WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Bennett, a victim of this year's anti-incumbent fervor, reflected on his 18 years in office in a farewell speech to his fellow lawmakers in the Senate chambers Thursday.
The 77-year-old Utah Republican recalled the time he spent as an intern in his teens and as a staffer for his father, the late Sen. Wallace Bennett, before he ever ran for election. He recounted the monumental events where he was in Washington, such as running to a ticker tape in the Senate offices to read updates on the shooting of then-President John F. Kennedy, and being present when Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington and delivered his "I have a dream" speech.
"This is an extraordinary place filled with extraordinary people," Bennett said. "I say farewell to it with kind of mixed feelings."
In his more than 20-minute address, Bennett shared some of the lessons he learned from fellow lawmakers including fellow Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He said he learned in his tenure that there is a significant difference between Republicans and Democrats, but both are necessary.
"They're both right — that's the thing I have come to understand here," he said.
One party believes free markets will solve problems, and the other believes government will. Different circumstances necessitate different solutions, he said.
"Because I believe in free markets, I'm a Republican," Bennett said.
Bennett was ousted at the state Republican convention in May by Republican delegates seeking even more conservative lawmakers. Bennett came in third behind Sen.-elect Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, who faced off in the primary.
Contrary to media or Hollywood portrayals of lawmakers as crooked and unethical, the Senate of today is in far better shape than years past, Bennett said.
"The caricature that we get from the press ... is simply not true," he said.
While he will leave his Senate career at the end of the month, he has no plans of retiring from meaningful work and political discourse.
"I do not intend to leave the arena of public debate," he said.
And while his speech Thursday was a sort of goodbye to the role he loves, he plans on being vocal and proactive on the issues and bills that prevent themselves in coming weeks.