One Monday, April 30, I delivered my farewell address to the Missouri Senate. During my remarks, I reflected on my time in the Missouri General Assembly and discussed several of the lessons I have learned during my time in public office. Below is a copy of the speech I delivered to my colleagues in the Missouri Senate.
“As we enter into our final weeks of this session, and as I prepare to end my journey of legislative service, I reflect on relationships and friends made; bonds that will last a lifetime. I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s comments on his retirement, ‘I trust that I shall not be guilty of trespassing beyond those limits of time necessary to make farewell comments.’
“Upon my departure on this public occasion, I want to first and foremost thank my wife, Patty, for her continued support. With grateful regards, thank you to my colleagues for the great opportunity to serve with you. Thank you to my friends for your support and guidance. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives have blessed me with many leadership opportunities. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such wonderful staff. To my three Chiefs of Staff during my time at the Capitol, Jeff Brooks, Dusty Schnieders and Heidi Kolkmeyer, and to the caucus staff under their direction, thank you for your hard work. Thanks to Gwen Delano for running my district office and for being on top of things in the district. Thanks to Pattie Parris and Deanna Gesch for their expertise and organization skills that keep my office running smoothly. I would like to personally thank the majority floor leader, the Senator from Cole, for a great partnership with me and the Senate, negotiating the rough seas of the calendar work and debate. Thank you to all Senate Staff – Administration, Secretary of the Senate, Accounting, Human Resources, Appropriations, Communications, Computer Information Systems, Operations, Research, Bill Room, Enrolling and Engrossing, Office Assistance and Doorkeepers for all you do to help the senators do their job. Last but not least, thanks to all the senators’ staff for their hard work and cooperation. Never will these illustrious chambers be out of my memory.
“I am reminded of Sen. Dick Webster of Carthage, Missouri, whose picture is in the Senate Lounge, when he arrived to serve in the Missouri House in Jefferson City in 1949. The Democrats were in complete control. He had a general feeling with regard to those people who sat on the other side of the aisle, they were either hoodlums or nefarious political bosses. During his second month of the session, a young Irish bartender by the name of Tommy Walsh was handling a bill. It raised the salaries of constables in St. Louis from $9-a-day to $10-a-day. A large number of Democrats were voicing their opposition. During the debate, a senior Republican said to Dick Webster, ‘Kid, if I were you I would vote for the bill.’ When Webster seemed surprised, the senior Republican said, ‘Trust me.’ The bill carried by one vote. As Webster walked out of the House Chamber, the young Irishman put his hand out and said, ‘I won’t forget.’
“When Webster later asked senior Republican Bill Cruce, from Eldorado Springs, why that vote was important – the answer came, ‘All the good guys are not in our party, and all the bad ones are not in theirs.’ Senator Cruce also said that he was not going to point out who the bad guys are. ‘If you can’t figure that out by the end of session, you shouldn’t be here. Tommy Walsh is one of the good guys,’ said Sen. Cruce.
“When the next session began, Warren Fuqua, legislative advisor to Farm Bureau asked Webster to file a bill. Webster thought he was co-sponsoring a bill, but he was being asked to handle it, which was very unusual for a freshmen legislator. Webster agreed to handle the bill and received a notice of a committee hearing the following week. When he arrived at the hearing, the young Irish bartender was the chairman. When Webster’s bill came before the committee, Walsh said this bill is very important to our friend from outstate Missouri. Representative Webster was asked if he wanted to explain the bill or did he want the committee to go ahead and take action. Webster replied that he would trust the committee’s decision. The bill was never discussed; the motion was made and carried. The bill came to the floor the next week, and Tom Walsh and other Democrats saw there was enough votes to pass the bill. The bill was the establishment of rural fire districts and also permitted rural areas to cooperate with town and city fire districts. Without the legislation in 1950, farmers could not expect to participate in the use of the Carthage, Missouri, fire department.
“When Dick Webster was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1962, Walsh and Webster continued to be close friends. Walsh worked the Missouri House, walking the aisles to help get enough votes to make Missouri Southern College in Joplin a full, four-year funded college.
“As Sen. Richard Webster prophetically said in 1986, and it is still true today, ‘A multitude of changes have been made in the minds and attitudes of American voters and public officials. Our Constitution, however, is still in place and it will fail only when the people of America lose interest in their government and how it works!’
“I would like to share a few thoughts after 16 years in the State Capitol; some of these notions are mine, some are borrowed from intellectuals from the past.
– In the time we have served in government, I have asked that you respect tradition, respect your word that which is your bond.
– If you want respect, you have to give respect.
– The Legislature must be independent and stand against overreach and the assault from the other branches of government and the tides of public opinion.
– Be careful of ideas that promote personal agendas, some ideas may seem in the best interest of Missourians; however, look for the residue or the fallout of the possible outcome.
– Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”
– Do not allow an antiquated notion that a caring government can socialize everyone to behave well, thereby erasing personal accountability and responsibility.
– I am intrigued by people reacting to circumstances they find themselves in and how events were affected by their actions.
– Incrementalism – the key to passing legislation; small bites over several years yields large dividends and your goals while avoiding mistakes in large bills.
– As the Speaker of the Missouri House, it was difficult to understand the pace of the Senate. However, it became clear that the discussion between Washington and Jefferson was true, the Senate cooled passions and tried to “reconcile the irreconcilable.”
– In Robert Byrd, volumes of U.S. Senate history applies to us in the Missouri Senate. Byrd famously said, “Let the Senate in moments of drama – the kind of independence, impartiality, fairness and courage that from time to time over the years has brought to bear on great issues.”
– James Madison stated, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal contracts on government would be necessary.”
– Elections have consequences because enlightened statesmen will not always be sent to Jefferson City.
“I have tried to learn leadership skills no matter what office I was elected to. I looked at history for those who had larger decisions to make and how they handled them. I have always believed that as elected officials, we must take charge of events – not allow events to take charge of us.
“In the Missouri Senate, leaders recognized generations ago that party affiliation had little to do with political philosophy. They were wise enough in 1919, when the new Capital was opened, to establish an unwritten rule that we, the Senate, would never sit by political party on the floor of the Senate. It isn’t possible to walk in and see the Democrats on one side and the Republicans on the other. It is the only legislative body in this nation which follows that tradition. The result is the ability to vote in accordance with your conscience and the interest of the people that you represent. Neither the Democratic floor leader nor I would ever attempt to crack the whip and deliver a solid party vote in order to maintain party loyalty.
“In the Missouri Senate, we generally follow the rules of procedure as the United States Senate. A rule can be suspended by a majority vote. We also have unwritten rules, which have nothing to do with parliamentary procedure. Some of them deal with the matter of common courtesy, others deal with overall conduct toward each other. As an example, it doesn’t matter who the governor is, no gubernatorial appointment will be confirmed if the senator in whose district the appointee resides objects. This has been hard for many governors to understand; it is not a written rule, but it is strictly enforced.
“Thank you for your kindness, your patience, your wisdom. The Senate’s leadership team has always tried to guide the Senate with fairness and professionalism. I have sought guidance and opinions from all I have met. This is not the occasion to outline remedies on governance, but I may suggest that my faith is in God’s mercy, we may choose right. There is always time and hope if we combine patience and courage. I will always believe that the day may dawn when fair play, love for one another, respect for justice and freedom will enable tormented generations to march forth serene and triumphed.
“May God bless you, may God bless the state of Missouri and may God bless the United States.”