Remembering Arlen Specter

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But when we started talking about the project, Senator Specter couldn’t have been more helpful, thoughtful, and insightful. He offered excellent advice about the direction of the project, and he suggested some tips on how to secure the funding we needed.

From that first meeting, we developed a personal relationship, too. Whenever he’d come to Hazleton, Senator Specter would say, “Hop in the car and ride with me,” and he’d ask about my wife and my daughters. He had a great memory. You wouldn’t believe that a United States senator would remember the personal details about you and your family.

After I ran for the House and lost a second time, he told me he had lost twice, and he told me not to give up. Arlen Specter gave me a pep talk.
That’s the other side of Arlen Specter. That’s the side that not a lot of people got to see. It’s the side that I felt privileged to get to know.

No matter how well you knew Senator Specter, he could still intimidate. In July 2006, after I introduced the first local legislation in the country that cracked down on illegal immigration, he invited me to testify at a field hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Philadelphia. And as if Senator Specter’s presence wasn’t enough, joining him was Senator Ted Kennedy.

Offering testimony before those two giants of the Senate was daunting. Both senators listened intently and asked probing questions. They were exceedingly polite, and it was an experience I will never forget.

Senator Specter staunchly defended his beliefs, but he also listened the beliefs of others.

Before I got to know him, he was in Northeastern Pennsylvania to speak to a group of high school students. During his opening remarks, a senior yelled out a question about the magic bullet theory. School officials thought the student acted rudely and suspended him for five days. Senator Specter came to the student’s defense: “I think it would have a decisive, chilling effect on other students who seek to ask questions under similar circumstances. In America, we want to encourage this kind of exchange, not discourage it through the possibility of a suspension.”

That’s the kind of man Arlen Specter could be. But to me, he was one thing above everything else.

Whether it was in the Senate over his beliefs and his priorities, during his hard-fought elections, or against the relentless monster that is cancer, Arlen Specter was a fighter.

That is how I will remember him.

Barletta, a Republian, represents the 11th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.