The past few weeks have been full of vitriol and heated debates, from Maryland's General Assembly up to the GOP presidential primary race.
In the midst of it all, I have taken a lot of time to reflect upon two great men, each a great American in his own way.
The first is President Abraham Lincoln. I was asked to give a speech about his life to the entire Senate chamber this month, and worked very hard to write a fitting tribute. You can read my entire address here, but I want to highlight the part that has impacted me the most during our heated political climate of late.
While researching Lincoln, I was reminded that he appointed his three primary opponents for the Republican nomination to serve in his own Cabinet.
He also looked beyond ideological differences and put one of his fiercest detractors, Edwin Stanton, into what proved to be the most important Cabinet position during those four years: Secretary of War.
Lincoln surrounded himself with the brightest, strongest and best minds to help steer our nation to calmer waters, regardless of party or previous allegiance. Needless to say, this was remarkable in its own time, and is even more unlikely today.
In the face of so much divisiveness, it was healthy for me to look back and get a little historical perspective on succeeding through statesmanship, rather than gamesmanship.
Lincoln managed to display humility, yet never flinched on his convictions and values. That’s a remarkable leadership combination that I try hard to emulate through my work in the Senate.
The second man I have been reflecting upon recently is my grandfather, . Everyone knew him as Jim.
I knew him as Pop. He passed away last week at the age of 82.
Pop started his family in a small town in the North Carolina foothills. Like today, it was hard to find work. But he was determined to support his wife and three sons, and chased a local newspaper ad 420 miles to Baltimore in the desperate hope of employment.
He got a job with the Glen L. Martin Aircraft Company, as a machinist. Pop traveled to North Carolina every weekend to be with his family, never complaining because he understood that sacrifice was required to ensure their well-being.
Nobody else, and certainly not the government, was responsible for their care except him. Eventually, he was able to move his family to Baltimore.
After a few years of stability, his entrepreneurial spirit kicked back in and he took a great risk: leaving his secure job to start his own business. Jim’s Automatic Transmission Service began as a single bay shop on Martin Boulevard.
The shop has outgrown its location three times in the last 54 years. Today, employs 15 people and has an unparalleled reputation for the quality and honesty of its founder.
My role as an elected official takes me all over the place. I go from community associations to civic council meetings to Boy Scout ceremonies. Almost weekly, I am stopped by loyal customers, random strangers who hear my last name and ask, “Are you related to Jim Jennings?”
I can’t tell you how proud I am to say that yes, he is my grandfather. They go on to tell me how he lent a hand, made a fix, or gave a break to them when they needed it most. Although these stories took place over 30 years ago, they are always told so vividly that it shows what kind of an impact my grandfather had on people. He has built a reputation for the “Jennings” name that I strive to continue.
No memory is more emotionally stirring than of my time as a toddler, sitting beside him on his Piper 250 Comanche airplane as he soared us through the air with the warm sun in our faces. I am incredibly lucky to have this as my earliest memory: literally a sense of freedom, that the sky was the limit.
There’s nothing more American, and I have my grandfather to thank for instilling that in me from the earliest possible age.
One of the proudest moments in my life was the day I was sworn in to the House of Delegates. The ceremony took place in the House chamber, and we were allowed to bring one guest onto the floor with us. There was no question I was taking Pop.
He sat in my seat and I stood behind him to take the oath. The next act was to officially vote for the first time. As the clerk rang the bell for a quorum call, I let Pop cast my first official vote. When I vote on your behalf thousands of times each session, I try to do what a man of his integrity, wisdom, and take-life-by-the-horns conviction would do.
Both my grandfather and President Lincoln were true gentlemen, but they also possessed that fighting spirit that makes this country great.
Their unique legacies show that whether you are leader of the free world or simply a family man and businessman, you can conduct yourself as someone people will be proud of for generations. Reflecting upon these two lives of late, following President’s Day and my grandfather’s funeral, has certainly given me a lot to think about. I am carrying both of them with me in Annapolis.
As always, I am proud to represent you.