Salazar bids farewell to Senate

Sen. Ken Salazar officially said goodbye to the U.S. Senate Friday morning as he looks forward to serving as the next secretary of the interior. In his remarks, Salazar paid tribute to his family’s lengthy history traced back to 1520 in the American southwest, calling himself a proud “12th-generation son of the southwest of New Mexico and Colorado.” Salazar plans to step down from the Senate once his colleagues vote on his nomination.

In his remarks, delivered to a nearly empty Senate chamber because many lawmakers have departed the Capitol for the long holiday weekend, Salazar highlighted work he did as a senator “to make sure that that rural part of America that has so often been forgotten is no longer forgotten.” Salazar thanked colleagues for helping pass the farm bill, work toward creating a “new energy frontier” and expand health care coverage for children. Salazar also pointed to work implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group.

Gov. Bill Ritter plans to nominate former Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill the remaining two years in Salazar’s term.

Here’s a transcript of Salazar’s remarks, provided by Salazar’s office but edited for typos and spelling by The Colorado Independent:

I thank the chair and the distinguished senator from Rhode Island, and I thank my great friend and majority leader, Senator Reid, for his inspiration and for his leadership of this body and his love for this nation. And I think that our journey together here in many ways has been a similar journey, because if you think about a man from Searchlight, Nevada, raised in the house where he was raised, raised in the circumstances where he was raised, working in the mines and being essentially part of the poorest part of Nevada, and yet today serving here in the United States Senate as majority leader, it is a pathway that really illustrates the opportunity and promise of America. For his support and his leadership, I will be forever grateful for the support from his family, Landra and Rory and all of his children. I admire him and admire them. I appreciate the comments so heartfelt in him and appreciate the comments as well from Senator McConnell. I thank my colleagues who are here this morning. I know that almost everybody took off last night, and so the chamber is not exactly full this morning. But I see both Democrats and
Republicans here who came to hear me say the last few words that I will say from this desk here in the U.S. Senate.

Let me start out first by giving tribute to my family. My wonderful wife, Hope, and my daughter Melinda, my daughter Andrea and my granddaughter are watching. They truly are the bedrock of my life. Without them, I would not be here. Without them I would not have traveled the 64 counties of my great state of Colorado. Since they were little they were holding balloons, walking the parades and doing the rest of the things it takes to become part of an elected office in a state as large as Colorado. To them I say thank you.

I want to pay tribute as well to my father, Henry. As Senator Reid described his history is a very true history. You know, born into poverty and lived through a lot of sacrifice, but always remembered the two most important things of his life, as my brother, Congressman (John) Salazar, often says: number one, family; number two, love for country. And I think those two values guided him to achieve what he still at the end of his life considered to be his greatest success. And that is that all eight of his children — all eight of his children — became first-generation college graduates. To my father, Henry, who taught me so many things about life, I will always be forever proud.

Within his family, within my mother’s family, if you look at the genealogy of my family, which I will insert in the record, we start back with one born in 1520 and one born in 1555 who became one of the original founders of a city. And his son. And it goes on to the point where I am a 12th-generation son of the southwest of New Mexico and Colorado. And it is a history that I am very proud of, and it is a history that I hope is not forgotten. It is a history that for a long time was essentially shoved beneath the dust and was not given the illumination of its reality. And I hope that in some small part my role here in the United States Senate has been to give credence and also celebrate that history that makes us such a wonderful and diverse America. And so I appreciate everything that I got from my father’s side. And, yes, he was a proud soldier in World War II. He is a tough master. As we grew up, he made us understand the importance of hard work. He had a strong sense of pride and strong sense of community in giving back and a strong sense of love for his family.

My mother, Emma, likewise in so many ways was a strong, spiritual person who I still today call Saint Emma. They call her Saint Emma because nothing can even shake her from her roots. She is who she is. She has a great faith. She’s not afraid to live or die. I remember many times in my life, including the death of my oldest brother, my mother was the one who held the family together after a tragic accident that we had on our ranch back in 1992. To her selfless, completely selfless love, which she has taught the world and taught my family, I thank her from the bottom of my heart. I often have asked my mother: Is there a single person in the world that you do not like? Or is there a single person in the world that you hate? And my mother will think about it for a minute, and she will say, “No.” She says, “I love everybody.” And just like she loves everybody, everybody loves her. I thank her for her faith and all she taught us — to my brothers and sisters, we are seven of us still left, my oldest brother passed away — taught us a lot about history and about the culture of our community.

I remember his days working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and coming back to the farm and working with us for so long. He is and always will be my hero. I miss him. To all the rest of my brothers and to my sisters, they have all been the bedrock also of my successes. And today here on the floor of the United States Senate as I give my farewell address, I have the honor of being joined by Congressman John Salazar, who is a congressman for the 3rd Congressional District, which covers about 65% of the state of Colorado. Congressman Salazar, in his own way, is the personification of many things that my family stands for. If you look at his history and who he is in his profile, he is a farmer, he is a soldier and veteran, he is a businessman. He knows issues like water. He knows so many different things and has taught me so much. As he and I have grown up together, being here in Washington with him has been one of the highlights of my entire life.

I want to also just thank all of my colleagues here. And I’m going to say a few specific words about them in a few minutes. In early February, the Senate selects a member to perform its oldest nonlegislative tradition: the reading of George Washington’s farewell address here on the floor of the United States Senate. In 2006, Senator Harry Reid, majority leader then, gave me the honor of doing that reading. Washington’s famous words, I think, are important for us to remember at this time of transformation in America. In his farewell to public life in 1796, Washington warned us of the dangers of partisanship, of geographic sectionalism and of politics and division. We are, Washington said, one nation, which like shades of differences, you have the same religion, manners, habits and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings and successes. Washington’s farewell address is a message reborn today. In this moment, in this time, with the inauguration next Tuesday, with this body here in the United States Senate and the House Of Representatives, there is a new hope with a growing sense that we’re all in this together. We are again becoming the one nation that the first president of the United States of America imagined.

Our next president — Barack Obama — embodies this historic change. He is asking us not to think of ourselves first as red states and blue states, but as Americans first, with obligations of service to one another. We can solve our problems, no matter how difficult they are. We can reach the horizon of human possibilities, no matter how difficult it might seem. But in order to do that, we must all work together. It is in this spirit of collaboration of nation before party, of compromise, of results-driven government that Americans believe that we can get it done this time. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you in this chamber who have guided me in our work over the last several years.

I want to comment specifically just on four or five things that I am very proud of that we have worked on together here in the Senate. The first is about the forgotten America and the work that we have done together here to make sure that that rural part of America that has so often been forgotten is no longer forgotten. When you look at the United States of America, the fact is that there are about 3,000 counties; about 1,700 of those counties are characterized as rural counties. In each of those counties, what we have is significant unemployment. You have income disparities of some $10,000 per capita between people who live in those rural counties and people who don’t live in those rural counties. And so it’s been important for us to address the issues and needs of rural America, and we’ve done that in some significant ways.

The passage of the farm bill, which we ultimately had to pass, I think, out of this Senate on three or four occasions during the past year, I think was a culmination of that promise to the forgotten America. I want to thank Senator Reid for making sure that we kept our feet to the fire to get that bill done. I want to thank people who are involved in that legislation, including the chairman of the committee, Senator Tom Harkin; our ranking member and great senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss; as well as Kent Conrad and others who are involved in that historic effort and all the members of the agriculture committee.

Secondly, the creation of the new energy frontier. There are many of us, including some of us here on the floor this morning, who set about some four years ago with a vision that we could set America free, that we could deal with the reality of inescapable forces of our time on national security and economic opportunity at home and environmental security for our planet, and that we could set America free from our addiction to foreign oil. And under the leadership of Senator Bingaman from new Mexico, as chairman of the committee, the work of Senator Pete Domenici and other members of the Senate Energy Committee, I believe that we have taken some steps in that direction which are very significant. There is much more that we must do, and we are absolutely committed that to making sure that we take the moon shot to energy independence in the years ahead. I am confident this time we will not fail. We cannot afford to fail in the energy imperative for our nation. I thank all of my colleagues who I worked it w on the Senate Energy Committee — who I worked with on the Senate Energy Committee.

I also want to thank every member of this chamber who has worked to make sure that America’s defenses remain strong and that we protect America here at home through homeland security efforts and the implementation of recommendations like the 9/11 Commission, and the efforts that we have worked on together here in this chamber to give the United States of America a new direction with respect to the war in Iraq. It is because of the debates that have taken place in this recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. 16 members of the United States Senate joined us in that legislation. And because that legislation really created the road map for where we are in Iraq today, I am pleased of the work that I was able to make in that effort. I will never forget the fact that Senator Warner, Senator Levin and Senator Reid were among the first people that took me to places in the Middle East, places I had never traveled to before, to Baghdad and Iraq and many places around that country. It was the information that I gleaned from that that characterizes the last four or five years here in America.

Health care, I want to just make a quick comment about health care. There are many people who have worked on this issue over time. I do think that what we were able to do with the children’s health insurance program and the passage of that bill last year really demonstrates how Republicans and Democrats can come together. When I see Orrin Hatch and I see Max Baucus working together to move forward with legislation that is so enormously important for the children of America, it is the right step for us as we try to deal with this enormous domestic problem that faces all of us. There are so many people involved in those efforts.

And, finally, Mr. President, I have spent a lot of time in this chamber and at this desk and at my other desk working on the issue of immigration. It is an issue, which, frankly, still continues to call out in a very clear voice that we must get to a resolution of this issue. It affects so much. It affects national security, and whether we are a nation of laws, and it affects the reality of 12 million people who live in the shadows of America today. I’m hopeful with President Obama’s help, with the U.S. Congress and the Senate that that is an issue that we will resolve in the year ahead.

Mr. President, as I conclude and I just want to make one more tribute here to Senator Harry Reid. We both are men of faith. And we often share our faith together. He encouraged me, along with Senator Mark Pryor, to be a part of the Wednesday prayer chair, and I was proud to chair that with Mark Pryor and Mike. I’m proud of those of us who attend the prayer breakfast and the 100 members of the United States Senate; there is a great common sense that the possibilities of humanity are somehow achievable to all of us. That it is — we, as human beings, who somehow stand in the way of finding what those human possibilities are for all of humanity. I think back on a story that some of you have heard to my grandmother who lost — who lost five of her eight children before those children reached the age of 5 years old. And I always asked myself, what is it that kept her going? And at the end of the day my own answer to my question has been that what kept her going was the fact that she had a faith in the future that somehow around the corner in the future that she could not see. That the world would be much better for her children and grandchildren. For sure she could not have seen that the eight children of her only surviving son would all graduate from high school. For sure she could not have seen one would be a U.S. senator and another a member of the House of Representatives. For sure what she could see is that the world would be better for humanity. And I think that is a common bond of the members of this august wonderful chamber of the United States Senate.

So, Mr. President, as I close I want to share the prayer that I’ve shared with Senator Reid and many of my colleagues in this chamber before. It is a prayer that my brother Leon, the oldest in the family, learned when he worked with the founder of the United Farm Workers of America. I believe this prayer embodies what it is we do in public service. And the prayer is as follows: Show me the suffering of the most miserable so I will know my people’s plight. Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person. Help me take responsibility for my own life so that I can be free at last. Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life. Give me honesty and patience so that the spirit will be alive among us. Let the spirit flourish and grow so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice for they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate us so we can change the world.

Mr. President, one thing I forgot to say of the five million people in the state of Colorado (who) have given me a great honor to serve as their attorney general and to serve on their behalf, and I will submit for the record some of the things that we have done in the representation of all of the five million people of the state of Colorado, and no matter where they were from, no matter what their economic circumstance, that they knew that we were working on their behalf. And I am elated that Senator Mark Udall has joined us in the United States Senate, because I’m absolutely confident that he will become one of the stellar senators of this body.

So, Mr. President, I would ask unanimous consent that the genealogy of my family and the work of my wonderful staff in putting together our Colorado regional plans and priorities become as part of the record, and I thank my wonderful staff, many of whom are here today, and some of whom are watching back in Colorado, for having made this possible because without their great effort, frankly, we would not be able to do what we have done. I thank them. I thank my good friend, the presiding officer; I look forward to our continuing work together.

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