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Public Statements

Farewell to the Senate

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FAREWELL TO THE SENATE -- (Senate - November 20, 2008)

Mr. STEVENS. Mr. President, I am grateful to the Senator from Virginia for his comments. I understand that duty calls him to go to his meeting at the CIA. I am grateful for his support.

Mr. President, just before Christmas in 1968, I was appointed to succeed Alaska's first senior Senator, Bob Bartlett. Next month will mark the 40th year I have had the honor and privilege to serve in this great Chamber.

First, and most important, I thank my family. After my wife Ann's tragic death in 1978, I thought the end of my career had come, but my dear wife Catherine entered my life in 1980, and joined by my six children, Susan, Beth, Ted, Walter, Ben, and Lily, and my 11 grandchildren, my family has given me love, support, and sacrifice, which made my continued career in the Senate possible and gave it meaning. I dearly love each member of my family.

Forty years. It is hard to believe that so much time could pass so quickly, but it has. I want everyone listening to know that I treasure every moment I spent here representing Alaska and Alaskans, the land and the people I love.

As a Member of this body, I served as whip from 1976 to 1984, as chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, as chair of the Arms Control Observer Group, as chair of the Ethics Committee, as chair of the Rules Committee, as chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, as chair of the Appropriations Committee, as chair of the Commerce Committee, and also had functions as the ranking member as the political change took place back and forth across this aisle. I also served as President pro tempore and President pro tempore emeritus.

I am having really a difficult time today articulating my feelings, and I hope if I puddle up a little bit, as my old friend used to say, I will be excused.

When I came to the Senate, Alaska had been a State for less than a decade. We were then more of an impoverished territory than a full-fledged State. The commitments made by the Federal Government in our Statehood Act were unfulfilled, and some are still unfulfilled. Alaska had not received the land and resources it had been promised. Poverty and illness reigned supreme in rural regions of our State. I remember so well when Senator Kennedy and I went to the Arctic and examined some of those villages. It was a disaster. Our fisheries were in peril, primarily from the intrusion of foreign vessels that were anchored just a few miles offshore 12 months out of the year.

Many people doubted whether Alaska had what it took to be a successful State, and they asked whether Alaska was still Seward's Folly. We proved those doubters were wrong. Working with one another as Alaskans and with great friends in the Senate, Alaskans took control of our own destiny.

In 1958, as legislative counselor for the Department of Interior, I worked on Alaska's Statehood Act. Section 4 of that act committed Congress to settle the Alaska Native land claims.

In 1971, Congress did enact the Alaska Natives Land Claims Settlement Act, settling aboriginal claims in our State. Native corporations, established at my request to manage $1 billion paid to our State by the Federal Government, and the 44-million acre land settlement are now driving forces in the Alaska economy.

In 1973, after a dramatic tie-breaking vote by the Vice President of this Chamber on an amendment which closed the courts of this country to further delay by extreme environmentalists, the President signed into law the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act. That act dramatically improved America's energy security and secured the economic future of Alaska.

In 1976, Congress passed what became known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act to fight foreign fishing fleets which endangered America's fisheries. Because of that act, America's fisheries today are the most productive and the best managed in the world.

Working within the framework of these basic laws, Alaskans have labored in the appropriations and administrative process to make statehood a reality. Where there was nothing but tundra and forest, today there are now airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs, and much, much more. Alaska was not Seward's folly and is no longer an impoverished territory. Alaska is a great State and an essential contributor to our Nation's energy security and national defense. I am proud to have had a role in this transformation. Working to help Alaska achieve its potential has been and will continue to be my life's work.

My motto has been here ``to hell with politics, just do what's right for Alaska,'' and I have tried every day to live up to those words. I take great pride in the work of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, the leadership of which I have shared for almost three decades with my brother Senator Dan Inouye, and I thank him for being here. He is a great American patriot and a true friend. Together, we have worked to rebuild our Armed Forces to provide the support and training needed by our warfighters to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

I don't have time today to recount the highlights of 40 years of work in this body. That will take a lot of time. I will take time, however, to acknowledge the friendships I have enjoyed with so many of my colleagues and Senate staffers.

I really am grateful to every Member of the Senate for their friendship, and I bear no ill will toward any Member of this body. I am most grateful for the support and counsel of my colleagues in the Alaska congressional delegation, my old friend in the House, Congressman Don Young, who has done so much for our State, and my steadfast partner in the Senate, Senator Lisa Murkowski, to whom I owe so much and admire so much. She has been a true friend and true partner. I wish her well in the future here.

I also want to acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by hundreds of young Alaskans who have come to Washington to serve on my staff. In particular, let me express my gratitude to my current staff, all of whom have worked hard for Alaska during the toughest of times. I know all will go on to do great things for Alaska and our country.

I feel blessed by God to have had the opportunity to serve in this body. I deeply appreciate the trust Alaskans have reposed in me for 40 years. When Alaska needed a strong voice to speak up for its interests, I did my part to the best of my ability. When an administration submitted legislation or a budget that ignored Alaska's legislative concerns, I urged Congress to exercise its constitutional power to redress the balance. When an Alaskan--any Alaskan--or any Alaskan entity needed help, my office was ready and did help to the maximum extent possible.

I feel the same way now that I did in 1968. I really must pinch myself to fully understand that I am privileged to speak on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Coming from the boyhood I had, I could never even have dreamed of being here today. And home is where the heart is, Mr. President. If that is so, I have two homes--one is right here in this Chamber, and the other is my beloved State of Alaska. I must leave one to return to the other.

As I leave the Senate and the work that has given me so much happiness and satisfaction over the years, I know Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young will continue to be strong voices for our 49th State. This is the last frontier. I also pray for my successor's success as he joins in that effort.

My mission in life is not complete. I believe God will give me more opportunities to be of service to Alaska and to our Nation. And I look forward with glad heart and with confidence in its justice and mercy.

I told members of the press yesterday that I don't have any rearview mirror. I look only forward, and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.

That's it, Mr. President, 40 years distilled into a few minutes, I close by saying and asking that God bless Alaska and our Governor, God bless the United States of America and our President, and God bless the Senate and every Member of this body.

I yield the floor for the last time.


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