Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

It is an honor to be here this morning to join in presenting the 1993 Profile in Courage Award to Governor Jim Florio of New Jersey.

This annual award was first presented three years ago, in 1990. It was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation as a special means to commemorate the life of President Kennedy in a way that I know my brother would have warmly endorsed and appreciated.

The award honors officials who demonstrate the kind of political courage that President Kennedy wrote about as a Senator in his book Profiles in Courage — a willingness of political leaders to act on principle, to pursue the public interest, even at the risk of offending powerful interest groups or constituents.

Our hope in creating this award is to encourage more elected officials to display the quality of political courage in dealing with the issues they face, and to encourage more citizens to value that quality in their elected representatives.

Too many of the most difficult challenges confronting the nation today are the result of continuing inaction by elected leaders in the face of entrenched and intransigent interests that have dominated the political system and prevented reform and change.

The winner of the 1993 Profile in Courage Award stands against that trend, and he has done so in a particularly courageous way. He might well have won this award three times — once for his courage in tackling the complex economic challenges of his state, again for his effective leadership on education reform, and yet again for his powerful stand against the National Rifle Association and the shameful failure of the political system to deal effectively with the need for responsible gun control.

Jim Florio's career in public life is a textbook example of the saying that one person with courage makes a majority. I first came to know him in the sixteen years he served in the House of Representatives. He earned a well-deserved reputation there for his ability, his hard work, his vision of the future, and his willingness to take on even the most difficult challenges. He made his mark on many issues, especially the environment. In all likelihood, Congress would not have passed the landmark Superfund law without the brilliant leadership of Congressman Jim Florio.

Elected Governor of New Jersey in 1989, he immediately tackled the challenges of economic reform and education reform in his state. He tackled them head on — and he paid a heavy political price for his courageous leadership. But he persevered, and dramatically turned the tide. In many respects, the Jim Florio story is a model of inspiring political leadership for the 90's.

Perhaps his finest hour came this spring, when he faced down a hostile partisan legislature and the intense opposition of the National Rifle Association on the all-important issue of gun control, and preserved New Jersey's landmark ban on assault weapons.

Governor Florio has set a high standard for principled political leadership. When the going gets tough, the tough get going — and perhaps no elected official in America in recent years has been tougher than Jim Florio. If President Kennedy were writing Profiles in Courage now, he would have a special chapter on the Profile in Courage Award winner for 1993, Governor Jim Florio.

Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the 1993 Profile in Courage Award to Governor James Florio of New Jersey, May 24, 1993