WITA Remembers Former Congressman Jim Kolbe




WITA and the trade community mourn the passing of former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. Jim was a mentor, a friend, and a leader on trade for over 30 years. WITA presented its very first Distinguished Service award to Jim in 1995, along with his good friend, the late Congressman Bob Matsui. WITA recognized him again in 2006 when he was presented with WITA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Even after his retirement from Congress, he embraced and embodied WITA’s professional spirit through his constant participation at WITA’s events, and subsequent career. 


In Memoriam by Everett Eissenstat and Sean Mulvaney

Jim Kolbe was a passionate supporter of economic freedom, free trade, and a true believer that an inclusive rules-based system could advance peace, stability, and prosperity, not just for his Arizona constituents, but for the United States and the world at large.

Informed by his service in Vietnam and his understanding of history, he worked tirelessly to support principled trade and development policy within the broader fabric of global American leadership and engagement. As a policy maker, his constant commitment to educating his Congressional colleagues on the importance of U.S. engagement and leadership and support for legislation which embodied those principles was unsurpassed. Without Jim, programs that impacted millions of citizens around the world, such as the MCC, PEPFAR, and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, would not have achieved their financial scale or consequence during his years in public office. Always an optimist, he partnered in a collegial fashion across the aisle and across Administrations to ensure that the US would remain strong at home and abroad.

We, like the WITA community, are grateful for his leadership, fellowship, mentorship, and commitment to principle. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Everett Eissenstat served as Congressman Jim Kolbe’s Legislative Director from 1996-2001, and Sean Mulvaney advised the Congressman on trade and foreign policy from 1992-1995 and 2001-2005.


Jim Kolbe at the 2017 WITA/WITF Annual Dinner

Congressman Kolbe made his last appearance at WITA’s 2017 Annual Dinner, when we were honored to have him present WITA’s Congressional Leadership Award to Senator Jeff Flake. Below is a lightly edited transcription of the remarks he gave that night, which can be viewed here. We are sharing these remarks to hear Jim in his own voice, as his words of introduction of Senator Flake are also a mirror into his own views on trade.

Thank you for the kind words and thank you to all of you that are here tonight to participate in this very special annual event for WITA, and for those that are being honored here tonight. It was mentioned earlier that I’ve gotten some awards from WITA over the years, but you know I’m one of those that I think had to kind of learn about trade. Some of us have to learn about trade, we have to study economics, we have to see it, we have to be told about it, we have to kind of feel it. Those of us live close to the border with Mexico we can kind of feel some of that. There are others though that it just comes as part of their DNA. They’re born with it, they know it from the beginning, it’s inherently a part of who they are, as part of their economic and personal philosophies.

But even when it’s people that either learn it or they inherently understand it, when they’re in public office they often have a hard time addressing it and promoting it. Because most of those in public office, whether it’s learned or by nature for them, they flinch when it comes to acting about trade because they fear what kind of response they’re going to get from their districts at home, from the people that they represent. They may talk the talk, but they seldom walk the walk.

But not the guy that I’m introducing here this evening, Senator Jeff Flake. He has never flinched. He has never doubted. There’s never been a question about where he stands on the issue of trade and its importance to people and our economy, to the Americans people, and our national security. He’s never flinched from that even when confronted with determined opposition, as we often are for those that serve in public office. He has stood his ground.

And perhaps the best example of this would be the issue of trade sanctions with Cuba. When virtually no other Republican was calling for ending the sanctions, he was calling for letting the market economy work and allow trade with Cuba. He was there calling for an end to the kinds of sanctions that we had with Cuba. Sometimes there are obviously other considerations, there are political considerations, there are moral considerations that come into our determination about what we do about trade, and Jeff understands that as well.

But it’s not just whether to suspend sanctions against Cuba. It’s been all the issues that we’ve had with trade while I served with him in Congress. Whether it’s been the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the Colombia trade agreement, the South Korea trade agreement, all these agreements over the years, he is the one that has stood there day after day promoting these agreements.

He’s never doubted the economic arguments for open markets. We’ve heard a lot tonight about jobs, and how trade is important for jobs, and it is very important. But there’s something else, something that sometimes gets left out of the equation that I want to mention tonight that Jeff understands inherently, and that is how trade is important for consumers, how consumers benefit from trade, how they get more choices in products, lower prices, and a better standard of living. He understands that everybody in the end benefits from trade. It’s my great pleasure this evening to introduce an individual that has been a stalwart on trade and has been one of the great individuals in the United States Congress over the years on this issue, and no one that I can think of is more deserving of this leadership award than my friend and colleague from Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

See the obituary in the Washington Post.