Guest opinion: Senator Johnson says farewell
February 3, 2015
Below is Johnson's statement as prepared for delivery Dec. 11.
"In 1986 the people of South Dakota elected me to serve them in the 100th Session of the United States Congress, in the House of Representatives, and in 1996 they gave me the honor and privilege of being their junior Senator.
"When I ran for the House in 1986, I told the people of South Dakota that neither party has all the answers, and that both parties have good ideas, as well as men and women of good will. My job, as I understood it, would be to work in a bipartisan manner listening to all parties and reaching a good fit, also known as a compromise. That is what I still believe.
"However, in each year of my 28 years of service, this has become more difficult to achieve. Each party, rather than working cooperatively for the American people, is more and more focused on winning the next election. Today, days after the 2014 election, you can walk into the call center for either party and find members dialing for dollars for 2016.
"Tonight there will be fundraisers across DC where members will discuss policy, not with their constituents, but with organizations that contribute to their campaigns.
"Mr. President, we have lost our way.
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"My thoughts are not original. My colleague and dear friend from South Dakota, Senator Tom Daschle, in his farewell called for finding common ground that "will not be found on the far right or on the far left. That is not where most Americans live. We will only find it in the firm middle ground based on common sense and shared values."
"Ohio's Senator Voinovich in his 2010 farewell speech said that his greatest frustration was the difficulty in finding common ground on significant issues, saying that it doesn't happen often enough.
"In fact, the need for bipartisanship and the lack of it in the Senate is a hallmark of Senate farewell speeches. Rather than expounding on this topic, I would like to share the rare instances where I have experienced it.
"I found it working with my colleague Senator John Thune as we put aside our political differences and worked as our constituents expected two Norwegians to work. We worked side-by-side as we pushed for farm bills, highway funding, emergency relief from draughts and from floods, we successfully fought the proposed BRAC closing of Ellsworth Air Base. However, honoring our Norwegian heritage, we never hugged.
"I was grateful and humbled by your support on September 9, 2007 – the day that I returned to the Senate when almost every chair in this chamber was filled. Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, I thank you for your welcome back to the Senate family.
"In the years ahead, I will miss this family, not the bickering that I mentioned earlier, but the blessing that you have all been to Barbara and me.
"Mr. President, I would also like to thank another family that has been critical to my work for South Dakota, a family that goes by the name Team Johnson. This team is composed of highly talented and caring individuals that have worked tirelessly in the halls of Congress, in South Dakota, and on campaigns to make our state and our country a better place to live.
"Finally, to the people of South Dakota, thank you for the honor and privilege of serving you in our state legislature, the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Thank you for working side-by-side with me to improve the lives of South Dakotans and our nation.
–edited for length