Bill Ratliff, former state senator and one-time lieutenant governor of Texas, has been hailed as one of the state's greatest leaders, a thoughtful and dutiful public servant who routinely risked his own political career to solve public problems in a bipartisan manner.
Bill Ratliff enjoyed a career as a civil engineer before he entered politics; he was elected to the state senate in 1989, a Republican representing a rural Texas district. During the next 15 years, he would bring hard work, fair-mindedness, wisdom and courage to some of the most hotly contested public issues in Texas. Among his many legislative achievements, he drove the passage of a controversial law to overhaul the financing of the state public education system, redistributing property tax income from wealthy school districts to poor ones. In a difficult battle over tort reform, Ratliff fought to protect patients' rights in medical malpractice cases. And in 2003, he publicly upbraided his Senate colleagues for lacking the courage to raise taxes in the face of staggering budget cuts that would overwhelmingly affect the state's poorest residents.
In the spring of 2003, with the Texas legislature locked in bitter debate over a divisive plan to redraw congressional districts for the second time in as many years, Republican leaders sought to sidestep opposition to their redistricting bill by changing the rules of the Senate. Ratliff sensed that partisanship had supplanted some lawmakers' concern for the public interest, and he became the lone Republican to join ten Senate Democrats in opposing the redistricting effort. He expressed concerns about the rights of rural voters, who would be underrepresented under the new plan, and voiced strong reservations about the long-term damage that would be done to the Senate as an institution if its rules were arbitrarily abandoned. In the fall of 2003, the Republican majority approved a new congressional map, and Ratliff resigned from the Senate shortly thereafter.
Bill Ratliff still enjoys the deep and abiding respect and gratitude of his fellow Texans, Republicans and Democrats alike. For the example he has set of courage and principle in American public life, Bill Ratliff was honored with the 2005 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin & Former Texas Senator Bill Ratliff
Named 2005 Profile in Courage Award Recipients
Army Specialist Joseph Darby to Receive Special Award
BOSTON (March 10, 2005) - Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Former Texas State Senator Bill Ratliff have been named the recipients of the 2005 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, it was announced today by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
Shirley Franklin, the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major U.S. southern city, was recognized for her courageous leadership in restoring fiscal stability and ethical government to Atlanta. Facing an $82 million deficit upon taking office in 2001, Mayor Franklin formed an unprecedented alliance between Republicans, the business community and state government, raised taxes, cut the city payroll, and imposed a strict code of ethics. Four years later, Atlanta enjoys a budget surplus.
Bill Ratliff, former Texas Lt. Governor and state senator, was honored for a distinguished career as a courageous bipartisan leader in his state. Senator Ratliff's most recent act of courage was to fight for a fair and democratic electoral process, becoming the only Republican legislator to object to his party's redistricting plan. This principled action was the culmination of a distinguished career in Texas politics. Ratliff largely wrote and secured passage of landmark education legislation. He also worked to improve health insurance and access to Medicaid, while maintaining an inclusive style of governing in an era of sharp partisan politics.
U.S. Army Specialist Joseph M. Darby has been awarded a Special John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Darby is recognized for standing up for the principles imbedded in the rule of law when he took action to expose the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The Profile in Courage Award Committee recognized that although the courage demonstrated by Darby was somewhat different than that required by elective office, it was nonetheless deserving of recognition.
Franklin, Ratliff and Darby will be formally presented with the Profile in Courage Award by Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Monday, May 16.
"Shirley Franklin and Bill Ratliff are an inspiration to all who serve in government, and to all Americans, for their principled and bipartisan leadership, and their willingness to make the difficult and unpopular decisions necessary for good governance," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. "Not only has Franklin restored fiscal stability to her city, she has restored trust and confidence in government as well. Bill Ratliff showed great courage when he put his long and distinguished career of service at risk for the principle of fair and democratic elections which are the heart and soul of a successful democracy. Each has demonstrated political courage worthy of our gratitude."
Of Darby's recognition, Ms. Kennedy said, "Individuals who are willing to take personal risk to further the national interest and uphold the values of American democracy should be recognized and encouraged in all parts of government. Our nation is indebted to U.S. Army Specialist Joseph Darby for standing up for the rule of law that we embrace as a nation."
It was announced earlier this week that Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko will be presented with a 2005 Profile in Courage Award at a separate ceremony hosted by Ms. Kennedy and Senator Kennedy in early April when Yushchenko visits the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of American statesmen, the obstacles they faced, and the special valor they demonstrated despite the risks.
The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy's commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy's May 29th birthday.
Described by one recipient as the "Nobel in Government," the Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin
Shirley Franklin is the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major southern city. When Franklin took office in 2001, Atlanta was burdened by an $82 million budget deficit, a festering sewer crisis, and the public distrust of an electorate that had grown weary of the deeds and misdeeds of its elected leadership. Franklin responded to the city's budget shortfall by slashing 1000 city jobs and pressing the City Council into passing a 50% property tax increase. She also cut her own salary and staff, and implemented the strictest ethics rules in the state to counter the swelling official corruption that had plagued her predecessor. In 2003, she requested another tax hike to meet city expenses and to pay for sewer repairs to an outdated sewer system overflowing into local rivers. To address the century-old neglected sewer system, Franklin formed an unprecedented alliance between state and local officials, eventually negotiating a $500 million state loan that had initially been rejected by the Georgia Senate. Although she has taken several measures that many politicians would see as career-ending, Franklin has remained remarkably popular among Atlanta voters, who find her candor and straight-shooting calls for burden-sharing a welcome and refreshing change.
Former Texas State Senator Bill Ratliff
Senator Ratliff has five times made Texas Monthly magazine's prestigious "Best Legislators" roundup since coming to the Legislature in 1989. As Chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee, he secured passage of a controversial law dubbed "Robin Hood" by its opponents. This bill redistributed a percentage of property taxes from wealthy school districts to poorer ones. During his third legislative session, he completely rewrote Texas' outdated public education code on his laptop computer. Later as chair of the powerful finance committee, he twice oversaw the state's $100 billion-plus budget. During his 2001 legislative session, many attributed the spirit of civility directly to the new Lieutenant Governor's calm and inclusive leadership style. Among the most recent session's achievements were much needed schoolteachers' health insurance plan and easier access to Medicaid.
When Texas Republicans announced plans to draw new district lines in Texas for the second time since the 2000 census, Senator Ratliff broke ranks with his party and opposed the redistricting plan. As the sole dissenting Republican, Ratliff nearly derailed his party's efforts to pass it. Ratliff's vote denied the GOP the two-thirds majority it needed to carry out the plan. But Ratliff's action led Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to abandon the two-thirds rule, which prompted eleven Democrats to flee the state to New Mexico, where they remained for weeks in order to deprive Senate Republicans of a quorum.
Anticipating Dewhurst's decision, Ratliff said, "It is a serious mistake, because if that should happen, the Texas legislature will slide down that slope of a completely partisan operation on both sides." Four months after the standoff ended, Ratliff announced his resignation, and he requested a special election to fill his seat two years before his term expired. The GOP eventually won the battle to draw new district lines.
U.S. Army Specialist Joseph M. Darby
U.S. Army Specialist Joseph M. Darby, of Corriganville, Md., is credited with alerting officials to the alleged torture of Iraqi prisoners by members of his 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md. Darby was commended in a military report for promptly alerting superiors in January after discovering photographs of fellow 372nd Military Police Company personnel taking part in abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Darby's tip led to an investigation of practices at the facility that have outraged people around the world and changed the tenor of America's war effort in Iraq. Darby wrestled with the consequences of reporting the abuse in Abu Ghraib and finally spoke out, he said, because what he saw was so "morally wrong." In August 2004, Darby and his family were forced to move out of their Maryland home and into protective custody due to death threats against them.
Darby's wife, Bernadette, says her husband's act of whistle blowing angered many people in their Western Maryland community. "People were mean, saying he was a walking dead man, he was walking around with a bull's eye on his head. It was scary," she told Reuters. Despite the threats, she believed her husband made the right choice exposing the torture and abuse. "Joe is the type of person to take what is going on around him and be like, 'How would I feel if that was my wife?'... He just could not live with himself knowing that that was happening and he did not do anything about it," she said.
Franklin, Ratliff, Darby and Yushchenko were chosen as the recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's prestigious award for political courage by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the fourteen-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Al Hunt, Washington managing editor of Bloomberg News; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
In selecting a recipient, the Profile in Courage Award Committee considers public servants who have demonstrated the kind of political courage described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Kennedy wrote:
In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience - the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men - each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient - they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.
Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are Afghan physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar; former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson; former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge; former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes; former South Carolina Governor David Beasley; former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr.; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; former Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven; former U.S. President Gerald Ford; former California State Senator Hilda Solis; U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona; U.S. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas Murnion; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former New Jersey Governor James Florio; former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, Jr.; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; and former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama.
Special Profile in Courage Awards have been presented to the Irish Peacemakers, eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and the American chairman of the peace talks, in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement and America's public servants who demonstrated extraordinary courage and heroism in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement has also been presented to U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
Press contact: Tom McNaught (617) 514-1656
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.
Thank you John (Seigenthaler) for that very generous introduction. John is a valued friend to all the members of the Kennedy family and an outstanding journalist as well. We are particularly grateful for his remarkable service to the Kennedy Library as the Chairman of the Profile In Courage Awards Committee. He plays a vital role in helping to find the consensus that leads to the choice of the courageous winners we honor here today.
The annual Profile In Courage Award was instituted more than a decade ago by the Kennedy Library Foundation as a memorial to my brother and as a way to encourage contemporary political leaders to be more willing to take on the tough issues, and to demonstrate the quality of political courage, that my brother so admired and which is all too rare in public life today.
Courageous actions worthy of recognition do not always happen within the borders of our own nation. As you saw in the film, we were privileged to have President Viktor Yushchenko here at the Library last month to present with the Award.
At a critical moment in his nation's history, President Yushchenko took a strong and courageous stand for what he knew was right. In the ongoing struggle for democracy in Ukraine, he risked his life and nearly lost it. Because of his extraordinary courage, and the courage of the Ukrainian people, the rule of law prevailed. President Yushchenko is an inspiration to all people everywhere and the Library was proud to honor him.
This year's winners continue to remind us that courageous individuals, acting on principle, can make an extraordinary difference for their communities and our country. In this era of intense partisan divisions, it is most heartening and inspiring to pay tribute to the political courage of Mayor Franklin, Senator Ratliff, and Sergeant Darby, who chose first and foremost to act for the good of their community and country. President Kennedy would be proud of them.
Today, the Library is very proud to present a special Profile in Courage Award to a young soldier, who while stationed in Iraq, acted on the simple profound truth -- that torture is wrong. Sergeant Joseph Darby unexpectedly discovered photographs of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in the digital camera of a fellow soldier who had taken photos of their tour of duty. He was stunned at what he saw and wrestled with his conscience. He decided the only moral course of action was to report the abuses to his superiors and give them the photos.
His courageous action ignited a firestorm when the shocking images became public. The photographs of cruelty and perversion are still difficult to look at, and they belied the administration's contention that Saddam Hussein's "torture rooms had been closed forever." The images horrified us and severely damaged our reputation around the world. They undermined the validity of the military's "golden rule" - to treat captured enemy forces, as we would want our own troops to be treated. The photographs are now seared into our national memory and the firestorm still rages about the accountability for those abuses.
The FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the British all refused to participate in the interrogations, because of their grave concerns about the brutal methods. Reports to our senior military officials by the International Committee of the Red Cross, about inhumane treatment of Iraqis, were ignored.
It was Joseph Darby who spoke out when others looked the other way. He spoke out even knowing that he would be harassed -- or worse -- for doing so, and he has paid a high price. Because of the threats they received, he and his wife have been moved into protective custody - all because he followed his conscience and said the interrogations were unacceptable.
Like most Americans, Sergeant Darby believes that an essential part of protecting our nation and winning the war on terrorism is safeguarding the ideals that America stands for at home and around the world. Joseph Darby courageously refused to remain silent, and in so doing he embodied the best of our American values when he said "enough" at Abu Ghraib. He is a true Profile in Courage.
Mayor Shirley Franklin was faced with an 82 million dollar deficit and a city whose infrastructure had been neglected to the point that federal environmental agencies had levied fines against Atlanta to the tune of 20 thousand dollars a day. The top officials of the previous administration were awaiting trial on corruption and the trust of the people had been broken. When she was elected the first African American woman to be mayor of a southern city in the United States, she had her work cut out for her.
Mayor Franklin knew she had to regain the confidence of her constituents, stop the decay and restore the fiscal sanity of her beloved city. Her solution was tough love, straight talk, and bold action. She asked for sacrifice from all and she included herself. While cutting the city payroll and implementing new taxes, she shared the pain by cutting her own salary by 40 thousand dollars.
The city was in trouble and homelessness had become an epidemic. Mayor Franklin set out to give Atlanta her own New Deal. She convinced the city council to pass the needed taxes, and enact a new code of ethics for city employees. She talked private firms into conducting audits for free and made them public so everyone would know the difficulties and what needed to be done.
In a brilliant display of bipartisan negotiation, she worked with state and county officials to create a combination of loans and agreements that produced 3 billion dollars to fun the essential repairs that had been needed for so long.
Now after just three years in office she has produced not only three balanced budgets -- but also this year an 18 million dollar surplus! A new 5 million dollar shelter for the homeless will open this summer. No wonder her polls are sky-high!
In being able to convince Republican state officials and the business community to work with her on behalf of the city, she achieved success. She did so by proving she was serious about meeting them half way. I wonder if we could borrow her, for just a little while, to help bring Washington back from the brink!
Mayor Shirley Franklin is a public official who beat the odds, and we in public service are in awe of her outstanding achievements and the great courage she had to see them through.
Senator Bill Ratliff has had a most distinguished career in the state legislature in Austin. He was at the center of historic legislation on education, and at various times chaired the three most important committees - Finance, State Affairs, and Education. For six years in a row, he was regularly recognized as one of the very best legislators by the local media. He had even been chosen by his fellow Senators to be Lieutenant Governor, when George Bush went on to other things.
Senator Ratliff's wisdom and integrity were so admired and respected that he was called the conscience of the Senate and given a nickname that would greatly impress my grandchildren….Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It is not unusual for the Profile in Courage Award to be given to a Republican, but it's rare indeed that we have the opportunity to honor a Jedi knight!
With this extraordinary background and reputation, Senator Ratliff made the most difficult decision, and found the greatest challenge, of his public life. He is a man of high principle who courageously risked the wrath of his fellow Republican legislators where it's probably the most difficult of all to do - deep in the heart of Texas.
After his term as Lt. Governor, Senator Ratliff returned to a state Senate that had become more partisan and had fewer experienced legislators. As gifted as he was at writing and handling complex legislation, it was more difficult than ever to weigh competing arguments and reach successful compromised.
A boiling point was reached on the issue of redistricting, often the most difficult matter of all. He warned his party leaders that a partisan effort could cause bitter division and lasting outrage, but Governor Perry called the Legislature into three successive special sessions to gerrymander the boundaries of the legislative districts to lock in the election of more Republicans.
Outraged Democratic Senators left the state to prevent a quorum, but in the end the redistricting bill was passed. To his everlasting credit, Bill Ratliff dared to stand alone and vote for principle. In fact, his vote had prevented the gerrymander from being passed in the first special session. Senator Ratliff felt that the whole process was deeply wrong, and he felt he could no longer, in good conscience, be a part of it.
He had always voted as a matter of principle, but now felt that it was time, before the end of his term, for him to resign as a matter of principle. Newspapers across the state praised his service and mourned his departure.
In his farewell speech, Senator Ratliff took the high road and thanked his constituents for the privilege of serving them for fifteen exceptional years as a legislator.
John Quincy Adams, whose seat I hold today in the Senate, once said, "Always vote for a principle, though you vote alone, and you may cherish the sweet reflection that your vote is never lost." Senator Bill Ratliff is a magnificent example of the kind of extraordinary courage that President Kennedy and President Adams admired, and we are proud to honor him today.
It is now my special pleasure to introduce Caroline, who continues to inspire us with her excellent leadership here at the Library. I know her parents would be so proud of all she has accomplished. Caroline is a great joy to all of us in the Kennedy family, and in so many ways, she is the moving force behind the annual Profile in Courage Awards.
Ladies and gentlemen, Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered at the 2005 Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, Monday, May 16, 2005.