Barbara Mikulski

Farewell Remarks - Dec. 7, 2016

Barbara Mikulski
December 07, 2016— Washington, D.C.
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Thank you, Mr. President.

I rise today to take the floor for what I call my summing up speech. It is not my farewell speech because I have the honor and privilege of being the ranking member on the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee and will speak later on this week when we move the continuing resolution. But it is the practice and the tradition of the Senate that when a Senator is departing the Senate to give what they call their farewell address. Well, mine is not going to be as memorable as when George Washington resigned his commission and other memorable speeches. But I do want to say words about how I feel today about having the great opportunity to serve in the United States Congress, 30 years in the United States Senate, 10 years in the House of Representatives. And, yes, five years in the Baltimore City Council.

I have served in elected public office for 45 years, more than half of my life has been in elected public service, but at the same time all of my life has been focused on service. I want to rise today to thank the people of Maryland. I want to rise to thank them for their vote of confidence. You know, when people vote for you, it's not only that they're sending you to Washington or sending you to city hall, they're giving you a vote of confidence that you will be their voice, that you will be their vote, that you will be at their side and on their side. And that's what I want to be able to talk about today.

For the people of Baltimore who gave me my first shot in running for the Baltimore City Council, when I beat the political bosses, when running for political office as a woman was considered a novelty, they said, you don't look the part. I said, this is what the part looks like. And this is what the part is going to be like. And along the way, you know, so many people helped me. Behind me is a whole lot of "we".

I got started in public life because of volunteers and activists, who on their own time and their own dime, volunteered their -- themselves to not only help me get elected but to be involved in their communities, to be civically engaged, to make their community and their country a better place. These are the people who were behind me -- or, guess what? -- No, I was behind them, because they certainly have led the way.

And along the way there were people that not only helped me get elected, but they helped me govern. People who, again, volunteered their own time. I had a wonderful service academy board that helped me pick the best and the and brightest. I had a judicial appointment advisory board that made sure that I helped nominate the best people to serve in the federal judiciary. And also I had a veterans advisory group who brought to me what was really happening to the veterans, not what was in the press releases from the veterans’ administration. And, of course, I had a fabulous strategy group that was functioned as a kitchen cabinet. It was a kitchen cabinet, and we spent a lot of times cooking things up to try to make our country and our communities better places.

So I thank them all for what they did. But you know, when we come here, we can do it alone -- we cannot do it alone, so we have a fabulous staff that serves us in Washington and serves us in our state. My current staff I’d like to thank my Chief of Staff, my Deputy Chief, my State Director, my Legislative Director, my Communications Director Matt Juror, my Scheduling Director Katie Finley, Josh Yearly, my Appropriations Staff Chuck Kieffer, the help committee with Jean Doyle and all my staff in my state office that helped me.

It is also the support staff that made sure that the phones got answered. You didn't get one of those call 1, press 2, press 184, et cetera, et cetera. And also the people who answer the mail, whether it was snail mail, which -- whether it was snail mail or e-mail because we really believe that we need to be here for the people. When I called their names -- there are also others who filled those jobs throughout my time in public office. And they worked very hard to make sure that we could represent the people of Maryland and to be on their side.

After 45 years, though, it is time for me to say goodbye to elected office but not to service.

Mr. President, I had the high privilege to be the longest-serving woman in congressional history. But what I say, it's not how long you serve but how well you serve. For those who know me and have been to rallies and floors and so on they know that I say, I’m here to work on the macro-issues and I’m here to work on the macaroni and cheese issues. To work on the big picture, to make sure, though, that the people's day-to-day needs were converted into public policy.

While we're working on public policy to try to help our communities, we also have to remember in our own states that we have constituent service issues. One of the things I’m really proud of is my constituent service staff where if you were a veteran and you needed help or you had a Social Security or Medicare problem, you could call senator Barb shall and you didn't feel that you had to go to a $100 fund-raiser or meet somebody who had connections. Much the only connection you needed was a phone you didn't even knee Wi-Fi. You could just call me. Summer, winter, spring, or fall, they had Senator Barb.

And I tried to be of service because service was in my DNA. I was raised to think about service. You know, my mother and father ran a small neighborhood grocery store in one of Baltimore’s famous row house neighborhoods. And every day they would get up and they would open that grocery store and say to their customers, good morning, can I help you? Now, in running that business they also wanted to be sure that they were connected to the people. We weren't a big-box shop. We were a shop for the little people. If anybody was in difficulty, my father was happy to extend credit. It was called, "we'll write your name down in a book. Pay us when you can. Don't worry that you got laid off at Bethlehem Steel. We know your wife had a difficult childbirth and needs this extra stuff. Barbara, deliver those groceries. Take it down with that little red wagon I got for you." I would maybe take orange juice down to a shut-in who was a diabetic. He’s say don’t take a tip, you’re the grocer’s daughter. The tip he gave me was always treat people fair and square.

The other place where I learned about service was from the nuns who taught me. I had the great fortune to go to catholic schools. I was taught by the Notre Dame Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy. These wonderful women who led the consecrated life taught us not only about reading, writing, and arithmetic, but when they taught us religion, they emphasized the attitudes. If anybody reads the scripture, if you go to Matthew 5, you know what has shaped us. One of the lines is "blessed are those who are meek of heart." I had to really work at that one -- really, really work at that one. But, at the same time, there were those that said, those who hunger and thirst after justice. And that's what motivated me. It was focusing on the values of faith, like love your neighbor, care for the sick, worry about the poor.

And also in this institute of Notre Dame where I went, I was inspired by a motto from something called the Christopher Movement where you were to help carry the burden and it said, it's better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness. That is what was motivating me to the service.

You see, we really believed in America in my family. And we really believed in it in my community. When my great-grandmother came to this country from Poland in 1886, she had little money in her pocket, but she had big dreams in her heart. Women didn't even have the right to vote. 100 years to the year that she landed in this country, I landed in the United States senate. That's what opportunity means in the United States of America.

I never thought I’d come into politics. Politics, growing up in Baltimore -- and my family wasn't involved in it -- my family was involved more in church work, philanthropy, doing good works in the way they did their business. But because in Baltimore in those days it was political bosses, guys with pot bellies and smoked cigars and did deals, et cetera, and that wasn't going to be me. I thought I went into the field of social work.

I got involved because they wanted to put a 16-lane highway through the European ethnic neighborhoods of Baltimore. And there were not even going to give the people relocation benefits. They were going to smash and bulldoze the first African-American homeownership neighborhood in Baltimore, a community called Rosemont. I said, look, we can fight this. We just got to give ourselves a militant name. I put together a group called SCAR, Southeast Community Against the Row. We teamed up with our African-American neighbors across the town. They had a group called RAM—Relocation Action Movement. And a citywide coalition group called MAD-- Movement Against Destruction.

I have always had a certain flair about these things. We did take on city hall, but the more I knocked on doors and our community did, we weren't heard. So I decided, the heck with it. If I knocked on a door and I wasn't going to be heard, I was going to knock on the door to get elected. That's what I did. Knocking on doors, putting together a coalition defying the odds, defying what people said. You can't win. No woman could win in an ethnic neighborhood. No woman can win who isn't part of the political machine. And no woman could win who had been active in the civil rights movement. And I said, guess what? We defied the odds.

Well, we defied the odds and that's how I came into public office. A champion on behalf of the people. I wanted to come to be an advocate for people to have better lives, to have better livelihoods and have better neighborhoods, to be able to save jobs and do what I could to be able to help them. I knew what I had to do. I had to show up, stand up, and speak up for my constituents, staying close enough to the people so that they wouldn't fall between the cracks. Meeting their day-to-day needs and the long-range needs of the nation.

When I came to the Senate, I was the very first woman elected in her own right. Though I was all by myself, though, I was never alone. When I came, there was only one other woman here -- the wonderful and distinguished colleague from Kansas, Senator Nancy Kassebaum, a wonderful colleague. When I was by myself as the only woman in the Democratic caucus, I was never alone. It's because of the great men that we could work with in the United States Senate.

Now, I had the privilege that my colleagues -- to work with two of the best men in America, Senator Paul Sarbanes, my senior senator when I came, my champion, helped me get on the right committees, convinced everybody that my name was Barb Mikulski, not Bella Abzug -- I was a little bit of both. And now Senator Ben Cardin, who also has been at my side. And we've worked together on issues related to Maryland, both large and small. There were others who taught me, like Senator Byrd, Senator Kennedy, and others. And all -- what it was all about was being able to work for jobs and for justice.

Though I was the first Democratic woman, I wanted to be the first of many. I wanted to help women get elected to the Senate and do what I could to be able to help them to do that. It has been just wonderful to see that now there are over -- there are 20 women who are currently serving in the united states Senate, and one of the great joys has been to work to help empower them so that they could be a powerhouse and that's why we ran those power workshops that struck fear into the hearts of the guys. Nothing to worry about, guys. Just keep an eye us.

And I’ve been proud of what I’ve learned, taking the values I learned growing up and trying to put them in the federal law books. Because for me, no issue was too small to take up. And no cause was too big for me to take on.

I firmly believe that the best ideas come from the people. That's where some of my greatest accomplishments came from. One of the things I loved the most was being in Maryland, moving around the state, going to all of the counties in the state. I loved my Mondays in Maryland, where I could meet and go into unannounced places, like diners. A lot of people like to do ton halls. They're terrific, but I like to show up at a diner, go table to table to table and not only kind of like eyeball the french fries but listen to what the people have to say. And the other thing that I really liked was round tables. Absolutely those round tables where you could engage in conversation with people and listen to them, not show off how smart or cool you were. So I really, really loved doing that.

And out of that came some of my first big accomplishments. When I came to the United States Senate, my father was quite ill with Alzheimer’s. My father was a wonderful man. He worked so hard for my sisters and I that we would have an education. He saw his role as a protector and as a provider, that in providing for us an education, we could always take care of ourselves. And when he became so ill and turned into a nursing home, as I listened to other families who would come to visit people in long-term care, we saw that the very cruel rules of our own government were forcing people to spend down their entire life savings and put their family home or their family farm in as an asset base. Well, Barb Mikulski said this, listening to them. Family responsibility, yes. You need to take responsibility for your family, but the cruel rules of government should never push a family into family bankruptcy. So I crafted something called the Spousal Anti-Impoverishment Rules that enable elderly couples to keep their asset and to keep their home. AARP tells me that since that legislation passed over 20 years ago, we've helped one million seniors not lose their home or their family farm because one becomes too ill because of that dreaded “A” word or Parkinson’s or others. That's what I mean about the best ideas coming from the people.

And then also listening to women who work hard every single day and yet weren't getting equal pay for equal work. And of course we heard it in Lilly Ledbetter, but we heard it from lots of Lilly’s and lots of roses and lots of Mary’s and lots of Maria’s. And that's why we worked hard to pass the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. And then we also found working together with Senator Nancy Kassebaum, our friends over in the house, Olympia Snowe, Connie Morroa, Pat Schroeder, that women were being excluded from the protocols at NIH. The famous study take an aspirin a day, keep a heart attack away was done on 10,000 male medical students—not one woman. So Olympia, Connie, Pat, Barb showed up at NIH, and we pounded the table and said let's start practicing good science instead of bad stereotypes. Make sure we're included where we should in a legitimate scientific way.

Out of that came the appointment of Bernadine Healey, the head of NIH. Out of that came the office of women's health at NIH. And then out of that came the famous hormone replacement study that Dr. Healey championed. And then we were helped to get money in the federal checkbook. One study changed medical practice and lowered breast cancer rates in this country by 15%. Wow. That's what working together does, to try to save lives a million at a time. That was on women's health.

And then as we saw just the growing concerns about the issue of the high cost of college, that the first mortgage many of our kids are facing is their student loans, working together on the other side of the aisle, we created the AmeriCorps, making sure we enable people to be able to be of service to their country and earn a voucher to pay down their student loans.

And then there was a roundtable where I met with parents of special needs children, and a mother asked me to change the law from retardation to intellectual disability because she was being bullied. Well, I came back here and drafted legislation. And again, on the other side of the aisle was Mike Enzi, who worked with me to pass that. Rosa now is a member of the Special Olympics. She wins medals. She was person of the week on TV. That's what Mondays in Maryland mean, Mr. President. It's worth everything to do things like that.

And in Maryland, we work, along with Senator Sarbanes and Cardin, to clean up the bay, to work to make sure our port was viable. Not only our Port of Baltimore for, you know, ships of commerce, but also we worked on the space community at Goddard. I am so proud of the fact that I worked very hard to save the Goddard -- to save the Hubble space telescope. In that Hubble space telescope, it turned out to be the richest contact lens in world history, but again, the astronaut Senators, Jake Garn, John Glenn working together, we did it and it has ensured America’s premier leadership in astronomy and space for years and for several decades.

So over the years, though, I could go through accomplishments after accomplishments, but one of the things that I have learned as my lessons in life is that I learned that the best ship you could sail on in life is something called friend ship. That it is friendship that makes life worth living, enables life -- to have a life of giving. That's what friendship is. And when I think about the friends along the way that I’ve met both in my hometown and my state, there are also those that are here, the people that on both sides of the aisle have been absolutely, absolutely so important to me.

And the fact that we could work on both sides of the aisle. I spoke about Senator Cardin and Senator Sarbanes, but also on the Appropriations Committee, it was Senator Shelby, it was senator kit bond that we could actually work together, put our heads together to try to come up with real solutions for real problems, and we could do that. And the other is not just to judge one another because we have a party label. I'm so darned sick of that. So in the year of the women when so many came like Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray and Dianne Feinstein, also Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison came from Texas.

I got a call from Senator Hutchison one day, and my staff said eww, she wants to work with you on something. Eww, eww, eww. She is a conservative from Texas and she wants to do something for women. I said how about if we listen? Could we start with listening? Could we start with just listening?

Senator Hutchison had a fabulous idea. In the IRA contributions in those days, if you were in the marketplace, you could put in $2,000, but if you were full-time at home, you could only put in $500. What Senator Hutchison wanted to do was to make it have parity. That old word parity. So I said yes. Our staffs told us not to work with each other, but we were going to forge ahead. We went out to dinner to talk over strategy, but we talked about our lives together and how she got her start and obstacles she faced and I did the same. We had such a good time. We said let's invite other women.

Well, that became the famous dinners, the famous dinners that the women of the Senate have. We knew we would never be a caucus because we were not uniform in our views or the way we vote, but what we wanted to be was, number one, a zone of civility where we would treat each other with respect, our debates would be observed with intellectual rigor, and when the day was over, the day would be over. Those dinners have now stood the test of time, and I’m so proud of them, and I have been so proud to work with my colleague from Maine, the Senior Senator from Maine, Senator Collins, who has been such a friend and such an ally because although when you're not a -- although we are not a caucus, we are a force that can come together, and we have made change and we have made a difference. So that doesn't go down in the law books, but it certainly I think should go down in the history books.

So, Mr. President, as I get ready to leave the Senate, what will I miss? Well, I will never have another job as consequential as this. This is pretty consequential. The fate of this country and maybe even the world lies in the hands of congress and the United States Senate. I will also miss the people in the Senate, the wonderful professional staff, but I’m also going to miss the doorkeepers, the elevator operators, the cafeteria workers, all who have -- and our police officers who say in helping the one, we help the many. And we learn so much from them, because I have learned so much from them.

I learned a lot from the elevator operators. One was a lady of very modest means who every day would say to me and to all of us “have a blessed day.” What a great gift she gave us. Have a blessed day. And an elevator operator now who himself has recovered from very challenging health issues, always cheerful, and asks “how is your day?” and the last thing that you could do is not return it with a smile. And those are the kind of people that I will always remember. All those helping hands.

So I say to my colleagues now I will never, ever forget you. Helen Keller, Helen Keller, although she was blind, was a great visionary, and she said, “all that you deeply love, you never lose.” And all that I have ever met have become a part of me. Each and every one of you have become a part of me. Everybody I met along the way, whether it was the roundtables, the elevator operators, have become a part of me. You've shaped me and you have helped me, I think, become a better person.

So when I wrap up, people say well, what do you think you're going to do, Barb? And I’m going to say this -- my plan is not a job description but it's a life description. Every day, I’m going to learn something new. Every day, I want to give something back. Every day, I want to do something where I keep a friend or -- keep an old friend or make a new one. And I want to thank god that I lived in the United States of America that enabled me to do this.

And in conclusion, actually George Bernard Shaw, who I don't know how he would have felt about me, but he wrote this pretty good. He said this – “I am convinced that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can, for the harder I work, the more I live. I will rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It's sort of a splendid torch which I got to hold up for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible as I turn it over to future generations.”

God bless the United States Senate, and God bless the United States of America.

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