Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Patrick Murphy at Widener

Today PCN replayed a talk given by Congressman Patrick Murphy at his legal alma mater, Widener University. I watched it this evening and typed up notes. This is not intended as a transcript, just rough notes. My apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Patrick Murphy at Widener University Law School (Harrisburg)

"Lessons Learned from Baghdad to Congress"

Inaugural Patrick J. Murphy Lecture 11/22/10

John Gedid, Widener Law & Government Institute Director introduces the lecture series.

Dean and Assoc Provost Linda Ammons introduces Murphy.

Congressman Murphy 199? graduate, 2002 recipient of ??? Award, commencement speaker, member of national adivsory class of advisory ??? of Widener School of Law. 2009 receipient of John F Kennedy New Frontier Award. [lengthy, did not get most of it]

PJM: thanks. [thanks many people] It's an honor to be here for the inaugural lecture for what I hope will be an informative series. I hear the first year students turned in their first paper today. Thanks for those who came after getting little sleep. I sat where you are in 1996. In know in years to come you will make all of us proud. Always considered it a minor miracle that I could earn a law degree form Widener. Grew up in a row house in NE Philly, son of police office and a legal secretary. A friend died when I was 17 and that made me realize how quickly everything can be taken away from you. I turned my life around. As freshman in Bucks County Community College made dean's list, went to Kings College, joined Army.

Lessons parents taught served me well. Never back away from a fight if you believe it's one worth fighting. One night when I was 10 a kid knocked on the door and wanted to fight me, after taunting me at school. Dad said if a guy wants to fight you go fight him. Went outside and fought out in the street under streetlight. Heard father urging him on in the background. Learned from challenges and standing up to neighborhood bullies. Seek out challenges and tackle them head on. After 9/11 was teaching Constitutional Law at West Point. Realized country faced new and unprecendented challenge. Terrorist threat from abroad killed over 3K people. Had been in Army for 8 years. My country had been attacked and I wanted to join brothers and sisters in arms. Went to Bosnia as part of Judge Advocate General's corps., served under Gen. David Petraeus. When returned country was gearing up for Iraq. Mixed feelings, Gen. Powell said war should be last option. But received orders and shipped out with 82nd Airborne Division, JAG for combat brigade. Sometimes led convoys, 2 or 3 vehicles, up and down Ambush Alley. I was responsible for those soldiers and those convoys, responsible for helping Iraqi justice system stand up on its own. It proved to be an uphill battle. [Cites time when one of his soldiers spotted an IED by side of 6 lane highway, reported it]

When I got back home I felt Pres. Bush's decision was wrong. I decided to do something about it and run for office, let experience of 2 deployments help make decisions in Congress. With $300 in bank and NE Philly accent that made some cringe, made decision to run for Congress. The powers that be in DC were less than enthused. Met Rahm Emmanuel who looked at my proposal (8 pages) gave it a passing glance and said don't come back until you raise 250K. Over next 9 months worked hard, raised money and more. Our operation in thsoe days, a dusty basement office, an old computer, a few college interns, you wouldn't have thought we had much of a chance. This is one of the challenges my father would have said was worth tackling. Wanted to change our foriegn policy and shake up DC. Working phones, asking for support, so be it. After thousands of hours on the phone, wearing out soles of shoes, won the race, by .6%. There were people who said I should quit but I also knew that I wanted to stand up for a better America. There were challenges. I stumbled through some early media appearances. Any time I was starting to feel sorry for myself I only had to remember what got me started in the first place. There were 19 men I served with who were never coming home. These past fours years serving in Congress have been a whirlwind.

One of my priorities is repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." During my time in the Army saw some soldiers dismissed because of their sexual orientation. At 19 I accepted that but as I got older and when I graduated from college I couldn't think of a justification for it. Our brave American heroes were being told they weren't fit for military service, not because they weren't brave enough or strong enough, but only because of their orientation. In battle no one cared who you dated back home. One day I told my campaign team I wanted to tackle that issue and they told me it was a toxic issue, don't take it. I remembered what my dad said and that was the end of it. I fought for what I believed would make our country a better and stronger country. No matter what path you take in law school, remember that there is no price high enough for your principles and your values. My father used to say if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything. That's not to say I didn't have my doubts. I wondered if I would be good enough because I didn't go to Harvard or Yale but standing next to people I learned I was. Your possibilities are endless. Professor said get over the fact that you aren't at Harvard or Yale. They are learning the same thing and he said he was teaching what he would teach there. Bring your A game.

Only 30% of American have a college dgree, only 1% has law degree. The JD after your name is more than letters on a business card. It is a responsibility. As the Bible says to whom much is given much will be required. Back in 1977 Att Gen Edward Levi, said ... "if we have a govt of laws and not of men it takes dedication of men and women to fairness and impartiality." [blogger's note -- not sure I have this quote correctly.] Today our country faces crisis. There are over ????? people eligible for free civil assistance?. Through the Wills for Heroes program in Bucks. Police and firefighters make wills. Most of the firefighters who died on 9/11 didn't have wills. Through your actions you are showing fairness and justice. the knowledge and experience you have gained in halls of Widener puts you in that 1%. You understand the principles on which our country was founded. You will run into setbacks in your professional and personal life.

Think of a woman I met while running. Shelby Oppenheimer. At 27 married and starting a fmily. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, given 3-5 years to live. When I met her she was confined to a hospital bed, breathed with ventilator. She talked about her little daughter, 8 years old. She said all I want out of life is to see my daughter go to her senior prom. My only chance to do that is through embryonic stem cell research. I want you to tell my story because my voice is too soft but yours is not. As I promised her I continue to talk about that. Saw her at her daughter's bat mitzvah, prom is only a few years away. Remember Shelby's grit and determination. Never allow anyone to dictate to you what you can accomplish in your life. Be the voice of others whose voice is too soft to be heard. No one is too busy to give some of their itme to let someone breathe a little easier.

What will you do, what will you accomplish with what you have been given, you who are part of the 1%. I lost my election three weeks ago. The guy I edged out four years ago by .6% came back and riding a wave of voter discontent, beat me. Despite the worst economy since the Great Depression, bringing in 3K jobs, 4th largest solar field in American. We fought to make the lives of middle class families better. This was a setback. If I was ever tempted to succomb to self-doubt and pity I think of Shelby. I think of those 19 men I served with. I promised Shelby I would be her voice. I remain committed to public serivce, either as an elected official or a husband or father I promise not to back down. These are the types of challenges we need to face [he gives a long list of scenarios people losing their homes etc].


Q: Beside economy, what other challenges we have to meet as a nation?

PM: Clearly our foreign policy. We have heroes still serving in Iraq and Afghistan. ??% come home with PTSD, homeless. strain on families. What you do at Widener's veterans law clinic is so important. When are we going to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. What are we going to do to wean ourselves off foreign oil. investing in wind solar and geothermal. Also nuclear energy.

Q: If PM had any involvement in military tribunals.

PM: There were 3500 paratroopers in my brigade. Unfortunately had to court martial about 6 of them. We also staffed Iraqi justice system. Sheik Mouad (sp?) threated to kill Americans, tortured Iraqis, tried him in Iraqi criminal court, I brought the case where he was prosuecuted. He's still in jail. Obviously military tribunals in Gitmo. whether that is death penalty or life in prison.

Q: most difficult challenges

PM: serving in Iraqi, lead team of 7 men, make sure we were doing what's right. I remember when I was there, Al Rashid Baghad is the size of Philly, but while Philadelphia has 7K cops, Baghdad had 3500. It was difficult. As JAG in charge of prosecuting ????, soldiers coming in with divorce papers, worried they would never see their kids again. There's a lot of challenges out there.

Q: Congress in a lame duck session, any issues you are trying to push

PM: some budgetary things. defense bill. DADT repeal, waiting for Senate, passed in House. McCain used to say when military leaders ask for it, now they've asked, and he says he wants to see a study, now there's a study and they are moving the goals posts again. We've kicked out over 1200 heroes because of this. We need the troops. I got letters from a lot of people after taking lead on this. One from a company commander, on 4th deployement. He had had to counsel so many people who got "Dear John" letters, and other family issues. Never thought he would get one but did. Since he's gay he can't talk to anyone about it. I'll work as hard as I can until Jan. 3rd. Still very blessed, wife and kids. America is a great country but we need to make it even greater.

Q: advice for law students who want a career in govt service

PM: The Law and Government Institute a good first step. sat in your seat 14 years ago. think about where you want to be in 10 years or 20 years. Then work back, what to do to get there. As a student here I worked for a state rep Tom Tangretti. Got an offer for a good paying job but turned it down to work in Philly DA's office. Worked as a first year law student on a murder case. Years later I was a prosecutor, was a JAG. If you want to fight for justice intern in those office and see what it's like. If you like politics, the state capitol is just down the road. Take advantage of law review and other opportunities. I got rejected from law review but years later wrote a book. If you get rejected keep trying.

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