WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSMiami) — After more than four decades of public service, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said goodbye Wednesday as he made his farewell remarks to the Senate. He has held the seat since 2000.
Nelson lost his bid for a fourth term in the Senate in November, losing to current Florida Governor Rick Scott in a close race that required a recount.
“It’s not easy when you take your leave from the people that you love, and the work that you love,” Nelson told his colleagues who had assembled in the chamber to hear his final speech, “and it causes a time of intense reflection.”
The senator cited successes and setbacks he says he faced in Congress. He celebrated passing the Affordable Care Act and expressed regret over the Citizens United ruling.
Nelson took a moment to reflect on the weeks leading up to his eventual launch onboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. He and his crew were scrubbed four times before they successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 12, 1986. As Nelson explained, when NASA engineers examined the shuttle after each of those four unsuccessful attempts, they determined that all of them would have likely ended in a catastrophic loss for the shuttle and its crew had the flights not been aborted.
“Why was I spared?” Nelson asked. “Now, upon intense reflection, I think I’m beginning to see. Because it has been the great honor of my life to serve our country and the people of Florida.”
He also urged his Senate colleagues and future senators to avoid putting party over country and to avoid “tribalism.”
“Tribalism is our problem, and if not corrected, it’s going to take our country down,” he said. “What has happened? What in the world has happened to civility and humility in our nation’s public discourse? Where are our servant leaders, who seek to serve instead of being served?”
He added, “To the people of America, you in this Senate must be a beacon of light in a time when it seems that darkness is increasingly gathering in our politics.”
Nelson spoke for about a half hour on the floor of the Senate.
Watch his entire speech here:
“We still have much work to do,” Nelson told his colleagues. “We need now, more than ever, to focus on building the kind of relationships here in Washington that can solve the great problems that our nation faces. And I caution our colleagues, and I caution those who will join this body, to resist the pulls of partisan acrimony and the forces that seek to divide us.”
“So, my parting words are that there’s no greater challenge for this Senate than to have the moral courage to choose country, over party, or over power.” Nelson said. “There are a great many challenges that our country faces, and I call upon all of those of you who serve in this senate to act with moral courage when these obligations come calling in the future. As I depart, I’m putting my trust in you.”
Nelson then concluded his final speech on the floor of the Senate by saying:
“I leave this Senate today filled with hope for the future and the fondest memories of my fellowship with great friends here. But I admit, it is hard to leave the friends and the work that I love.
“I intend to keep fighting for all that I’ve talked about in this short final speech, and I intend to keep fighting for Florida. When it comes down to it, I’m just a country boy who loved serving my state and our country for all of my life.
“It’s been an incredible honor.”
Nelson most recently served as the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee and previously served as the chair of the Senate Aging Committee.
Nelson has been a fixture in Florida politics for more than four decades, serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives for six years in the 1970s before vaulting to the US House of Representatives in 1979, where he served for 12 years.