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Nelson Says Goodbye to Senate Colleagues

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Credit twitter.com/cspan
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Sen. Bill Nelson gives his farewell speech Wednesday.

Following his eyelash-thin defeat at the hands of Gov. Rick Scott, Bill Nelson bade farewell Wednesday to the U.S. Senate.

Nelson – who lost to Republican Rick Scott by about 10,000 votes from more than eight million ballots cast – took to the Senate floor Wednesday. The 76-year-old Senator spoke for a little over 30 minutes. 

“It has been the great honor of my life to serve my country and the people of Florida,” Nelson told the Senate chamber. “First in the Army; then in the state Legislature, then in the Congress and State Treasurer, and now 18 years in the Senate.”

Touching upon some of the accomplishments during his three terms, Nelson focused on issues that combined the environment and Florida’s economy – writing legislation that banned oil and gas exploration in state waters.

He also cited work in health care.

“Twenty-two million Americans, and in [Florida] over 1.7 million people – we ensured that they had health care and health insurance,” Nelson said. “Just in the state of Florida alone, eight million people have pre-existing conditions; and they are now protected.” 

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Credit nasa.gov
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Rep. Bill Nelson, payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, 1986.

During his time in the House, Rep. Nelson became Astronaut Nelson, as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. Various glitches kept the shuttle on the ground until the fifth attempt to launch. The next flight – Challenger – faced similar bouts with cold weather before its launch and explosion.

“Why was I spared?” asked Nelson. “Now, upon intense reflection, I think I’m beginning to see.”

Nelson will leave the Senate as one of the nation’s biggest boosters of space exploration.

“We wrote the blueprint that has reinvigorated our space program and brought new space companies and high-paying jobs to our country and to Florida,” said Nelson. “In our lifetime we are going to see humankind set foot on other celestial bodies besides the moon.”

Nelson called upon senators to act with moral courage when obligations come calling, such as protecting the environment and restoring the Everglades, and in other areas as well.

“I count on you to give a voice for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico,” Nelson said. “I trust you’ll fight to make health care more accessible and more cost-effective. Keep [oil and gas] rigs off of our coast; and to make higher education more affordable for everyone.”

Reiterating his call that a public office is a public trust, Nelson urged the Senate “to act with integrity, and to unite Americans for the common will.”

“You in this Senate must be a beacon of light in a time that it seems that darkness is increasingly gathering in our politics,” said Nelson. “You must remember that your voices and your actions will face and help shape the future.”

At the end of his address, Sen. Bill Nelson told colleagues he leaves the chamber “filled with hope for the future,” and the fondest memories of his fellowship with great friends and the work that he loves.

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Credit U.S. Senate
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R) FL

After Nelson completed his remarks, Florida’s other Senator took to the podium.

“When the history of Florida politics as it is written, the name Bill Nelson will be among the giants of Florida political history,” Rubio said. “For few who have served at any level have done more for longer in the service of the people of the Sunshine State.”

Rubio – who will become Florida’s senior Senator next month – said it’s easy to dislike someone if all you see are their politics. But he was quick to add that does not apply to his relationship with Bill Nelson.

“We have developed in our modern culture a warped sense of what it truly takes to be a strong and good person,” said Rubio. “We live in an era in which we celebrate pride and arrogance. But I have learned from example, watching him up close that Bill Nelson is a man of the kind of humility that our common faith tries to instill in us.”

Rubio says while he’ll miss working with Nelson, his service to state and nation is not finished.

“I know that he will find new endeavors; I know this simply because he’s not one who’s going to sit back and rest and reflect,” Rubio said. “He’s going to keep working and I’m excited to see what God’s plans are for the rest of his years.”

“And I believe there will be many more.”