George John Mitchell is the American special envoy to the Middle East for the Obama administration. A Democrat, Mitchell was a United States Senator who served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. He was chairman of The Walt Disney Company from March 2004 until January 2007, and was chairman of the international law firm DLA Piper at the time of his appointment as special envoy.
He is the Chancellor of Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 2006, he was asked by the Commissioner of Baseball to lead an investigation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball.
In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Senator Mitchell has received awards and honors including the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Truman Institute Peace Prize, the German Peace Prize and the United Nations (UNESCO) Peace Prize.In the Senate, he was closely associated with free trade and environmental legislation, and with aid to housing and education. He led the successful 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, including new controls on acid rain toxins. He was the author of the first national oil spill prevention and clean-up law. Mitchell led the Senate to passage of the nation's first child care bill and was principal author of the low income housing tax credit program. He was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation extending civil rights protections to the disabled. Mitchell's efforts led to the passage of a higher education bill that expanded opportunities for millions of Americans. Senator Mitchell was also a leader in opening markets to trade and led the Senate to ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement and creation of the World Trade Organization.For six consecutive years he was voted "the most respected member" of the Senate by a bipartisan group of senior congressional aides. In 1994 George Mitchell declined an appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States in order to remain in the Senate and pursue the struggle for universal national health care.
Question: What have been your greatest accomplishments and failures?
George Mitchell: Well, most times when I’m asked that question, it deals specifically with legislation- what’s the biggest thing you ever did in that respect? And there are quite a few, and I try not to select any. Perhaps illustrative was the major Clean Air bill that I was a principal supporter and author of in 1990. That was a very contentious bill-- took years and years of effort, and a very long legislative process, and I devoted a lot of my life to it. That, probably in legislative terms, was- I don’t know if it was the most important, but it was the most comprehensive and a major bill. Outside of that, I tend to talk about two things: first, my work in Northern Ireland. I spent a total of about five years, chaired three separate sets of proceedings. I wasn’t there for five years non-stop-- coming and going-- but for the most part I was there for long periods of time during that stretch, and we just in the past month have celebrated the tenth anniversary of the so-called Good Friday Agreement, the peace agreement, which resulted from one of the negotiations which I chaired. That was very significant. I like Northern Ireland. I like the people, I like the place. I still go there quite a bit. I serve as the Chancellor of the Queens University in Northern Ireland, which is a large institution of higher learning there. And so that takes me back and in other capacities, I go back probably three or four times a year, and I like to take my children there, to give my young children, to give them some sense of what was important in my life. The other thing that I spent a lot of my time on and that I’m most proud of is when I left the Senate, I created a scholarship program for needy students from Maine. Started small-- I got started in a funny way, I had raised money in preparation for re-election, then I decided not to run, and so I wrote to every contributor and I said, “You can have your money back
if you want it, but if you leave it with me, I’m gonna use it for scholarships.” And about half took the money back and about half left it with me-- that got us started and I’ve since spent-- that was thirteen years ago and I’ve spent a great time in the intervening thirteen years raising money, and we now provide a scholarship to a graduate from each public high school in Maine, 130 of them, each year. So, we have a lot of kids have gone through the process and I spent a lot of time at it, and it’s very heartening to see it, because I myself, as I mentioned earlier in the interview, I wasn’t certain I was gonna go to college. My parents had absolutely no money. My father wasn’t working at the time, and I got a lot of help from a lot of people, some scholarship assistance, a lot of work effort, Bowdoin College, which I went to- a great institution, to which I owe much of what I’ve been able to do in life. They helped me out with a lot of jobs, so I kinda worked two, three, four jobs all the time while I was in school, and it not only helped me get through school, but it taught me, I think, a good work ethic. So, the scholarship fund means a lot to me. I meet with these students each year and I see in a lot of them where I was at the time-- uncertain, insecure, don’t really know what you’re gonna do with life, but there’s a potential.