Jeff Flake emphasizes importance of democracy in final speech

Dec 13, 2018, 9:40 AM | Updated: 11:42 am

PHOENIX — Outgoing U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake capped off 18 years in Congress with a speech that emphasized the importance of democracy — and the need for Americans to fight for it.

Flake, who announced last year that he would not seek re-election, encouraged Americans to fight for the “norms of democracy” “during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval” in the Thursday remarks on the Senate floor.

“The shadow of tyranny is once again enveloping parts of the globe,” Flake said. “And let us recognize as authoritarianism reasserts itself in country after country that we are by no means immune.”

The Arizona Republican had spent the last two years going head-to-head with President Donald Trump, a man whom Flake believed was a detriment to the party.

While Flake did not mention Trump by name in his speech, he did point to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to “hijack democracy…everywhere” as a warning sign to the American people.

As we in America – during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval – contemplate the hard-won conventions and norms of democracy, we must continually remind ourselves that none of this is permanent, and that it must be fought for constantly.

Civilization and the victories of freedom — history itself — are not a matter of once achieved, always safe. (Former Czechoslovakia president) Vaclav Havel lived this.

The lovers of democracy I met in Namibia lived this. Our children, whose rights and prerogatives have never before been in doubt, are for the most part unaware of it. But we are being powerfully reminded just how delicate all of this is — right now.

The stability of tested alliances, the steadiness of comportment, and the consistency of words and deeds sum up the best of water’s-edge postwar American consensus on foreign policy.

It might seem that all of this has lately been tossed around like pieces on a board, but it is important to remember that we have seen tumult and trial before, and it is the genius of the architects of our liberty that we can withstand it all and emerge stronger for it.

Flake had served six years in the U.S. Senate, mostly alongside Sen. John McCain, who died in July after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

During his speech, Flake said McCain often joked that the “only way I ever got elected to anything was because of my hundreds of siblings and thousands of cousins.

“Well, the truth hurts, I reckon – Senator McCain might have been on to something there,” Flake said.

Flake’s speech ended with a round of applause from the chamber. U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to McCain’s seat after his death, and Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema were in attendance.

Kyl praised Flake after his speech, saying “his service does not end at the end of his time in the U.S. Senate.”

Before he was elected to the Senate in 2012, succeeding Kyl, Flake served for more than a decade years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Flake served in Arizona’s First Congressional District from 2001 to 2003, before serving in the Sixth Congressional District from 2003 to 2012.

What is next for Flake was not known: In November, after months of speculation, Flake began backing away from a 2020 presidential run and has not announced future plans.

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Jeff Flake emphasizes importance of democracy in final speech