WASHINGTON — The longest serving woman in the history of Congress bid goodbye to her colleagues in the Senate but not to her community in Maryland, suggesting that she would continue to work for her beloved state even upon her retirement.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski recounted her decades of public service in a floor speech on Wednesday morning from her underdog bid for Baltimore City Council to her efforts to elect other women to the Senate.
“Everyday I’m going to learn something new. Everyday I’m going to give something back. Every day I want to do something where I keep an old friend or make a new one,” she said of her plans come January.
She rattled off her accomplishments.
Saving the Hubble telescope. Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Ensuring the viability of the Port of Baltimore. Changing federal law to replace the outdated term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability.” Protecting the homes and farms of the aged and sick. Creating AmeriCorps. Changing how the National Institutes of Health conducted studies to include women. And the now-famous dinners that the women of the Senate routinely share, what Mikulski described as a “zone of civility” where the women could exchange ideas and treat each other with respect.
“We are a force when we come together. And we have made change and we have made a difference,” she said of the Senate’s women.
After serving 10 years in the House, she was elected to the Senate, where she joined one other woman. Now there are 20.
Several of those women who followed Mikulski’s footsteps spoke about their mentor, calling her the dean of the women in the Senate. They recalled lessons on Senate procedure and appropriations held in Mikulski’s office when they first arrived in the Senate and recounted some of their favorite Mikulski-isms.
“It’s not about gender. It’s about the agenda.”
“Go for it.”
“Go earring to earring … put on our lipstick, square our shoulders, suit up and fight.”
Susan Collins, R-Maine, described Mikulkski as an extraordinary leader. “Fair, open-minded, and yet with firm expectations and a clear sense of direction.”
Retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said Mikulski led by example by setting up coalitions, bridging the partisan divide and inspiring other women.
“Sen. Mikulski is the whole package: a skilled, intelligent negotiator. A senator who fights for the people. And a woman who helps other women,” Boxer said. “She never set out to make a name for herself, she wanted to blaze a trail that was wide enough for all of us to follow.”
Ben Cardin, Maryland’s junior senator, thanked Mikulski for her service to the state.
“We are losing one of the great giants and advocates for our state,” he said.
Mikulski said she focused her service on ensuring that people could have better lives, better livelihoods and better neighborhoods. “I had to show up, stand up and speak up for my constituents, staying close enough to my people so they wouldn’t fall between the cracks,” she said.
In a typically passionate speech, Mikulski noted multiple times the importance of listening to her constituents, referencing her Mondays in Maryland where she would pop up, unannounced in diners across the state to meet with ordinary Marylanders, or round tables that offered her another chance to hear their ideas and concerns.
She also admonished her colleagues not to “judge because of party labels. I’m so darn sick of that.” And she urged senators to work together to come up with real solutions to the nation’s pressing problems.
She concluded by quoting the playwright George Bernard Shaw.
“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.”
Watch her speech plus tributes to Mikulski:
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