“This is not the last time you are going to hear me speaking on behalf of a just society that needs to change now,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler to his fellow lawmakers in the Minnesota House just after a marathon special session.
But it would be the last time he would address them all as a representative. Winkler is retiring from the House and moving to Belgium, where his wife is taking a job overseeing a hotel chain. He said the move isn’t permanent.
It’s tradition for legislators to give a retirement speech when they know they won’t be back for the next session. Winkler said it’s tradition for those speeches to be “generous” and “bipartisan speech in which I reveal my affection for all of you on the other side.”
“But I do not intend to follow that tradition.”
“Some have said I have been a sharp critic of some of the policies the Republicans and the GOP — and I have been, at times, hard on the Republican side of the aisle and members there.
“And I guess I would just like to say first of all that you deserved it. All of it and more.”
The line drew laughter from Democrats and Republicans who had often been targets of Winkler’s barbs and questioning during his nine years in the House.
Winkler then chastised Republicans for using a photo of Governor Mark Dayton being dunked with ice water for charity as the cover of their caucus’ special session packet. “There are limits to the kind of the way we conduct ourselves on the floor. And I would ask if I have strayed over those limits, I want you to know that sometimes it may have been on purpose. Other times it may have been inadvertent and I want to apologize if at any moment you felt I was acting in some way that was not consistent with the standards of this body. It was generally not my intention to do that.”
Winkler said the accomplishments of his party are still in place despite Republicans winning a majority last election — higher taxes on the rich, a balanced budget with a surplus, marriage equality and a higher minimum wage.
“So far we have not made the same mistake that legislators made in the late 1990s, which was to take good times and make long-term tax cut and spending decisions that drove us into deep deficits.”
Winkler than told the story of his wife Jenny’s fight with several medical ailments including rheumatoid arthritis, which she was diagnosed with during her third pregnancy. The disease made it painful for her to even lift her newborn baby. Her company gave her 14 weeks of paid leave after the birth of each of their three children.
“We were very fortunate that she worked for an employer who valued her. They valued her work as a family member and a woman. And that is the kind of work, in my mind, that this legislative body and this state has in front of us.”
The fact that not everyone has that support has guided Winkler’s work at the legislature and he challenged lawmakers to continue it.
“I think we all believe we should build an economy that reflects our values, not an economy that is built on our fears.
“We as a legislature have a big role to play and we have miles and miles to go before we can build a society that values all families and protects all of us.”
“We have so much work to do that small gains and standing still should never be satisfactory to any of us.
“I believe our mission… is to build an economy and a society based on simple justice. The justice of equal opportunity and the justice of the ability to take care of your family while you’re working and have that dignity.
“When we are delaying and denying that justice we are creating deep divisions for all of us.”
“I believe the government has a profound role to play in reforming our economy and making our lives better. I know that we don’t all agree that that role is central to improving people’s lives — but that is what I believe.
“So I would urge you not to be patient with the status quo… and to ask yourself every day whether the policies we are considering in the legislature are advancing the cause of a just society and a just economy — something that is built on the values that we share.”
Video above: Rep. Ryan Winkler’s retirement speech
Video below: Rep. Pat Garofalo declares Minnesota’s nightmare is over since Winkler is retiring.
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