About half way through his farewell speech on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Senator John Ensign’s words turned personal. Though it likely made his colleagues wince, the Nevada Republican’s address was a rare moment of raw honesty on the Hill. Ensign, once a rumored candidate for President, will leave the Senate on Tuesday shamed by an affair with a staffer, his political career in shreds. Here is the last half of his speech (emphasis mine):
I hope that my voting record and legislative record here in the United States Senate will continue to speak for me longer — long after I have left this chamber. I would like to speak, though, about a few observations that I have made through the course of my time here.
When I first ran for office back in 1994, I was rather naive. I was also very idealistic. I simply wanted to make a difference in this great country. Throughout the years, I may have lost my naïveté, but I never lost my idealism. I still strongly believe that the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world, and it is worth fighting for and worth protecting. I will leave this place knowing that there are some really outstanding people here who are just as idealistic or maybe more so than I ever was, and they’re willing to take the tough political votes that are necessary to save this country from total bankruptcy. My prayer is that more people will join them in that courage. Our children and our grandchildren deserve to have the same country that we enjoy, and it is up to the House, the Senate and the White House to stand together with the American people to save the future of the United States from self-destruction.
When I first arrived in the Senate, I observed several people who were so caught up in their own self-importance and business that arrogance literally dripped from them. Unfortunately, they were blind to it, and everyone could see it but them. When one takes a position of leadership, this is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status. Oftentimes, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become. As easy as it was for me to view this in other people, unfortunately, I was blind to how arrogant and self-centered that I had become. I did not recognize that — that I thought mostly of myself. The worst part about this is I even tried not to become caught up in my own self-importance. Unfortunately, the urge to believe in it was stronger than the power to fight it. This is how dangerous the feeling of power and adulation can be.
My caution to all of my colleagues is to surround yourself with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming, and then make them promise to not hold back, no matter how much you may try to prevent them, from telling you the truth. I wish that I had done this sooner, but this is one of the hardest lessons that I’ve had to learn.
I believe that if I had learned this lesson earlier, I would have prevented myself from judging two of my colleagues when I had no place to do so. When I was chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, I was confronted with the personal issues facing Senator Larry Craig and Senator Ted Stevens. Following Larry’s admission and Ted’s guilty verdict, I, too, believed in the power of my leadership position and I called on both of them to resign. I sincerely struggled with these decisions afterward, so much so that I went to each of them a few weeks afterward and admitted what I did was wrong and I asked both of them for forgiveness. Each of these men were gracious enough to forgive me, even though publicly I did not show them the same grace. I’m very grateful to both of these men.
When I announced my personal failure two years ago, Larry Craig was one of the first to call and to express his support. I truly cannot tell you what that meant then and what it means to me today. The purpose of me speaking about this is to humbly show that in life, a person understands mercy a lot more when they need it and when it is shown to them. Again, this is a hard lesson that I have had to learn, but I hope that I can now show mercy to people who come into my life who truly need it.
As I conclude, I have a few others that I want to thank. My colleague from the State of Nevada, Senator Reid. I ran against Senator Reid in 1998. He beat me by just a little over 400 votes. Afterward, when I — two years later, when I was fortunate enough to win the election, Senator Reid and I sat down and we kind of made a pact between us that we were going to get along even though we are of different parties, we were going to put the past behind us and we were going to work together for the people of the State of Nevada. A funny thing happened along the way over these last 10-plus years. Senator Reid and I developed a friendship. Two people with opposite voting records, opposite views on major national issues, but we work together on a lot of issues that affected our states. Friendships formed between our staffs and a true friendship formed between Senator Reid and myself, and for that, I want to thank him.
To my Senate colleagues, I would like to take a moment to apologize for what you have had to go through as a result of my actions. I know that many of you were put in difficult situations because of me, and for that I sincerely apologize.
To my wife Darlene who has been through so much with me and who has fought through so many struggles, is owed more than I could ever repay. I do not deserve a woman like her, but I love her and I’m so grateful that the lord has put her in my life. Our children Trevor, Siena, Michael, have never known anything other than their dad leaving each week to come back to Washington, D.C., for my work. All three of them an incredible, and it’s been a blessing and a privilege just to be their dad. I have also been very blessed with a great set of parents who have stood by me through thick and thin, and also the rest of my extended family. I also have wonderful friends who have been there with me and my family through the highs and the lows.
And lastly, most importantly, I want to thank God for allowing me to be here. I have been encouraged by some not to mention God because it looks hypocritical because of my own personal failings, but I would argue that I have not mentioned him enough. I’m glad that the Lord not only forgives, but he actually likes it when we give him thanks. So, Lord, thank you for all that you’ve done in my life. I hope that I can do better in the future. I hope that I can learn to love you with all of my heart, soul and strength and to love others as myself. My colleagues, I bid you farewell. Know that you will all be in my prayers. I yield the floor.