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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at a White House Briefing for the American Legislative Exchange Council


The President. Such enthusiasm for Sununu finishing -- it's wonderful. [Laughter] Look, I'm just delighted to be back with this most distinguished group.

Let me say, having interrupted our Chief of Staff, how fortunate I am to have someone as Chief of Staff here in the White House who did -- as Sam Rayburn often talked about -- did run for sheriff. Remember what Rayburn said? He said: ``Well, that guy's trouble. He never ran,'' he said, ``never ran for sheriff.'' And what he really meant is didn't have a feel for the people. And John not only ran successfully for Governor of his great State but he understands and keeps reminding me of the philosophical underpinnings of our administration: decentralization and federalism, which I want to mention to you today about. And so, I am very, very pleased that he was over here, and I have great confidence in him and in Roger Porter, as well, who's up here, who handles so many of our -- have you already unloaded on these guys?

Mr. Porter. No, I'm following.

The President. Following? [Laughter] And Roger has respect on the Hill that really is unparalleled in terms of the job that he fills and in previous administrations. And so, I'm very, very lucky.

I also have another person over here that ran for sheriff. She was the speaker -- as many of you know -- of her legislature. And that brings another dimension to this outreach that we're trying to do, because we learn from the input we get from people coming in here. The danger is isolation. And I know some think I'm a little frenetic in my activities, but when you get out, even if it's just driving as we did to a food bank a couple of days ago, you get a feel for what's on people's minds and what works and what we ought to try to do better. So, I'm delighted you're here in that spirit.

I want to thank Frank Messersmith, who came out and handed me a letter and told me of the support that you all are giving us, which I've already heard about, in the field of education. I want to congratulate Ellen, who's soon to become your new president -- Ellen Sauerbrey. And it's also good to see Sam Brunelli, Ron Scheberle, and so many other familiar faces out there in the back benches and all across this room.

You know, before I get into the substance here, let me just talk about something that is important to America and to every State, and that is the completion of this U.S. census. Today Census Bureau workers are beginning to visit all addresses from which census forms have not been received, a mammoth undertaking. I simply want to take this opportunity to urge every American who has not returned the census form to do so, to stand up and be counted.

Now, it's great to be back among so many leaders from the States, those of you who belong to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, more than 2,300 strong. As State leaders, in alliance with leaders from the business community, you're proving every day what I mentioned at the beginning: that the government closest to the people is truly the government of the people. We've seen the wisdom of federalism vindicated over and over again.

In the sixties -- just think back -- the prevailing belief was that big problems required big government solutions. And of course, this country did face very real, big problems -- private heartaches that, taken together, afflicted all of America. But our pockets were often deeper than our thinking.

Take the War on Poverty as a prime example. This was a unilateral war in which the Federal Government sought no allies and followed only one strategy. And we soon learned what the strategy lacked: It lacked an understanding of the problems, it lacked flexibility, and often it simply lacked programs that worked. And so, we learned a very hard lesson. And this wasn't just Democrat or Republican; it was across the aisle, across the board, across -- to some degree, back then -- even philosophical differences. But we learned, and good intentions can go astray. And if the Federal Government neglects State and local government, it's bound to.

So, let me say it plain and simple: I am a believer in the Jeffersonian tradition. I believe that innovation springs from these 50 laboratories of democracy. And I believe in the inherent wisdom and leadership of the States.

Federalism must be a dynamic partnership if we're to end that age-old affliction of mankind: poverty -- poverty of knowledge and skills, poverty of opportunity, poverty of hope. We're going to need such a partnership if we're to meet new missions to keep expanding opportunity in this field that we were just talking about -- improving education, to implement a national transportation strategy, and to fight the scourge of illegal drug use.

Our partnership must begin with an accurate account of the depth and scope of our needs that can only begin with the U.S. census, a project that needs your involvement. Again, at this moment these census workers are beginning to visit all addresses from which they haven't come back in. And we really need to get moving on this, because census data will help you make important decisions for the States. And it really fits into this theme of decentralization, part of the decentralization of government, of putting our trust where it belongs: with the people.

So, it's not enough to seek a dynamic partnership between Washington and Austin, Atlanta, and Sacramento. We must turn to our families, our schools, our small businesses; and we must often seek the achievement of public goals through private means and individual action, individual empowerment. Our partnership must include everyone if we're to fulfill our agenda -- an agenda that is progrowth, profamily, and profreedom. We need this partnership to keep America growing. And that's why Congress must pass a cut in the capital gains tax this year.

For America to be competitive, we need to invest money in productive uses, generating new jobs, generating opportunities for all. We also need the partnership I referred to a second ago to keep America moving, to implement a national transportation strategy for the 21st century. You understand that leadership must begin with those closest to our transportation problems: the States. And you understand that the States deserve a greater say in how our transportation dollars are spent. And so, I'm asking you to help others understand that our transportation strategy is, indeed, the road to the future.

And as you often stress, we also need to protect the bedrock institution of American life: the family. We are not yet certain what kind of child-care legislation this Congress will pass. But if Congress stamps out the power of the parents to choose family or church-affiliated child care, I will give that legislation a stamp of my own: I will give it the veto stamp because I am not going to accept highly centralized standards and standards that rule out participation of local churches or local family groups in solving this national problem.

We also want to bring these same principles of choice and flexibility to the way in which we educate our kids. I'll leave it to Roger Porter, who is perfectly capable -- far better than I, actually -- to brief you on the education goals, on our education summit, all that we can do working together. But just let me say that as I work with the Governors to bring renewed excellence to American education, I'm also looking for advice and support and, certainly, leadership. And when it comes to leadership, your federation is already supporting open enrollment plans to give parents choice in selecting their schools; alternative certification to let the talented share their knowledge; and finally, merit pay with accountability for all. So, we're not just thinking along the same lines; we're working to achieve the same goals in education.

Your federation also calls itself -- and I think properly so -- profreedom. What does this mean? It means working at the Federal and State levels to develop ways to liberate people from dependency on government, not bind them to it, one generation after another. And it can only mean freedom from drugs. I commend your Substance Abuse Task Force for doing an excellent job in devising a set of tough, realistic recommendations that complements and expands our National Drug Strategy, our national effort.

And finally, Americans must be free from fear. When honest working people are afraid to go to the corner grocery store or to walk home from the bus at night, then fear of crime has stolen our most precious possession -- our liberty. And it is to protect this freedom and the freedom to safely walk the streets that we offered up a good crime package. I sent this crime package last year to the Hill. Congress has, to its credit, approved new prison space and more Federal law enforcement officers. But too much work remains unfinished on the rest of this crime package, the portion that concerns violent crime. And once again, I call on Congress to pass laws at least as tough as the criminals we convict.

Crime and illegal drug use, transportation, education -- as we near the end of the century, these challenges that confront our nation sometimes seem bigger than our ability to solve them. And they are if we act only as partisan Democrats or partisan Republicans, as parochial members of a region or a faction or an interest group. But by working together as Americans, I still feel that we can lick any problem, no matter how big, how complex, or how deeply rooted it may be. That's why I value our partnership, our dynamic partnership, and look forward to working with you in the years ahead.

Thank you for the tremendous support that you have given our administration, and I hope that you will continue. We are grateful to you. Thanks for coming our way, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:59 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; Roger B. Porter, Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy; and Frank S. Messersmith, Sam Brunelli, and Ronald Scheberle, president, executive director, and chairman of the business sector of the council.

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