Tribute to Departing Senatorsby Senator Harry Reid
Posted on 2014-12-15
REID. Mr. President, Alaska is a State unlike any other State in
the country. Often referred to as the ``last frontier,'' Alaska's
landscape is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is immense. Its
residents are some of the most kind and accepting people one would ever
meet. Any person who represents the State of Alaska must possess a true
love for the exceptional beauty of this region and the vastness of it.
It is so far away from everything. The capital Juneau, you can only get
there in an airplane. That is the only way you can get to the capital
of the State of Alaska. So I am going to spend a little bit of time
talking about Senator Mark Begich and his faithful service to the
people of Alaska.
There is no surprise that he is dedicated to Alaska and the people of Alaska. His father, Congressman Nick Begich, was dedicated to Alaska, as has been his mom Peggy. They moved to the then-Territory of Alaska in 1957 to teach school. Congressman Begich became involved in Alaskan politics and successfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Tragedy struck. The whip of the House, Hale Boggs, and he were in Alaska campaigning and they were flying to an event. The plane disappeared. They searched, they searched, they searched. After 2 months, Congressman Boggs, Congressman Begich, and the pilot were declared dead. Their plane and bodies to this day have not been found. They are hidden someplace in the vastness of Alaska, in one of the mountains or the many bodies of water. We don't know.
In spite of this heartbreaking loss, the Begich family has pushed on. His mother continued to raise six children alone while managing real estate properties and being active in local politics.
By the age of 17, Mark had already acquired his mother's business acumen, starting his first business, a jewelry venture, and also owning and managing real estate. One reason Senator Begich has been a good Senator is because of his innate business acumen.
At age 26, he was elected to the Anchorage Assembly, which is the city council, a position he held for 10 years. Then in 2003 he was elected mayor of Anchorage. He served two terms before running for the Senate.
Now, 2008 was a dark time for Alaskan politics, but Mark's Senate victory brought a fresh face and new hope to the State. From the time he stepped foot on the Senate floor, he has not let the people of Alaska down. He has fought to expand economic opportunity, to defend the rights of Alaska Natives, and to fortify rural Alaska. Senator Begich's efforts to reform the Alaskan veterans health care system was exemplary, and it is a blueprint for a bipartisan solution that the Senate reached this year to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Senator Begich has made tremendous contributions to the Senate over the past 6 years. I know he will continue to fight for what is best for Alaska as he transitions into the next stage of his life. I hope public service is somewhere in Mark's future. Every State needs a man of his quality. He will always have his wife Deborah and his son Jacob by his side.
I can remember the first time I saw Jacob was right behind us by the Ohio clock. President Obama walked by and that little boy yelled ``Obama!'' So his little boy loves politics.
It has truly been an honor to serve with Senator Begich. I am glad he has been part of our leadership team as head of the steering committee. He has done a remarkable, good job. I thank him again for his service to the Senate and certainly to our country.
MARK UDALL Mr. President, the famous English poet William Blake once said, ``Great things are done when men and mountains meet.'' There could be nothing more apt when talking about Mark Udall than when we talk about men and mountains. He knows mountains.
[[Page S6823]] He has climbed nine Himalayan peaks. He has climbed Mount McKinley. He has climbed 99 of the highest summits in Colorado, and that is the place where we have the great Rockies. Those are big mountains. He once attempted to scale Mount Everest but was stopped by a severe storm. Some of us, while we were waiting to finish our work on Saturday, told me they were hoping to go skiing on Sunday.
I said: Where are you going to go skiing? I don't know the name of the place.
How high is that place? Eight hundred feet.
In the Sierra Nevada mountains where I am from, and the Rockies, that is not a mountain. We have mountains in Colorado and Nevada.
Mark Udall once attempted to scale Mount Everest and was nearly there when one of the most violent storms came. Using good sense, he decided they shouldn't do it, and it was the right thing to do. People die by saying they are stronger than nature. He understands his limitations, and his limitations are not very much. Mark is a tremendous athlete. He could do anything athletically. He has the genes of his dad, Morris Udall, whom I had the good fortune of serving with in the House of Representatives. Morris Udall is the only person to have played professional basketball being blind in one eye, couldn't see, but he was able to adjust his perceptive qualities with a basketball hoop to play professional basketball.
We all felt Mark's loss when his brother Randy was found dead. He was found dead in the place he loved more than anyplace else, the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. That is where Randy loved to go. That is where Mark loves to go. People told Randy he shouldn't go alone, but he went alone and it appears maybe he had a heart attack while he was out there. They found him several weeks later in the mountains he loved, dead. It was real tough for Mark, who looked up so much to his brother. Mark, though, has met many mountains and done many great things.
He served in the House of Representatives where he was stellar. But it is the work in the Senate where his greatest feats have been accomplished. In 2013 there were storms in Colorado and there was catastrophic flooding. It was very bad. Lives were lost, homes washed away. The people of Colorado needed help, and Mark would not stop. He held up legislation until the people of Colorado got what they deserved. He helped secure nearly $1 billion in Federal assistance for the people of his State, money to rebuild homes, bridges, roads, and reestablish lives.
While he dedicated himself to protecting the people of Colorado, he also was committed to safeguarding the constitutional rights of all Americans. Who has done more in exposing what has been going on with the invasion of people's privacy? No one has done more than Mark. He has done this in a number of different ways. But as a member of the Intelligence Committee, his work sounded the alarm about the National Security Administration's bulk data collection program. He fought to end the CIA's detention and interrogation program, and together with Senator Feinstein has pushed to make public the committee's study of the CIA's torture program.
People have said: Perhaps if Mark had not been so concerned about individual rights, about the bulk data collection, about the torture, maybe he would have been reelected. But that is not Mark Udall. He comes from a family with a long tradition of public service, as I have indicated. His uncle Stewart was Secretary of the Interior, after having served in Congress for many years representing the State of Arizona, as did his dad Mo Udall. Mo Udall was one of the most recognizable Congressmen in the entire 20th century, having run for President, and he had a sense of humor that was really quite remarkable.
Here in the Senate Mark has cousins. It has been interesting. During the last few years, we have had a lot of cousins: Mark, Tom, Mike Lee, Gordon Smith--all cousins, first cousins. How did that come about? Mark would, as he did just a day or two ago, look and kind of smile and say: It could have been polygamy. And it was. But they are a very, very close family, a very close family.
In spite of the closeness of Tom and Mark--two brothers could not be closer than these two men. They climb mountains together. I have talked to them about putting on crampons, these spikes you put on your shoes to climb the ice. These are adventurers.
So we are going to miss Mark. But he has forged his own path and his own legacy.
Now, as his time in the Senate draws to a close, he will carry that legacy to other endeavors.
I wish Mark all the best. It has been such a privilege to serve with him. He will be deeply missed.