Tributes are pouring in on both sides of the aisle as American's wake up to the news that Senator Edward Kennedy died late last night after a year long battle with brain cancer. The Massachusetts senator fought right up until the end for health care reform, and now that battle will continue on capitol hill without him.
Kennedy, an early supporter of President Barack Obama's candidacy, campaigned in New Mexico for the then Illinois Senator in January 2008.
Photographer and blog commentator Mark Bralley captured this image of Kennedy who worked closely with New Mexico's Pete Domenici in the Senate. Their 10-year joint effort led to passage of the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act, which for the first time required insurance companies to cover mental illness on a par with physical illness.
This morning Domenici said Kennedy's death is especially sad to him:
The nation has lost a good and great man, and I have lost a close and valued friend. He was my friend, my colleague, and my ally in many legislative battles during our 36 years together in the Senate. His commitment to Mental Health Parity legislation, in my judgment was the key factor in that concept becoming law in the 110th Congress. Even battling his cancer, he would travel to the Capitol to move that legislation forward when I asked him to.From civil rights and immigration, his earliest concerns, to education and workers rights, there were few major pieces of social legislation that did not bear his mark over his 47 years in the Senate.
Governor Bill Richardson, who studied in Boston, learned about Kennedy's death in Cuba, where he is on a trade mission. Richardson said Kennedy was a gladiator for protecting people who need help.
He was probably responsible for my first victory in Congress, and became a political mentor of mine. His legacy is one of legislative excellence, compassion and as a protector for those who have been left behind.Senator Jeff Bingaman said Kennedy's extraordinary list of accomplishments were not just a function of his passion and ideals, but also his pragmatism and ability to reach across party lines to get done what was needed for the good of the country.
His leadership will be particularly missed in the Senate at this critical time for health care reform. The American people have lost a great champion, but his legacy will endure.
Domenici said he respected Kennedy's willingness to work for compromise:
I always knew from our earliest interaction that I could trust his word, that he would dedicate himself with all of his energy to any cause that he championed, and that he was willing to work for compromise to get the legislative work done, but would never compromise his fundamental beliefs. His help behind the scenes on many issues from fiscal policy to national health care policy - often made the difference between legislative success and failure.The issue the lifelong Democrat called the cause of his life was healthcare. It was what kept him on the line to the Capitol through months of medical treatment during the past 15 months. Of course he did not live to see his latest bid for comprehensive healthcare insurance enacted into law.
Freshman U.S. Senator Tom Udall said Kennedy committed his life to fighting for Americans who could not fight for themselves:
His tireless drive to provide access to health care, civil rights, and improve education for all will forever serve as a model for true public service.Even New Mexico's Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish offered her toughts on the Massachuetts Senator's passing.
Ted Kennedy was sent to the Senate by the people of Massachusetts, but he was a public servant for the entire nation. The Senator was a true statesman in every sense of the word. His legislative accomplishments have bettered the lives of countless American workers, children and families. He championed the cause of female athletes through Title 9. And he fought for health care for American families every day, even in his closing days. Senator Kennedy was a man who gave his last full measure of devotion to the American people.
For Pete's Sake
After all the memorials and tributes, perhaps the Democrats will decide to truly honor Kennedy, by knuckling down and passing a comprehensive health care plan this fall.
His spirit, patriotism and dedication to realizing a greater vision for America will be missed.