WASHINGTON – Sen. Fritz Hollings (search), one of the last of the larger-than-life Democrats who once dominated politics in the South, delivered his final Senate speech Tuesday and chided his colleagues as he has for 38 years for their spending and free-trade policies.
"I know that we can do better," said Hollings, 82, closing a political career that spanned more than half a century as a state legislator, governor and senator from South Carolina.
In a rambling, irreverent speech -- a Hollings trademark -- he rapped Republicans for driving up federal deficits with tax cuts, expressed outrage at the failure to reform Social Security (search) and complained that Washington was giving away jobs, including South Carolina textile jobs, with free trade policies.
He lamented that lawmakers today must spend much of their time raising money for the next election. "The main culprit, the cancer on the body politic, is money," the tall, white-haired lawmaker said in his deep, southern drawl. "We don't have time for each other, we don't have time for constituents except for the givers. ... We're in real, real trouble."
But Hollings, who will be succeeded by Republican Rep. Jim DeMint (search), also praised his colleagues.
"I don't leave with the idea that the Senate is not what it used to be... We've got a way better group of senators," he said, recalling that when he arrived in Washington in 1966, "We had five drunks or six drunks."
He said now, "We don't have time to be drunks."
Hollings noted that there was only one woman, Margaret Chase Smith (search), R-Maine, in his first years in the Senate, and that she was "outstandingly quiet."
"Now we've got 15 or 17 and you can't shut them up," he joked. There are 14 women senators.
Hollings graduated from The Citadel (search), served in combat in World War II, earned a law degree and entered the state Legislature in 1948. He was elected governor in 1958 and is credited with leading his state peacefully into the age of integration.
He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1984 and has the distinction of being the longest-serving junior senator in history. He finally became his state's senior senator last year when the late Strom Thurmond retired at age 100.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who succeeded Thurmond, said Hollings' time in the Senate "will be felt by South Carolinians as long as there is a South Carolina. You have made our state a better state to live."
Hollings in turn said he was ceding his Senate chamber desk, once used by South Carolina's John Calhoun, to Graham, his 49-year-old colleague.
Hollings, who cast more than 14,000 votes in his career, has a long record of legislative achievements, most notably the 1985 Graham-Rudman-Hollings act that reined in deficit spending.
Among the acts he sponsored were those initiating the Women, Infants and Children (search) (WIC) program and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (search) (CAFE) standards. He helped found the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (search) and wrote the National Coastal Zone Management Act.
Recently, as top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, he has been involved in telecommunications issues such as increasing competition between long-distance carriers, and security issues. He was a sponsor of the Aviation Security Act (search) after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and has been a leader in pushing for better port security.