Farewell to the Senateby Former Senator Mark Udall
Posted on 2014-12-12
UDALL of Colorado. Madam President, it is humbling to stand here
to speak one final time with my colleagues as a United States Senator.
As a lifelong mountain climber, I have learned far more from the mountains I did not summit, than those I did. Every climb, I have found, offers a [[Page S6775]] chance to look back and reflect, and standing here today gives me a unique opportunity to appreciate just how far we have come.
For the past 18 years, my most rewarding challenge has been exercising the power lent to me by the people of Colorado to fight on their behalf, first in the State House and then in the U.S. Congress. Throughout my career in public service--my 6 years in the U.S. Senate being but one chapter--I have always been guided by the rugged independence, strength and cooperative spirit that defines who we are as Coloradans and as Westerners.
That spirit helped me craft solutions to long-standing problems in my home State of Colorado. From my very first week in the U.S. Senate, I worked at resolving the decades-long impasse between southern Colorado ranchers and the U.S. Army, which uses the land surrounding Pinon Canyon to train soldiers for deployment into war zones. After 5 years of listening and lots of hard work, we reached a deal that protects the property rights of landowners while ensuring our troops are prepared to defend our Nation. It was a teamwork-oriented approach that reflected Colorado's best problem-solving traditions.
I have said for years that Coloradans pull together come hell or high water. Little did I know that this saying would prove itself to be true during my time in the U.S. Senate, from wildfires that left thousands homeless to a biblical flood in 2013 that swept over much of the Front Range. Despite the partisan Federal Government shutdown of 2013, we delivered more than $770 million in emergency flood support and marshalled nearly $2.5 billion in additional Federal assistance so that Colorado could rebuild better and stronger than before. This disaster relief work includes conservation easements and watershed protection funds to ward off future floods and a series of next-generation air tankers to help us fight fires for decades to come. This is in addition to the more immediate support needed to rebuild roads, bridges, and the infrastructure that our communities depend on.
Our uniquely Western perspective holds that compromise is not capitulation, and that we are stronger when every member of the community has a seat at the table--not just the privileged. This is a cause that my family has championed for generations and it is a creed that should continue to drive all Coloradans who answer the call to serve.
At this point in our politics, Americans are rightly impatient with the willful, partisan gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Yet, in Colorado, we know that by working together we have been able to keep our State moving forward and do our part to overcome Washington silliness for the good of the Nation.
But even as we keep our eyes on the horizon and the work we still have to do, it is also important that we protect our special way of life--and safeguard our land, water and air for future generations. I strongly believe that we do not inherit the earth from our parents--we borrow it from our children. That is why I have championed efforts to preserve our public lands and the special places and natural wonders that define Colorado. Those efforts include creating new wilderness areas around James Peak, ensuring that future generations can experience the beauty of the Great Sand Dunes and Chimney Rock, and turning Rocky Flats--a former nuclear weapons facility--into a wildlife refuge. I will continue working hard to protect Brown's Canyon, which I hope to see designated as a national monument in the days ahead.
Protecting these special places along with our clean air and water is just part of the larger fight to confront the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change. Colorado has long led the Nation's pursuit of a balanced, forward-thinking energy strategy. Much of the progress Colorado has made came after I fought alongside Republican Speaker of the Colorado House Lola Spradley in 2004 to pass our State's first renewable electricity standard. This was the Nation's first democratically-passed renewable energy policy, and one which has actually been strengthened and added to since it was created. Since then, Colorado's renewable electricity standard has increased from its start at 10 percent to the 30 percent it is today. It has become a model for the Nation in how to create good-paying clean energy jobs while fighting the causes of climate change.
I built on this effort in the U.S. Senate by successfully pushing to extend the Production Tax Credit for wind energy. This has been a years-long, bipartisan effort that I am proud to have led alongside Senator Grassley from Iowa. From coming to the floor more than two- dozen times to explain the importance of wind State-by-State and to demand an extension in 2012, to fighting to extend the wind tax credit again this year, I have never given up on Colorado's thriving wind- energy industry and the more than 5,000 jobs it supports across the State. This is the sort of common-sense, bipartisan policy that helps hardworking American families today but is also part of implementing a clean energy future for generations to come.
As a Nation, over the past few years, we have persevered through difficult times to continue building toward a more perfect union. When our country was faced with the possibility of another Great Depression, we took decisive action--avoiding financial collapse, supporting 6 straight years of job growth in private industry, and making smart investments in everything from repairing our crumbling roads to re- invigorating Denver's historic Union Station. That is something to be proud of. There's a lot more to be done--but it is important to pause and note the successful milestones we have already reached on the road to recovery.
Despite a flawed roll-out, the Nation's healthcare law has increased access to quality health coverage for more than 400,000 Coloradans, helped families lower expenses and plan their future with free contraceptive care, and kept costs down for the first time in decades. This is helping to keep families out of bankruptcy and making sure that all Americans--not just the wealthiest among us--receive the care they and their families deserve.
Thomas Jefferson once said that a true patriot loves her country not just for what it is . . . but for what it can be. I think a country where every family can rest easy knowing that they will never be left in the cold again when it comes to accessing health care is a cause worth fighting for, and I could not be more grateful to those who have fought alongside me to make that a reality. At the same time, we must also continue to monitor closely its implementation to ensure we identify and correct any unexpected and uneven impacts on Coloradans and Americans.
While protecting Americans from the abuses of an out-of-control healthcare system is an achievement we should all celebrate, I have been equally as passionate about upholding the Bill of Rights and protecting our freedom and right to equality. We still have a ways to go, but I am proud to have followed in the footsteps of so many great leaders, including many in my own family, who fought to make sure America lives up to the values enshrined in our Constitution.
Many of you may recall that my father, Mo, helped to integrate the University of Arizona, when it was beset by racial divisions. My grandfather, Levi, issued a famous court decision that recognized Native Americans' constitutionally protected right to vote in our elections. My uncle Stewart challenged discrimination in our Nation's capital when he confronted the Washington football team to demand they allow black athletes to play alongside white athletes. It has been these examples among so many others that inspired me to take action when I felt we were not living up to our constitutional ideals.
That includes leading the successful fight to repeal the military's discriminatory ``Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy that had so shamefully kept gay and lesbian Americans from openly serving their country in the Armed Forces. It includes passing landmark hate crimes prevention legislation and a law to make it easier for women to fight wage discrimination.
While there is much work left to be done to protect our constitutional rights, I am proud to have led the effort to reconcile the enormous power of our Nation's intelligence agencies with the bedrock principles of our democracy. We have proven that the choice [[Page S6776]] between ensuring our security and protecting our privacy is a false choice, and that we can keep faith with our Nation's founding principles while also safeguarding our communities. So when the CIA tortured people in the name of the Americans it was supposed to serve, we were strong enough as a Nation to admit our mistakes and commit to learning from this dark period in our Nation's history. That is why I led the fight on the Intelligence Committee to declassify the findings of our landmark report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, to make sure that future presidents and intelligence community leaders do not violate the principles that make America so exceptional.
These are all important accomplishments--but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that true leadership is a team sport. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many people whose insights, counsel and contributions have made me a stronger and more effective advocate for Colorado. In particular, I want to point out that former Colorado U.S. Senator Gary Hart has been a key, trusted advisor and a dear friend throughout my 18 years of public service. I want to thank my Chief of Staff, Michael Sozan, who has guided my Senate office with a steady hand for the last 6 years . . . and my State Director, Jen Rokala, who I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years as we served the people of Colorado. I also want to thank Joe Britton, my Deputy Chief of Staff; Jake Swanton, my Legislative Director; John Fossum, my administrative director; and Mike Saccone, my Communications Director, for ably guiding me and my office.
Even before coming to the Senate, I had the pleasure of working with many dedicated people who put everything on the line to better serve Colorado. I want to thank Alan Salazar, my former Chief of Staff, along with Laura Davis, Lisa Carpenter, Stan Sloss, Doug Young, Cookab Hashemi, and Tara Trujillo for their guidance, patience, and good humor. I also want to thank two staffers who have been with me from the start: Jennifer Barrett, one of my most trusted advisers, and Carter Ellison, my constituent services director. The list of talented and driven people who have worked with me over the years is too long to read but their commitment to serving Colorado and our Nation fills me with awe. I will miss my team greatly.
It also has been my honor to serve as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the last 6 years--and on the House Armed Services Committee before that. During that time, I had the privilege of working on behalf of the tremendous men and women who defend our Nation. I have witnessed their great courage, professionalism and commitment in performing dangerous missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and other places around the world. I have been humbled by the indomitable spirit of our wounded warriors recovering at Walter Reed, Bethesda and in Colorado. I have mourned our fallen. Their sacrifice, and the loss that is borne by their families and a grateful Nation, is never far from my mind. To all those who have served, and to all their loved ones, I offer my deepest thanks and my never ending gratitude.
When I first came to the U.S. Senate, I told my colleagues that we were not elected to solve Democratic or Republican problems, but to find uniquely American solutions to our toughest challenges. Just like mountain climbers who are all on the same rope, we know that we are all in this together--and that we are only truly successful when we all succeed together.
The great writer Wallace Stegner challenged us to build communities to match our scenery. In a narrow sense, that means that we should strive to make our society as beautiful and thriving as the natural landscape that surrounds us. But in a broader sense, it also means that our communities should bring out the best in us, and that we should never stop building on the uniquely independent yet cooperative spirit that makes Colorado great.
That is the spirit that has guided me throughout my time in public service, and it is the spirit that will continue to guide me as I find new ways to keep Colorado and our country moving forward.
It has been the greatest privilege of my life to be a United States Senator from Colorado and I will be forever grateful for having had the challenge and the opportunity to serve our great country.