U.S. Rep. John Tanner has given a farewell address of sorts from the House floor and in the Congressional Record.
Tanner leaves at the end of this month after more than two decades in Congress. Representing a conservative mostly rural district that includes Frayser, Millington and parts of northern Shelby County, Tanner came to Washington from service in the Tennessee legislature at the start of the first Bush presidency.
He leaves with concerns about the strength of the political center and the coming reapportionment of Congress.
Here are his remarks from the floor on Dec. 17 in their entirety.
Madam Speaker, it has been a true privilege for Betty Ann and me to represent Tennessee’s 8th district in this chamber for the past 22 years, and we will always be grateful to the people of west and middle Tennessee who have given us the chance to do so. We now look forward to the transition from our role in Congress to that of private citizens, often said to be the highest office in our country.
Following the Constitutional Convention, Madam Speaker, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin what that important body had created, and he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” At the heart of this governmental model, public officials represent first and foremost the people who elect them.
I worry that our government is in danger of becoming more of a parliamentary system, where elected officials represent first and foremost their political parties. That is not what our founding fathers intended when they established this great nation, and it is not the right approach for our nation going forward.
The American people, by and large, do not reside in the extreme left wing or in the extreme right wing. They are solution-minded citizens who want their elected representatives to work together to address the problems that face us as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans.
Unfortunately, the current political system, especially following decades of partisan gerrymandering with more to come in the year ahead, does little to incentivize such cooperation. Consequently, the political center in our representative government has been decimated, resulting in a great disservice to the American people.
Many of us certainly understand and share the angst the American people feel in a time of economic uncertainty, two wars, a seemingly insurmountable federal debt and ongoing concerns over homeland security.
These are complex problems that cannot be solved with bumper-sticker solutions, over-simplified soundbites and combative rhetoric. They require cooperation among thoughtful individuals who will put their district and country first.
To address these problems and restore the faith in our republic, those inside and outside government must be willing to extend to one who disagrees the same purity of motive and intellectual honesty one claims for oneself.
That is necessary, Madam Speaker, if we are to keep our republic.