It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives. As I leave office this week, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support the last 20 years. Below is my final speech I submitted for the record last week and a link to an abridged version of the speech I delivered on the House floor this afternoon.
It’s difficult for me to come to the floor today after 20 years in Congress and say “goodbye” to my constituents and fellow colleagues.
When I was ten years old, I decided I wanted to be a Member of the United States House of Representatives. I want to thank everybody for making possible my boyhood dream. After I graduated from law school, I immediately settled in a town of 3,500 people, Oregon, Illinois, the county seat of Ogle County. I raised beef cattle on a small farm, and at age 38 met Freda, the woman who changed my life dramatically.
In 1990, I ran for Congress and lost in the primary. I decided I would not run again, until Freda encouraged me to fulfill that boyhood dream. In 1992, I won the March primary and the November election against incredible odds. How this unknown country lawyer, with no political experience and who lives outside a town of 42 people, could get elected to Congress is a testament to what we call the “American Dream.”
During the Freshmen retreat in Baltimore, Kay Cole James, who later became President George W. Bush’s Director of the Office of Personnel Management, warned us that if we ever took for granted the magnificence of the great monuments in Washington – the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington monuments – then it was time to leave. Every time I’ve seen those monuments – now thousands of times after 20 years – I’ve thought of Kay’s wise counsel. And I’ve never grown tired of seeing them and what they stand for.
Swearing-in day, the first week of January of 1993, was overwhelming. I saw my name on the voting board and saw Mom and Freda in the gallery. Our three kids were on the floor of the House with me. As the time came for us to raise our right hands to be sworn in, my life paraded in front of me within a few seconds: the little 10-year-old boy dreaming of this very moment, the virtually unbeatable odds to get elected, the unspeakable honor of becoming a Member of the House of Representatives, the lives given on battlefields to preserve this country’s government, the people who had served from the time of the First Congress under the Constitution.
On swearing-in day, our family made a special trip to view the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Archives, where it was on display only for a few days. We had to get permission to get in before regular hours. Just the five of us stood in front of that document, and my heart pounded. I was from his state. He gave his life to protect the God-given freedom of others.
(The newspaper article written about that experience with the Emancipation Proclamation caught the eye of Loretta Carter Haynes, whose family members generations ago were slaves in Washington, D.C. For years she had been trying to get the National Park Service to ring the bells in the Old Post Office in downtown Washington to commemorate the District of Columbia emancipation act of April 16, 1862, which predated the more famous proclamation by Lincoln six months later. Our office intervened, and today those bells ring faithfully every April 16).
As the Speaker started the ceremony and asked us to raise our right hands and repeat the Oath, my eyes were flooded and my voice crackled as I tried to repeat the words of office, but was unable to voice them because of the awesomeness of the occasion. The kids looked at me then and at the next nine swearing-ins, when the same thing happened every time. This, perhaps, was one of those monuments of which Kay Cole James had spoken.
Committee Assignments are very important in Congress, but I chose two committees that many Members shy away from: Small Business, because I had been raised in small business my entire life and could relate to the people running small businesses, and Foreign Affairs, where I had developed an interest in international relations, especially Asia, when I studied at American University in Washington between 1964 and 1967. Four years later, I was also appointed to what is now known as the Financial Services Committee.
It’s hard to imagine the significance of my choosing Small Business and Foreign Affairs committees, especially since few Members ever ask for them as their first choice. I eventually became the Chairman of the Small Business Committee in 2001, where I expanded the services of the Small Business Administration while cutting unneeded personnel by 25 percent and its budget by nearly $300 million dollars over the course of my six-year term. Because of my interest in Asia and service on Foreign Affairs, the Speaker appointed me as the first Chairman of the US-China Inter-parliamentary Exchange.
There was an Exchange meeting in Beijing between me and President Jiang Zemin in 2003. As we were discussing various issues, I asked myself and prayed how I ended up with this great honor of representing the House of Representatives.
People have asked what I consider to be the most memorable events of my career. Was it interacting with presidents? Meeting a certain foreign leader? No: it has been the opportunity to mentor students and many of my young staff.
In November of this year, I received a note from a constituent who also attends the same church as I do in Leaf River. He had helped in our 2012 primary. He wrote to me thanking me for a conversation I had with him in November of 1999 while he attended an annual Youth Conference I hosted. In his letter to me, he stated: “I shared with you some of the struggles I was experiencing as a new Christian in a hostile high school environment. Your words of encouragement touched me deeply, and you wrote me a note in my little book that I have kept for almost 13 years. I scanned this note today and wanted to send it to you as a way of saying thank you for being a mentor to me, both when I was just a kid in high school and now as an adult who is interested in a career in public service. Your model for serving the people of the United States as an extension of your service to God is something worthy of great respect and admiration.” He then attached a copy of the note I had written him: “November 19, 1999. Adam, continue to believe that people who really care need to stay involved, even when circumstances dictate the opposite. Be of good cheer. God Bless. Donald Manzullo, United States Congress.”
I’ve always believed that God has a purpose and a plan for every life. After the 2012 primary, Freda and I received a letter from a lady who attends our church in Leaf River: “I know God has a plan for your lives so I’m not going to say I’m sorry about the outcome of the election—‘cause I’m not. It’s just time to put your fishing boat and nets away, and ‘Follow him.’” Where He leads, I don’t know.
In closing, my mind goes back to my dear, fellow Illinois congressman, Abraham Lincoln, who, in his Gettysburg address, stated: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but we can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Years from now no one may remember the many times I spoke on this House floor or the causes I championed. People might look at my portrait hanging in the Small Business Committee hearing room and wonder, “Who is he?” But the answer is simple. We all have a part in Lincoln’s unfinished work. I am just one man, whose deep love for this country caused him to leave his private sector job and enter into a life of public service. For that great honor, I will always be grateful to the citizens of the 16th Congressional District of Illinois who allowed me to serve on their behalf. I encourage all Members to truly remember who they represent: not a political party; not organizations but people.