Senator Jeff Bingaman is retiring after thirty years of shunning the spotlight and just getting great policy work done. I think he was a combination of Jimmy Stewart ala Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. — one of the nation’s wisest legal minds….ever.
I think he is one of the greatest legislators I’ve ever known — particularly his tendency to forfeit credit and let others more media-needy have the accolades in order to get things accomplished. And he had the most wry wit in the Senate.
Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican has written a refreshingly real and extensive profile of my former boss. It deserves a full read, but here’s the opener:
When you talk to anyone familiar with retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, certain words, phrases and comparisons keep popping up about the New Mexico Democrat.
Modest. Low-key. Soft-spoken. Studious. Unflashy. Centrist. A work horse, not a show horse.
A former staffer recently compared Bingaman to the title character played by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America once called the New Mexico senator “Mr. Spock in a Senate of Captain Kirks.” A cover story on Bingaman in an Albuquerque magazine in the late 1980s referred to him as “the most boring man in the U.S. Senate.”
Earlier this year, the conservative Washington Times wrote, “In a political world dominated by snappy sound bites and 30-second TV campaign ads, the Democrat stands out for his quiet, serious-minded style.”
“He wasn’t interested in accolades,” retired Sen. Pete Domenici, Bingaman’s Republican counterpart in the Senate for 26 years, said in a recent interview. “He and I worked together to get things done for the people of New Mexico.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who has served with Bingaman for the past two years, describes him as a mentor. “Jeff is a rare combination of character — brilliant and humble,” Udall said in a recent Senate speech. “By Washington standards, Jeff is a man of few words. And when he comes to this floor to speak, we listen.”
But, because of his imminent departure from the Senate, Bingaman’s renown for shunning the media spotlight seems to have vanished in the past couple of weeks. There were interviews in national publications such as Politico and The Hill. There was a lengthy one-on-one interview with NBC TV’s Chuck Todd. Bingaman even appeared on a popular comedy show, The Colbert Report, playing straight man to host Stephen Colbert.
I will miss Jeff Bingaman in the Senate — and think that the nation will miss him even more.
– Steve Clemons