Every two years in Lansing, shortly after the end of the general election, the staffers, the lawmakers, and the lobbying corps enjoy a biennial celebration called “the catharsis party.”
It’s a chance to come together as tired warriors who just finished a battle to sit back for a moment, enjoy a beer or two, and trade stories about what we experienced during campaign. Inevitably, discussions start revolving around another biennial party, the “lame duck” session of the Michigan Legislature.
I told my friends that we could expect something on transportation funding, something on expanding the Certificate of Need, and probably some decent farewell speeches. Despite what remaining policy issues fall on my plate, it’s these speeches that I look forward to the most. Not because it’s the last time I’ll hear from certain legislators, and not because we wait with bated breath to see if our names will be included in one. I look for the speeches because, quite often, they’ll have a good piece of wisdom we should follow or at least a really good joke to tell.
There is a standard formula for the farewell speech. Thanks to the people of your respective district who elected you. Thanks to the staff who kept you out of trouble while you were in Lansing. Thanks to the sergeants at arms, the House clerks and Senate secretaries who help keep order in the Capitol. Thanks to your family for putting up with your late nights and long drives. Tell a couple funnies about your friends across the aisle and even better ones about your seatmates on your side. Wrap up with a poem or wise saying.
In my thirteen years that I’ve worked around the Capitol, there are a number of speeches that stand out in my mind.
December 9, 2004: “I do have a confession to make. I just returned from the doctor and he found that I have a severely impaired hearing problem in my right ear. He also found that I have extremely poor vision in my right eye. This would explain to me and should to my democratic colleagues my rulings and why I made them like I did. I guess now that the trouble has been corrected, I would probably have ruled differently. Well, probably not.” – Speaker Pro Tem Larry Julian
December 7, 2006: Rep. Richard Brown asked the Speaker to suspend the rules so that his guests would be admitted to the House floor. It turned out that his guests were the Marty’s Goldenaires, a senior drum and bugle corps from Bessemer. They surprised Rep. Brown, who was at one time drum major for the group. And he conducted the band.
December 3, 2008: “I would also like to thank my son Kevin, who also showed some basic knowledge that has proved very helpful. His comment to me when I would head off to Lansing was, ‘Remember Dad, don’t embarrass the family.” – Rep. Bruce Caswell
December 10, 2008: “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” – Rep. Glenn Steil, Jr.
December 1, 2010: “(to his wife) Chele, thank you most of all for the precious children you have given me during my time in office, our handsome little man, Elliot, and our precious little princess, Meadow, and for working so hard to honor the birth and passing of our little girl Skyler Anne.” – Rep. Kevin Green
December 1, 2010: “…the number one thing to remember is you will get to the right place on all the complex issues if you keep constantly expanding in your definition of who is us and shrinking the definition of who is them.” – Rep. Lee Gonzales
December 1, 2010: “…inclusion creates relationships, relationships breeds trust, trust allows for honesty … and honesty opens the door to solutions and is at the heart of leadership. Party means little between friends.” – Rep. Jeff Mayes
December 2, 2010: “I was born an identical twin in Columbia, South Carolina in the years of Jim Crow. When we were two, my sister Lucille played with some matches she found in the barn and caught her dress on fire. The ambulance that came to take Lucille to the hospital turned around and left her to die in our mother’s arms because the family was black. From that moment my parents instilled a family value in my sisters and me: The color of your skin, the depth of your wallet and the place where you live must never limit your opportunity for a great quality of life.” – Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith
The best comes from the person who could be called the poet laureate of both the House and Senate, former Sen. Mickey Switalski, who left us by saying,
Terms are over
No one wants us
So go back to your district
So long absent from home
All you meet now are strangers
Least you got this cool poem!
So to the members of the 97th Michigan Legislature who are leaving us due to term limits or election results, please don’t feel any pressure to give us the best speech we’ve ever heard. Share us your honest thoughts and your favorite memories, and know that despite what politics tries to do, you will leave with my appreciation for your courage and willingness to serve the people of Michigan.