- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

A politician’s final moments in public office can define their legacy.

Lawmakers who lost their November races chose different ways to use their waning time on Capitol Hill — some finishing legislation or positioning themselves for a future run.

Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio’s last task was more solemn.

“My goal has been to do one tribute for each serviceman, and after I lost the election, it became apparent that was going to be difficult,” the Republican told The Washington Times. “It is something only a United States senator can do, so that presented a great sense of urgency.”

So Mr. DeWine spent his last hours delivering more than 75 floor speeches in honor of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, completing a longtime goal of memorializing the more than 150 from his state who have perished in those wars.

It is a task he began in 2002, when an Ohioan became the first serviceman killed in Afghanistan, but one he pledged to finish before leaving after 12 years in the Senate and more than two decades on Capitol Hill.

“It is the mark of our colleague from Ohio, the kind of person he is … that he would come to the floor of the Senate in his last few days,” said Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. “[To] focus on others, focus on those who have given the ultimate for their families, for our country and for our future.”

While most of his departing colleagues spent last week backslapping and lauding their own accomplishments, Mr. DeWine, 59, remained in the chamber late each night paying homage.

“I believe it is the least we can do in this Senate,” said Mr. DeWine, who voted for the Iraq war in 2002. He lost his seat to Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown in part because of his support for the conflict.

The tributes did more than list a person’s name, age and service. Most lasted several minutes and included details, such as how 27-year-old Sgt. Justin Hoffman teased “the love of his life,” girlfriend Teri Price, that he would propose “as soon as he stepped off the plane on his way back from Iraq.” Or how Pvt. Samuel Bowen’s sister, Consuella, has not erased messages he left on her answering machine.

Mr. DeWine remembered Pvt. Adam R. Shepherd as “someone who could brighten any day,” and lauded the 1993 wrestling championship that made Maj. Ramon J. Mendoza Jr. a Buckeyes sports legend.

The narratives were crafted through detailed research, much of which was done during funeral services the senator — whose daughter was killed in a car wreck 13 years ago — regularly attended. The tributes often included quotes from family, friends and teachers.

“The story is not about me,” he said. “Every day for the rest of their lives, these families will think of their lost father, their lost son, their lost husband.”

Mr. DeWine noted that for most of the fallen troops, “their lives had just begun.”

The speeches are a permanent record of the United States Senate, and “if the family members 100 years from now want to look it up, it’s there. It won’t go away,” he said.

DeWine staffers sent each family the congressional record and video or DVD copies of the floor speech.

Plenty of lawmakers pay tribute to troops killed with flags flown over the Capitol or formal statements entered into the record, but no other member has made such a visible effort.

His colleagues publicly and privately described the speeches as “heartfelt,” and his character as “classy” and “compassionate.” They observed his determination to finish.

“It says a lot about Mike DeWine, a lot that many of us already knew,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “You’ve got the heart of gold that we all dream about.”

Minority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Mr. DeWine a “senator’s senator,” who has “mastered the art of making a difference.”

Mr. DeWine, a lawyer, has not decided his future plans, but hopes to teach college-level government. He has not ruled out another political run.

Mr. DeWine concluded the tributes Friday night, a few hours before the close of Congress, with an emotional reflection: “I would say, Mr. President, to the families of those who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, in training exercises in service to our country, that I will remember them, and I will think about them until the day I die.”

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