BY MARY ORNDORFF TROYAN, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Congress needs to replicate the same conservative policies that some states have adopted on education, energy and business issues, Sen. Jim DeMint said in his final Senate floor speech Thursday.
DeMint said his goal will be to push lawmakers in that direction when he takes a new job next year running a prominent conservative think tank.
"My hope is to make conservative ideas so pervasive, so persuasive across the country that politicians of all parties have to embrace those ideas to be elected," said DeMint, a Republican.
DeMint announced recently he will resign from the Senate next year to become president of The Heritage Foundation, which promotes research and analysis that Republicans often cite to promote their policies. Demint's farewell address Thursday previewed his agenda there.
DeMint praised states that have implemented school choice policies, enacted right-to-work laws, expanded energy development, lowered taxes and reduced regulations on business.
"If we can win the hearts and minds of the American people with these ideas, I know we can engage and enlist them to convince all of you here to set the politics aside, the parties aside, and to adopt those ideas that work," DeMint said.
DeMint's hardline conservatism defined his career in Washington and sometimes irritated his Republican colleagues. Some blamed DeMint for the GOP's failure to take control of the Senate, noting that extremely right-wing candidates - such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware - won GOP primaries with DeMint's backing, only to lose the general election.
But DeMint's support helped other candidates win.
"So I feel like as I leave the Senate, that we're leaving it better than we found it," he said.
Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, to take DeMint's place in January.
DeMint said he will not be an advocate for the Republican Party in his new job.
"I know my Democratic colleagues believe with conviction their ideas and I know my Republican colleagues do too," he said. "But I hope we can ... set aside the politics and realize what really makes this country great and strong is when we move dollars and decisions out of Washington back to the people and communities and states."
DeMint also thanked the people of South Carolina for his 14 years in Congress - six in the House and eight in the Senate.
"I'm not leaving the fight," he said.