Remarks of Caroline Kennedy

We gather this morning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 campaign, and to celebrate the quality my father admired most in public life- political courage. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Profile in Courage Award. Over the past two decades, this award has recognized many individuals who have spoken truth to power by standing alone in the face of overwhelming political opposition. These individuals embody my father’s belief that one person’s single act of courage can change the world.

This year is also the first without my uncle Teddy – who was the guiding spirit behind this award. I know how proud he would be of this year’s winners because one of his great political gifts was the courage to compromise.

Both my father and my uncle knew that effective government demands that political adversaries set aside their own interests, and work together to meet their responsibilities as leaders of democratic societies. A decade ago, we presented this lantern to Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, who crossed party lines and forged a landmark compromise to address the inadequacies of campaign finance. We also recognized the eight political leaders in Northern Ireland who set aside deeply held differences of religion, politics, ideology and community and created a framework to end decades of violent conflict and secure a more peaceful future for their people. These were not the accomplishments of individuals who stood alone. These achievements were the result of difficult dialogue and cooperation among political adversaries who accepted the burdens of governing in a critical time. The leaders we honor today have added their collective voice to this vital democratic tradition.

Today, we recognize four Californians who set aside their own political interests to work together on an issue of great public, and national importance. As the U.S. economy sank into deep recession after the financial crisis of 2008, California’s budget deficit exploded to over $ 60 billion. In February 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the legislature into special session to deal with what had become an unprecedented financial emergency. Over the next few weeks, the Governor and the legislature struggled to come to terms with the deficit. After weeks of contentious negotiations, seeing no alternatives, the leaders of California’s tow legislative chambers- Republicans Dave Cogdill and Mike Villines, and Democrats Karen Bass and Darrell Steinberg – set aside party loyalties and ideological differences and fashioned a solution to rescue California from the brink of financial ruin.

The compromise struck by these legislative leaders was objectionable to almost everyone. The agreement included tax increases, which angered many voters, especially conservative constituents and activists. It also included deep cuts to vital social, health and education programs bringing bitter criticism from students, teachers, unions, environmental groups, state employees and social service providers.

Under California law, the budget deal could not be fully implemented without the direct approval of California voters. So Karen Bass, Dave Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg, and Mike Villines along with Governor Schwarzenegger, spent the spring of 2009 in a joint public campaign to convince voters of the urgent need for the difficult and painful measures. Despite their efforts, California voters defeated their proposal in May of last year. The state’s budget problems are ongoing, with a growing deficit still to be closed.

Faced with a budget crisis of unprecedented magnitude, Karen Bass, Dave Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg and Mike Villines had the courage to negotiate with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and with each other on a compromise they believed was in the best interest of the citizens of California. Each made sacrifices, and each knew their agreement would have painful and far-reaching consequences for their constituents and for their own careers.

In today’s climate of deeply partisan politics, crossing party lines can be an act of political suicide. It’s far too rare an occasion when political adversaries put aside their differences to reach common ground. Today we present a single lantern to the legislative leaders of California – for their singular act of courage – they set an example for our country and dared to agree.

Now I would like to ask Karen Bass, Dave Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg and Mike Villines to come forward and accept the 2010 Profile in Courage Award.

Remarks of Caroline Kennedy on presenting the 2010 Profile in Courage Award, May 24, 2010 -- As Prepared for Delivery