Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) announcement that he will not seek a fourth term in the US Senate set off a flurry of maneuvering in Arizona, which has not witnessed a vacant senate seat in nearly two decades. So as ambitious politicians play a frantic round of musical chairs and begin the “Political Consultant Full Employment Act” to determine who will claim Kyl’s seat, Arizona will be lucky to elect a successor who’s half the stalwart Kyl has been on behalf of his beloved state, the Constitution and core American principles.
Although he has consistently received accolades (including being named one of Time’s Most Influential People in 2010), Kyl has often been overshadowed in the media by his counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is much better known because of his presidential campaigns. Yet among Washington insiders as well as many within his home state, it is Kyl who appears to be Arizona’s favorite son.
Since taking office as an Arizona Congressman in 1987, Kyl has been an enduring champion of fundamental conservative values. The Senator has been seemingly immune to the Potomac Fever that affects so many within the Beltway, never wavering under special-interest pressure or to gain a particular sector of support in an election year.
It is this commitment to core principles that makes it all the more impressive that Kyl has repeatedly been able to work with Democrats across the aisle. In 2004, Kyl gained notice for his work on the issue of victims’ rights with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Although Kyl and Feinstein were not able to pass a constitutional amendment on the subject as they originally had hoped, they did pass a comprehensive victims’ rights bill, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which ushered in sweeping reforms to improve the circumstances of victims during criminal investigations and proceedings. Since that bill’s passage, Kyl has continued to advocate on behalf of crime victims to protect their privacy.
More importantly, in an age of the amnesia that befalls so many politicians whereby they seem to forget their constituents’ interests as soon as their planes touch down at Reagan National Airport, Kyl has never forgotten his base or the importance of local politics.
Kyl continues to be involved in Arizona politics at nearly every level, advocating on behalf of candidates in the states even when he himself is running for re-election. Kyl expressed in his retirement announcement that he hopes to be even more involved in Arizona politics in his future acts.
In fact, Kyl has often sought local solutions to federal problems. In the last election, for instance, Kyl was a pioneering champion of the Save Our Secret Ballot Amendment – an initiative that appeared on the ballot in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah – which aimed to preserve the right of the employee to vote by secret ballot in union elections. The initiative, which won in all four states, was a local attempt to combat the Employee Free Choice Act, a federal bill that, if passed, would have ushered in the Big Labor-backed policy of “card check,” a process that would have seriously impinged on workers’ rights in the states.
Kyl’s support for a local attempt to solve an impending national issue helped to derail the idea of card check for the time being. Although just last year it was believed that Democrats would push card check in a lame duck session in December, following the November victories of the Save Our Secret Ballot Amendment, the issue was dropped altogether.
Most recently, Kyl introduced a federal balanced budget amendment with newly elected Senator Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), aimed at addressing the astounding $14 trillion national debt and $1.5 trillion national deficit our country currently faces. Kyl, who supported the rally for a balanced budget amendment in the nineties, has been a consistent fiscal conservative. This more recent balanced budget iteration – a plea for a return to fiscal sanity in Washington – is a fitting last act for a man who has always been true to his core beliefs.
Several years ago, an astute yet cynical friend said that if he were to name new founders to the Constitution today, he would pick Sen. Jon Kyl first. I was surprised by my friend’s declaration because of his general disregard for most elected officials, so I asked why? He said, “He is just that good; just wise; just that decent – America needs more Jon Kyls.” Sen. Kyl’s departure will leave a gaping hole in the US Senate because of those qualities, his foresight and his humility. We can only hope that younger leaders in Congress, inspired by Kyl’s great example, will step up to fill his shoes.