Acceptance Speech

First, let me say how pleased I am to have so many family and friends here from Texas.

My wife of 45 years, my three children, my two brothers, other family members, as well as a number of good friends who made the extraordinary effort to be here. Some of these friends have been by my side through my entire political life and, for some, many years prior to my entry into politics. I am very pleased to have these folks here to join in this honor.

Even though I have serious misgivings about my deserving this recognition, I am filled with pride at the thought of receiving it in their presence.

Ironically, as pleased as I am to be selected for this prestigious award, I despair that my selection represents a sad commentary on our nation’s political situation.

It would appear that my selection for this award was primarily based on the fact that, over my political career, I have made public policy decisions based on what I felt was best for my constituents and for the state of Texas. Many times, this meant that I found myself fashioning and supporting legislative solutions to the state’s challenges which were not supported by the more partisan members of my party.

The most notorious of such stances was the recent mid-decade redistricting which was pushed by the national party leadership and which I opposed on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of my senate district.

Is it not a sad state of affairs that the courage for which I am being singled out consists of my decision to take positions in the best interest of my constituents in cases where those positions run counter to my political party?

How have we come to the point where an officeholder is deemed to have displayed unique courage when standing up for his constituency rather than bowing to the often strident views of party leadership?

Members of legislative bodies are elected to represent their constituents, not some faceless body known as a party. And yet, we have far too many legislators who do, in fact, view their own party’s wrath with such trepidation that they are frozen with inaction, incapable to do what they know is best for the people they represent.

It now seems that, too often, when the members of one party propose a legislative program, the immediate reaction of the other party is to oppose, no matter the circumstances.

And most distressing to me are the times when one party will propose legislation, not because they wish to enact a proposal, and not because they necessarily believe it is in the best public interest, but simply to force the members of the other party to go on record opposing the matter.

It is what has become known as “gotcha” politics.

One of the reasons that I am a little chagrined about accepting this award is that the bipartisan positions I have taken over the years took little real courage.

You see, I was a republican who represented a predominately democrat district. To represent this schizophrenic district required that I not be viewed as a rigid partisan. Over the years I was routinely re-elected by almost 70% of the vote because the citizens I represented always supported my decisions no matter on which side of a partisan issue I came down.

When you have a constituency which allows such freedom, it takes little courage to vote your convictions.

I had a challenging, exciting, and rewarding fifteen-year career as Texas State Senator and Lieutenant Governor of Texas. I would not trade that experience for any other I can imagine. To receive the John F. Kennedy Foundation’s Profiles in Courage Award is a capstone on that career of which I could not have even dreamed.

On behalf of myself and my family and friends, thank you all for this wonderful honor.

Remarks by Former Texas Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, delivered at John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, May 16, 2005.