decided to run, but the voters decided differently, and here they are.

A third characteristic of Senators is that we are almost all professional and congenial. That is a big help. It is almost a requirement in an organization of 100 individuals who spend almost all their time with one another, who serve in a body that operates by unanimous consent, when just one Senator can bring the whole place to a halt, and whose job basically is to argue about some of the most difficult issues that face the American people. So it helps that almost every Member of the Senate is an especially congenial person.

Back in Tennessee, people often say to me it must be rough being in that job. They are awfully mean up there. The truth is, I don't know of a more congenial group than the Members of the Senate. We begin the day in the gym. The next thing you know we are at a Prayer Breakfast, and then we are at a committee hearing. Then we are on the floor voting, and then we have lunch. It goes through the day until 7 or 8 o'clock, or sometimes later. We live together and we get along very well. We know and respect each other.

Not long ago, the Presiding Officer and I were having dinner together with our wives. We were lamenting the loss of families who know one another, the way it happened when his father was serving in Congress and when I first came to the Senate to work for Senator Baker. And that’s true. We’ve lost some of that. Still, there is an enormous amount of affection and goodwill here. You don't always get to be very close friends in this job, but you get to be very good acquaintances, and you learn to respect people for their strengths.

Senator Domenici said, when he left, that we don't do a very good job of saying goodbye here. That is true. As one part of saying goodbye, I wish to say at least one good thing about each 1 of the 16 retiring Senators. Much more could be said about each, of course. Mostly, I am going in alphabetical order.

First is Senator Bob Bennett of Utah. I have known him the longest. We served together in the Nixon administration. I was in the White House working with Bryce Harlow, and he was in the Department of Transportation. That was in 1969 and 1970. What I will remember about Bob Bennett -- and most Senators will remember this about his legacy -- are his careful expositions of economic issues. He has a background as an entrepreneur and businessman. He served with distinction on the Joint Economic Committee. His expertise in helping us better understand the economy has been valuable.

Senator Evan Bayh is one of four Governors leaving the Senate. I am one who thinks the more Governors, the better. That is a somewhat parochial attitude on my part. But Governors have gotten results and are used to working across party lines. Governor Bayh served two terms as a Senator. Still young, he obviously has a long career ahead of him. Whatever direction he chooses to go in, what I will remember most about Evan Bayh is the civility and bipartisanship he has shown on numerous occasions – and his courtesy to me as an individual Senator.

Senator Kit Bond, another Governor. He and I once served as law clerks on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for two judges who helped integrate the South, Judges Tuttle and Wisdom. Senator Bond has a great many things that could be said about him. But what most of us admire greatly about his time here is his devotion to our intelligence community and national security, as vice chairman of our Intelligence Committee, making sure our intelligence agencies have the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks on America.

Senator Sam Brownback is going the other way, from Senator to Governor of Kansas. During the health care debate, I often said that everybody who voted for the health care law ought to be sentenced to serve as Governor for two terms and try to implement it. Well, Senator Brownback voted against the health care law, but he’s going home and will have the opportunity to "enjoy" all those unfunded mandates on Medicaid and see how Kansas deals with it. What we’ll miss about Sam Brownback, in addition to his extraordinary kindness, is his devotion to human rights, including giving voice to the oppressed people in North Korea and being an outspoken critic of the genocide in Darfur.

Senator Jim Bunning. Everybody knows about him and baseball. Nobody would want to be a batter when he is throwing pitches. We understand he is the only person to strike out Ted Williams three times in one game. But what not as many people know about him is that Jim Bunning has been a persistent leader in fighting for sick nuclear workers who served our country during the fifties and sixties and were sick because of their work in handling nuclear weapons. So Jim Bunning deserves the thanks of all the families of the sick nuclear workers in America for his service here.

Senator Chris Dodd. Children and families are his hallmark and legacy. He has been here a long time - five terms. But I have felt privileged to work with him on the Subcommittee on Children and Families. One are we’ve focused on together is premature births, but he’s also worked on a whole variety of other legislation. We will miss his congeniality, his good humor, and his devotion to the Senate as an institution, making sure it stays unique as a place where we have unlimited debate and unlimited amendments so the voices of the American people can be heard.

Senator Byron Dorgan. I once heard the Chaplain say there is no better storyteller in the Senate than Senator Dorgan. He didn't mean making up stories. He said he was good at taking what he figured was the truth and explaining it in ways the rest of us could understand. I have enjoyed working with him on legislation that would make it easier to introduce electric cars and trucks in our country and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Senator Russ Feingold will be remembered for his strong stands -- sometimes solitary stands -- such as when he voted against the PATRIOT Act and went to work early on campaign finance. I thank him for our work together on the Africa subcommittee, on which he has served during his whole time here.

There is no better Senator than Judd Gregg on either side of the aisle. One indication of that is that the last three leaders of Republicans in the Senate have asked him to sit in on leadership meetings to get his wisdom and advice. He doesn't say too much, but what he says we all pay attention to. He has been the voice of our party and we believe the voice of Americans who are concerned about fiscal responsibility, about spending, and too much debt.

Senator Blanche Lincoln has been a pioneer throughout her career, as a staff member and a Congresswoman, and later as a Senator occupying Senator Hattie Caraway's desk, who was the first woman to be elected to the Senate. Blanche Lincoln was the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Senate and left her mark with the passage of the 2008 farm bill.

Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania. The word to describe him is "courage." The other word is "survivor." And they both go together. Arlen has had a distinguished career from his youngest days. He was a member of the Warren Commission, investigating President Kennedy's assassination. In the Senate, his work has spanned the entire mark. One of the things I appreciate most about Senator and Mrs.?Specter is their work on Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, which is such an example of living history.

Senator George Voinovich has been a mayor and a Governor and a Senator, a strong voice in concerns of federalism. Federal workers have George to thank for years of attention to issues involving Federal employees that most of us were too busy to pay as much attention to.

There have been four Members appointed to the Senate who are retiring, and that is quite a number.

Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware was a great teacher and a longtime Senate staffer before serving in the Senate himself.

Senator George Lemieux of Florida made his focus balancing the budget and controlling the debt. We have not heard the last of George Lemieux, I am sure, in politics. Senator Roland Burris of Illinois was a State comptroller and attorney general. He is his own man, and capped off a long career in public service by serving here.

Senator Carte Goodwin, the youngest Senator who replaced the oldest in Senator Byrd. He was here only a few months, but we’ve enjoyed having him.

It has been my privilege to serve with these 16 Senators. We thank them for their service to our country. They have had a chance to serve in what we regard as the world's greatest deliberative body; it is a special institution. We will miss their leadership, and we hope they will stay in touch with us because they are not just retiring Senators, they are all our friends.