Oklahoma Congressman Michael L. Synar Named Winner of the 1995 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
BOSTON, MA, April 26, 1995 – Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that the recipient of the 1995 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ is former Oklahoma Congressman Michael L. Synar, for his distinguished career in public service marked by an unwavering commitment to serve the public interest, no matter how powerful the foe or great the political risk.
Presentation of the award, given annually by The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, will take place at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, May 8th. The ceremony, which also commemorates the 78th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy, will be attended by Caroline B. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and other members of the Kennedy family.
"For 16 years as a Congressman, Mike Synar stood tall as a symbol of political courage. Time and again, he was willing to take a leadership role on critical or unpopular issues, and place the public interest above his own political ambitions," said Caroline Kennedy. "He earned a reputation as a passionate legislator, a powerful populist and a political maverick with an extraordinary devotion to principle and the public interest."
Elected to Congress in 1978 at the age of 28, Synar quickly distinguished himself as a political leader willing to take on tough issues that were often highly controversial, pitting him against leaders of his own party or his own state and powerful special interests and corporate giants, resulting in repeatedly tough races for reelection.
His most high profile crusades were waged against tobacco companies, cattle ranchers, the gun lobby, and the energy industry. As a leader of the antismoking forces in Congress, Synar introduced legislation to restrict advertising of tobacco products and to include tobacco in the list of products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and passed a bill requiring a warning label on smokeless tobacco. He also led the campaign for public land reform and called on ranchers and mining and timber companies to pay fair market value for their use of federal lands. In addition, Synar single-handedly challenged the 1985 Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction plan and the legality of key provisions of the bill, which were later declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1994, Synar paid a price for his commitment to the public interest when he lost his bid for a ninth term, finally succumbing to the cumulative effects of a controversial voting record that was often at odds with his rural Oklahoma district and the relentless efforts of powerful special interests to unseat him. Undaunted, Synar said that 'if everybody wants me to lick my wounds or feel bad about [losing], they've got the wrong person. I have had the opportunity of a lifetime."
Synar is currently chairman of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission and Ambassador to the International Telecommunications Union for the United States.
Synar will receive a $25,000 prize and a silver lantern designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc., and made by Tiffany & Co., which symbolizes the ideals of the Profile in Courage Award.
The award takes its name from PROFILES IN COURAGE, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy when he was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. The award was established by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor examples of political courage in contemporary public life. The book describes events in U.S. history in which courageous elected officials took principled stands on difficult issues and risked the wrath of their constituents and powerful special interest groups. In the book, President Kennedy described such officials as persons "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations, ..who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy."
Henry B. Gonzalez, a congressman from San Antonio, Texas, was the 1994 award recipient. In 1989, as chairman of the House Banking Committee, Gonzalez launched a series of dramatic hearings on the savings and loan crisis, which resulted in far-reaching legislation to reform the industry and led to the conviction of Charles Keating, chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan institution in Irvine, Calif., in September 1990, for 17 counts of fraud. Gonzalez also was cited for his political courage in investigating the involvement of high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the sale of U.S. arms to Iraq, which the Iraqi government used to pursue nuclear and chemical weapons development and to purchase military hardware leading up to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
James J. Florio, former governor of New Jersey, was the 1993 award recipient. In 1990, under Governor Florio's leadership, New Jersey passed the strictest gun control law in the nation, banning the sale and restricting the possession of assault weapons in the state. For the next three years, Florio vetoed legislative attempts to weaken the bill and created an unprecedented coalition to support the ban. In 1993, the state senate voted unanimously to uphold his veto. The action was a significant legislative victory for Florio, who also was engaged in continuing battles over his reforms in the state tax and education systems.
Lowell Weicker, former governor of onnecticut, was the 1992 recipient of the award. In 1991, a month after his inauguration, Governor Weicker sent shock waves through the state by proposing a personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget to deal with the state's $963 million deficit. As governor of one of only 10 states in the country without an income tax, Weicker risked his career by challenging the popular bipartisan anti-income tax coalition. Despite threats to his safety, large scale bitter protests, and six months of deadlock in a rancorous battle, Weicker's budget package was finally approved by the state legislature.
Charles Weltner, a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, was the 1991 recipient of the award. As a United States congressman from Georgia in 1966, Weltner signed a Democratic loyalty oath to support the entire state party ticket in the general election that year. When Lester Maddox, an advocate of segregation, emerged as the party's nominee for governor, rather than "compromise with hate," as Weltner put it, and support Maddox, he placed principle above ambition and withdrew from his own race for reelection. Justice Weltner died in 1992.
The recipient of the first Profile in Courage Award, in 1990, was former United States Congressman Carl Elliott of Alabama, who was selected for his leadership in civil rights and federal aid to education in years when those stands were extremely unpopular in the South. He fought and lost a bitter race for reelection in 1964. Elliott's experiences are detailed in his 1992 book, THE COST OF COURAGE: THE JOURNEY OF AN AMERICAN CONGRESSMAN.
The chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee is Richard K. Donahue, lawyer, former president and vice chairman of NIKE, Inc., and former special assistant to President Kennedy. Other members of the committee are: Jill Ker Conway, historian, author, and former president of Smith College; T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., businessman, and president of Thomas Jefferson Forum; John C. Culver, attorney, and former U.S. representative and senator from Iowa; Charles U. Daly, director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and former special assistant to President Kennedy; John S. Dyson, deputy mayor of New York, and former chairman of the New York Power Authority; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Elaine Jones, director-counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline B. Kennedy, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., attorney, and vice chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., attorney, and chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Sumner M. Redstone, CEO of National Amusements, and chairman of Viacom International; John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean (Nashville), and chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; Theodore C. Sorensen, author, attorney, and former special counsel to President Kennedy; and Fletcher H. Wiley, attorney, and chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.