I write this now not only to remember his legacy but also to offer his example to a new generation of legislators who now face an equally momentous task. As members of the Senate proceed with the impeachment trial, I recommend that they keep in mind the good work of people such as my father. He and others showed that it was possible to transcend partisan divisions as they sought to defend our democratic institutions.
As a young Republican representative from Illinois, Dad took his responsibilities as a legislator and a lawyer seriously. He believed in fairness and in upholding the rule of law. His father, Fred Railsback, had been city attorney for several small Illinois towns. Public service was viewed in our family as an honor and a privilege.
Dad believed we should strive to get along with others, including those with opposing political views. A committed Republican himself, he truly valued his lifelong friendships with both Republican and Democratic colleagues. His ability to work closely with lawmakers from across the political spectrum helped him forge agreements that addressed pressing national concerns and benefited the country.
During those momentous impeachment proceedings more than 40 years ago, Dad used his skills as a lawyer and lawmaker to review the facts and evidence carefully. He worked collaboratively with members of both parties for the good of the country and refused to be pressured by partisan leaders.
In a nutshell, he did his job as a legislator. Although he suffered some political repercussions, he remained proud of his actions in support of impeachment until the end of his life. Our family remains proud of the courageous steps he took in putting loyalty to country and the rule of law above partisan and personal concerns. In fulfilling his constitutional duty as a member of the legislative branch, he left us and our country with a lasting legacy of which we can be proud. He did what he believed was right to uphold our carefully crafted system of checks and balances.
I believe that senators now have, as my father did, a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role at a critical time in our country’s history. I greatly value our country’s freedoms and the ability to hold our government accountable when excesses and injustices occur. I have traveled and worked in countries with poorly functioning or non-functioning governments. Our country’s relatively young government, with three strong, independent branches, works well because of its foundational system of checks and balances. The healthy functioning of our government depends on the members of each branch taking their responsibilities seriously and fulfilling their duties without interference from the other branches of government or partisan or personal interests.
I know from my father’s experience that the decisions senators make in the coming days — and the ways in which they make them — may well determine how they are remembered throughout the rest of their lives. I beseech them to be thoughtful, serious and independent, to uphold the rule of law, and to be ever mindful of their critical role in protecting our country’s precious system of checks and balances.
Our entire country is counting on them to exercise their independent judgment and not bow to extraneous political pressures. Similarly, lawmakers and ordinary individuals from around the world who treasure freedom and the rule of law look to the U.S. Congress for leadership and guidance.
One of Dad’s good friends, former congressman and transportation secretary Ray LaHood, recently described Dad’s passing as the end of an era. Though I love and respect Ray, I think he’s wrong on this. I believe there remain lawmakers of good will, good intellect and good courage in both parties who will, as my Dad did, rise to the occasion in these difficult times for the good of the country.