SENATOR FUMO COMMENTS ON HIS OWN 30TH ANNIVERSARY AS A STATE SENATOR, AS WELL AS THE GRIM MILESTONE OF 4,000 AMERICAN MILITARY DEATHS IN IRAQ, Speech on the Floor of the Senate, April 8, 2008
A major anniversary occurred in my career as a Senator last week. Thursday, April 3, marked 30 years since I took office after winning a special election. I came amid controversy, and I will retire having gone through much adversity, some of which lingers as I complete my final months as a state Senator.
When I took office in 1978, Pennsylvania was on the brink of upheaval. Inflation was wracking the national economy, and our state would be hit especially hard. The domestic steel industry was about to collapse, and much of our manufacturing base was about to disappear. The energy crunch was on the horizon. The affordability of health care was just beginning to surface as a widespread problem. Our public infrastructure was beginning to show signs of decay.
Although I would help deal with all of those problems and more during my career -- and we still contend with some of them today -- I had more immediate concerns when I first came to Harrisburg to take office. I arrived for my swearing in on April 3, 1978 with scores of supporters. They proceeded to witness a delay of several hours while one of my fellow Democrats railed against seating me because of an Inquirer story saying there was an ongoing investigation of the Department of State, where I had previously worked during the Shapp Administration. Finally, this chamber voted to seat me, 48-1, and my swearing in went forward. That investigation never resulted in any charges, but it certainly made my first day in office an interesting one, and began my controversial career as a state Senator.
Just eight months later, I was elected to leadership – simply because no one else wanted the job of caucus secretary.
And here I am 30 years later, at the opposite end of my career, but still involved in controversy. I am retiring from the Senate as I face an indictment from federal prosecutors who work for a Justice Department that has itself been the subject of investigation.
I have seen this state make great progress since 1978, and I am proud to have personally played a role in many of those achievements. Despite the sometimes bitter partisan disputes that go on in this building and in this chamber, I can look out across this room and fondly remember that I have worked in cooperation with almost every one of you sitting here today, regardless of political party, as we tried to make life better for the people of Pennsylvania. We often argue over methods and tactics, but I believe that in our hearts, we do not disagree about that solemn, common goal.
Some of you were still in grade school when I first arrived in the Senate – I won’t name names here, but I did go through the Pennsylvania Manual and count – and there are four of you.
And I can recall the many Senators with whom I served and whose relationships I cherished. Many have preceded me in retirement, and twenty seven of my former colleagues since 1978 have passed away. Please bear with me while I take a moment to read their names. If you also served with them, perhaps you will take a moment to enjoy a fond memory of your times together.
R. Budd Dwyer
A chill runs up my spine as I read their names. May God rest their souls.
Throughout my career, while there have policy defeats as well as victories, and legislative compromises that I would rather not have had to make – quite a few compromises, as someone who spent 27 of his 30 years in the minority -- I have remained generally optimistic about Pennsylvania and about America. I have seen people working hard – both those with whom I have served in the Capitol, and the good citizens of our state and nation. All the while, I had faith that our system of government would protect the ideals of liberty and equal rights for all, that it would create opportunities for every man woman and child to pursue the American dream, and thus would make those labors worthwhile.
I pray that is still the case. Sadly and alarmingly, however, I have recently witnessed the erosion of American rights and freedom that we have taken for granted since we were taught about them as children.
Many people already regard this presidential race as an historic election, given the two remaining Democratic candidates. We hear many people say this is the most important election of their lifetimes. I think that is true, no matter who wins. It is important simply because it will result in a change of administrations. Whoever enters the White House come January 2009, I just want them to lead us out of the black hole of unconstitutional government into which the likes of Bush, Cheyney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Gonzales have plunged America.
What I want most out from this election, more than the victory of any particular candidate or even political party, is an administration that will restore executive branch adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights -- for me, my children, and the people of America. I want a president who will give us our moral compass back, and restore our greatness in the eyes of the world, not just because of the strength of our military, but also the strength of our principles.
As I stand here today, even that military strength is in question. As I achieved a personal milestone last week, our nation had just reached a much more tragic plateau. In the five years since the invasion of Iraq, we have lost more than 4,000 soldiers killed – now 4,021 as of today – and another 29,314 wounded as of the end of February.
None of this is making our country stronger or safer. Just the opposite. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in February during an appearance before Congress:
"The pace of ongoing operations has prevented our forces from fully training
for the full spectrum of operations, and impacts our ability to be ready to
counter future threats...I am extremely concerned about the toll the current
pace of operations is taking on them and on their families, on our equipment
and on our ability to respond to crises and contingencies beyond ongoing
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Mullen also told reporters in January that the Army could cross the "invisible red
line" -- the Army's breaking point -- in as little as six to nine months.
The Commission on National Guard and Reserves released a report in January
concluding the Pentagon is not prepared to protect our country from a nuclear,
chemical or biological attack inside the U.S. in large part because of the
repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Retired Major
General Arnold Punaro, the commission chairman: "We looked at the Pentagon's
plans. They're totally unacceptable...You couldn't move a Girl Scout unit with the
kind of planning they're doing."
I do not know which of the three remaining candidates will be our next president, but I do take heart, and I am regaining some of my former optimism about America, because I know that regardless of who wins, it must inevitably be an improvement over what we have suffered under the worst president in American history. But there is a lot of hard work ahead for the new leadership of America, and for the next generation of leaders in Pennsylvania, as we strive to recover from the disaster of these eight dark years.
I would also ask for a moment of silence in remembrance of the 27 Senators whom I mentioned earlier.
Thank You, Madam President
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo