In a sad farewell speech bookended by an uncharacteristically shaky voice, Heidi Heitkamp on Tuesday, Dec. 11, concluded her term in the U.S. Senate. Before she yielded the floor, the longtime public servant gave some sound advice to other members of Congress.
For a moment, forget Heitkamp's political affiliation, for it means nothing in a farewell speech. Today's environment, for some reason, calls for hyper-sensitivity to all things political, and it's likely that while many people wiped a tear during Heitkamp's speech, an equal number rolled their eyes and scoffed.
Yet we saw a woman who we believe cares deeply for North Dakota and, as she has said many times - including Tuesday - one who wakes up every morning and wonders "what am I going to do about rural America today?" She served in other public offices before reaching the Senate.
In her six-year term, Heitkamp had distinct accomplishments. Among them, she led the way on legislation that lifted a ban on oil exports. She notably toiled against human trafficking. Heitkamp's work helped lead to a crackdown on nefarious websites such as Backpage.com, which openly advertised for human sexual services. We believe this to be one of the senator's crowning achievements.
Heitkamp lost last month to Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in a contentious campaign. She has not yet called Cramer since the election and we wish she would, since she spent much time Tuesday talking about civility and bipartisanship.
Meanwhile, we appreciate her words to other senators during her farewell speech, including:
On becoming a senator: "This process we go through is brutal and quite honestly obscene."
On helping people: "You can make a difference. You can help put food on their table. You can help them remain to be a family. You can help them get health care."
On rural America: "As we see the retreat of rural America, we become less in this country. As we see more and more wealth moving to urban areas, we have to address this issue. There are big clouds on the horizon facing the country in rural America."
On the country's debt: "Shame on us."
On creating a better future: "Do you want to solve problems or not?"
On bipartisanship: "We should do an experiment. Have the Democratic Caucus make a list of the 10 problems that ... they want to solve and have the Republican Caucus do the same thing. ... They probably are identical. So when the American public sees that you know the problem but can't find the will to solve the problem, they become understandably discouraged."
On congressional power: "You as senators need to take power back from leadership. Too often, leadership determines the agenda. We should determine the agenda. ... No one is tying you. No one is limiting you. You are a United States senator."
At the end, Heitkamp thanked her family and her late parents. She ended her time at the podium tearfully, saying, "I hope I have made them proud."
It was a fine farewell speech by a woman who lost her seat in the Senate but still deserves credit for years of work on behalf of North Dakota.