In his farewell speech to the U.S. Senate Tuesday, Cory Gardner called on his colleagues to work together to find solutions to shared challenges.
The Republican from Yuma, who lost a bid for a second term to Democrat John Hickenlooper, recounted bipartisan legislative successes during the 15-minute address but also lamented that lawmakers too often confuse tactics with principles, making it difficult to compromise or find common ground.
Invoking an analogy he said he often articulates to his staff, Gardner said it was important to understand the distinction between a building's pillars and the paint that adorns the walls.
"The pillars in the building are more than ornamental," he said. "They are structurally necessary to the building itself. The pillars are principles, they make us who we are. But the paint color, the details, we can figure that out together. We can respect the pillar and find agreement on the paint."
Gardner illustrated his point with an adage from Sen. Bill Armstrong, who held the same Senate seat three decades earlier and would say that "while he was firm in his principle, he was flexible on the detail."
"Today," Gardner said, "it seems as though we live in a world where tactics are elevated to the same status and importance as principles and that staying true to principles means that the tactics used are elevated to the same status as the principle itself. It’s always my way or the highway. Senator Armstrong’s flexible details would now be derided as violations of principle. We cannot govern when every tactic and detail is elevated to the level of principle. There is no compromise with this approach."
In order to meet the demands of what he called "this moment of great challenge," Gardner said it was crucial for lawmakers to "recognize the difference between the paint and pillar, to know the difference between a principle and a tactic, where to take a stand and where to stand together."
Gardner told the story of Donald Stratton, the World War II veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and died in Colorado Springs earlier this year.
Stratton, whose life was saved during the attack on the USS Arizona by a sailor who threw a rope from a nearby ship, suffered burns over most of his body but "got back into the fight in the Pacific for our nation" as soon as he was able, Gardner said, adding he once asked Stratton how he did it.
"He chuckled and he laughed and he gave me an answer I truly didn't see coming at all: 'Well, Cory, everybody has to be somewhere,'" Gardner said. "Everybody has to be somewhere. And he is right."
Democrat Michael Bennet, Colorado's senior senator, was one of several lawmakers who delivered tributes to Gardner Tuesday.
“Even though Cory and I have had plenty of differences over the years, there’s a real record of bipartisan accomplishment for our state,” Bennet said. “And one of the reasons for that is because, whatever our differences on policy, I have never for a moment doubted Cory’s commitment to serving the interests of Colorado and his genuine appreciation for what makes us the best state in America.”
Below is a transcript of Gardner's remarks, as delivered:
"Thank you, Madam President.
"Thank you to the people of Colorado for this incredible honor you've lent to me these last six years to serve you in the United States Senate.
"Thank you to my family, Jamie, Allison, Thatcher, mom and dad and Lisa, who supported me this last decade of service with your love and sacrifice through missed ball games and lost teeth, school concerts and junior high dances, sore throats and first moments.
"Thank you to my incredible staff, many in the chamber today, who are in Colorado and Washington, who made so many great things happen and whose difference will be felt for generations to come. You leave a mark on the country far beyond the etching of a signature on a desk, on the floor.
"Thank you to my colleagues and Senator Bennet. Thank you for the honor of serving along your side and commitment to our nation, the Capitol police, the staff, support staff in the Senate who make it all possible.
"Above all, most importantly, thank you to this great and extraordinary nation for all that it means and represents. The hope and optimism that for over two centuries has led people around the globe to give up everything they had just to be here, to be a part of this nation, to then turn around and fight for it through political strife and pandemics, to go to war to save the Union, to know how lucky and blessed that we are, that out of all the billions of people through the thousands of years of human history, we have had the privilege of being here in this place at this point to be a part of it.
"There's been a lot of coverage in the news lately about how the pollsters got it wrong. But one thing they got right, and it won’t come as a shock to my colleagues on the floor — Congress is about as popular as a Rocky Mountain oyster in a bullpen. We've been, together, able to do many good things, and I hope we can use those successes to drive even more successes and show the American people that faith in this institution is actually well-deserved.
"Over the last six years I’ve worked hard to pass the first-ever mandatory sanctions on Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, to denuclearize that regime. It was an honor to work with Senator Menendez throughout this process. Senator Markey and I passed the comprehensive strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Asia Reassurance Initiative. Gary Peters along with Lamar Alexander led the effort in the America Competes legislation to get more women and minorities into the STEM fields and to advance our scientific research and discoveries. The 988 suicide prevention bill that Tammy Baldwin and I were able to pass into law represents the first bill in American history that passed the House and Senate unanimously with LGBTQ-specific language. This bill will save lives. I was honored to help move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado and to finally get funding for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. I helped lead the passage of legislation to complete our VA hospital in Colorado, to advance our cybersecurity and to foster our relations with Taiwan, South Korea and beyond. And it was an honor of my time in the Senate to work with Lamar and Senators Manchin, Cantwell, Heinrich, Warner, King, Portman, Daines and Burr on the Great American Outdoors Act, the holy grail of conservation legislation.
"In my first remarks on the Senate floor I spoke about no matter where across Colorado’s four corners that you live or across this great nation, we all hope for the same thing for our children -- to live in a loving home that values every citizen, that they learn the value of hard work and perseverance, where hard work is met with merited reward, that they find a nation of liberty and freedom that they helped make a little bit more free and a little bit more perfect. All of us in the Senate, the American people, all of us, are responsible for the starting point that we hand off to the next generation, and we have a moral obligation to make it the best starting point possible. The accomplishments that we have had together truly have helped create more opportunity for the next generation. And the work that we continue to do, to get through this pandemic together, will ensure that the next generation can indeed take advantage of those accomplishments and that the starting point for them is better than the generation past, despite the struggles of today.
"You know, at Sunday school we learned an important lesson about this -- that struggles and tribulation produce perseverance — perseverance, character — and character, hope. And since that very first speech I gave, I come to recognize something that all of us, that everyone here has undoubtedly experienced, that our service to country is filled with moment after moment that gives us that lump in the throat that brings a tear to our eyes, that fills our heart with wonder for this nation. Perhaps it happened you to when seeing the majesty of the United States Capitol brightly shining in all its glory on a crisp State of the Union address night or when we hear the passion in the voices is of our colleagues as they tell the story of hope for the future. For me, these moments happen every day, and I’m sure it does to you as well. Just part of the wonder of this nation and its Capitol.
"It was late at night for me, nearly 10 years ago when I was leaving the Capitol building, I had walked through the hall of columns and heard some voices ahead near the door I was heading toward. When I turned into the corridor, I saw a Capitol tour guide pointing at a phrase that was painted on the wall. I looked at it and read it was William Jennings Bryan and painted on the wall were these words – “Our government, conceived in freedom and purchased with blood, can be preserved only by constant vigilance.” I looked at the group reading it and there in the center of them all was a young veteran in a wheelchair with bandages around his knees where his legs used to be. The gravity of this place, that moment, and the duty that we owe to this nation, struck hard. As I walked home, I kept thinking about it, about those words, about that moment, about that veteran, about this nation and our responsibility. I thought about how that wall was painted with that phrase, but there are others that are blank and empty, spaces that have been left empty so that future generations can fill them in with their history, with new portraits and new phrases and new moments.
"But no matter the moment in time for -- or the points in time in history, it's the same patriotic responsibility that we owe to this chamber, to defend and serve our nation, her constitution, and the American people. George Washington in his farewell address said that the name “American” must always exalt the just pride of patriotism. He spoke of our constitution and how it must be sacredly maintained and that virtue and wisdom must stamp every act, and despite the differences over policy and politics, it is our union that ought to be considered as a main prop of our liberty, and that love of the one ought to endear us to the preservation of the other. I believe that's what Lamar Alexander very eloquently spoke about on this very floor in his farewell just days ago. It is our country and the unity of nation that despite our differences will help preserve and will preserve our liberty.
"Washington offered his advice in his farewell as an old and affectionate friend, a friend who recognized our obligation to create a better starting point for every new generation. But how do we heed this advice in a world of viral social media , click bait and sound bites? Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong once said that while he was firm in his principle, he was flexible on the detail. We all come to this place because of our values and beliefs about this nation. Those principles make us who we are. They drive our actions, they drive our debates. But today it seems as though we live in a world where tactics are elevated to the same status and importance as principles and that staying true to principles means that the tactics used are elevated to the same status as the principle itself. It’s always my way or the highway. Senator Armstrong’s flexible details would now be derided as violations of principle. We cannot govern when every tactic and detail is elevated to the level of principle. There is no compromise with this approach. We cannot find ways to bring people together for that unity of nation which Washington spoke when the test for principles becomes so impossible to pass that the only — that only the very factions that he warned against can prevail.
"To my staff, I often talk about this challenge as being one of the pillar and the paint. The pillars in the building are more than ornamental. They are structurally necessary to the building itself. The pillars are principles, they make us who we are. But the paint color, the details, we can figure that out together. We can respect the pillar and find agreement on the paint. We can hold people's principles in place, respecting those core beliefs that make you who you are while finding ways to work together to find solutions to common challenges. That's how we pass the test of unity that bring people together, respecting principles while achieving solutions because not every detail is a principle, and not every principle is a detail, and we need a legislative body that can recognize this. And by doing so we'll follow through on the advice of Washington and preserve our liberty with unity of nation.
"Too many people have given up on the institutions of their government, and it's my hope that the American people will find this pillar and paint approach to be one that can make a difference. Because if they believe it, if they believe that it will, then the American people will make sure their values are reflected in the representatives they elect.
"Several years ago, I had the honor of meeting a man named Donald Stratton. He came to my office accompanied by his family and a family of another sailor and another sailor named Joe George. They were looking forward to yet another commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 — now 79 years ago, yesterday. Both were on the USS Arizona when it was attacked. Donald Stratton was on one of the ship's towers. He was surround by flame and surely believed that he would perish. When out of the chaos of that morning came a rope thrown by a yet unknown to him sailor by the name of George, who was on the USS Vestal, which was moored next to the USS Arizona. This rope saved Donald Stratton’s life and several other shipmates. No one knew their lifeline was thrown to them by Joe George until years later. Once they learned who it was, they spent the rest of their life fighting to get Joe George honored and recognized by the Navy. I was honored to be a part of that effort. Finally, on Dec. 7 in 2017 led by Donald Stratton and Arizona’s remaining few, Joe George received the Bronze Star with V device for valor, with Donald Stratton attending one last time. He was fighting for this country and his countrymen to the very end. When I asked him how he did it, how he survived the attack and those flames and got back into the fight in the Pacific for this nation, he chuckled and he laughed and he gave me an answer I truly didn't see coming at all: “Well, Cory, everybody has to be somewhere.” Everybody has to be somewhere. And he is right.
"We're here in the United States Senate. Most of you will still be here next Congress. Don't waste this opportunity to be who this nation needs you to be as this moment of great challenge. To recognize the difference between the paint and pillar, to know the difference between a principle and a tactic, where to take a stand and where to stand together. To bring a nation together in unity for the preservation of liberty. To recognize that to be American carries with it the greatness of a nation forged by fight and fire, tempered by wisdom and made great by men like Donald Stratton, who recognized that their duty and their time didn't just end with the last calling of the roll. Everybody has to be somewhere. Make it count for this nation, that you were here.
"If you go into any of my offices you'll see my mission statement. We represent a state where the words to “America the Beautiful” were written. We will always look up to the Rocky Mountain horizon and the work that we do and remind ourselves that only through our actions will god continue to shed his grace on our great nation. Ours is a nation founded on the optimism that no generation waits for the next to be told where to go. It's the great American horizon that compels us. To continue to reach ahead, to rise, to achieve, and to believe in America.
"Ten years ago, I sat on the floor of the United States House of Representatives as we prepared -- some of my colleagues here with me -- to be sworn into the 112th Congress. I watched with our daughter Allison patiently sitting by my side as the peaceful transition of power took place. The hallmark our republic. As the most powerful constitutionally proscribed member of Congress, the speaker of the House, gave the gavel to a newly elected speaker, without gunshot or war, peacefully transitioning to a new majority.
"Today I speak on the Senate floor with a heart of gratitude that as I leave with a new Congress set to begin, I go home not because of or due to the threat of violence or revolution, but because of that same constitutional governance that has given this country over two centuries of strength and certainty, a jewel among nations, exceptionally blessed by God.
"It's been a privilege to serve with you and this country. We owe every man, woman and child in this country, our commitment to them, to not pass on to that next generation a nation in decline or retreat, but a nation that rises, a nation that reminds itself that ours is a country worth fighting for. A nation that believes in itself, because when you believe in America, when you believe in this country, the world has not seen anything yet.
"Thank you to my colleagues, thank you for the honor of serving with you. And, madam president, this kid from Yuma yields the floor."