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Public Papers - 1992

Remarks to State Attorneys General


Well, may I salute Ken Eikenberry and Jeff Amestoy and all the State attorney generals, and salute also -- whoops, there he is down there -- our own Bill Barr, who I think is doing an outstanding job. And I know he's working closely with everybody in this room.

Bill has his forces moving out on several fronts, from tort reform to relief of prison overcrowding. We've also started what we call the ``Weed and Seed'' initiative, our plan to get the roots, rip them out, of the inner-city violence, and then plant seeds of hope with more educational opportunity, with more job training, with a new approach to health care. And then we are going to keep hammering away on the need for enterprise zones. This plan joins Federal, State, and local forces to go after and to take back our hardest hit neighborhoods. They're crucial missions, and I am determined to see them achieved and let nothing stand in the way.

The efforts of the Justice Department help shape the kind of legacy that we leave for future generations. And our children must inherit a society that is safe, is sane and just. And I've also spoken of other meaningful legacies like jobs and a world at peace and certainly strong families. The American heritage which I describe is one where children can sit on their porch without the fear of getting caught in an ugly crossfire, where decent people don't have to hide behind locked doors while gangs roam the streets, where the message is clear: When it comes to the law, if you're going to take liberties, you're going to lose your own; you're going to pay.

We cannot pass this legacy onto our children tomorrow unless we start going after tough crime legislation today. And for 3 years running, we have called on the Congress to pass a tough crime bill. We've pushed hard. Many of you have been at our side in trying to get something done. I want a bill that won't tie the hands of the honest cops in trying to get their jobs done, one that shows less sympathy for the criminals and certainly more for the victims of crime. And most of all, I want to get a crime bill that I can sign.

But law and order mean more than just safe streets and bigger prisons. Reforming the system also means going after public corruption in our cities and our States, the rot that eats away at our institutions and at our trust. Over the past 3 years, this administration has moved aggressively to hunt down corruption and stop it dead in its tracks.

For the record, in '89 and '90 alone the Department secured over 2,200 convictions, 2,200, in public corruption cases. Judges, legislators, and law enforcement officials, part-time crooks, full-time fakes: Nobody is immune. And this kind of crime does society real harm because these swindlers aren't satisfied merely with making crime pay; they stick the taxpayer with the tab. And millions and millions of hard-earned tax dollars are disappearing from public treasuries every single year and showing up in corruption's back pocket. And this is money that could be building roads or balancing budgets. I am preaching to the choir on this subject because you all are out there on the cutting edge, on the front line all the time, trying to do something about the problem.

But the problem is greater than a few individuals who stopped caring. The problem is a system that has stopped working. And the old bureaucratic system of big Government has ground to a halt. And it's not accountable; it is not effective; and it is not efficient. It's not even compassionate. And the chronic problems we see today are sad proof that the old approaches are producing new failures.

So in this election year, it's understandable, I'm sure, that we hear a lot of talk about change. You all have been fighting for change. I think I have. And yes, the time has come for change, far-reaching, fundamental reform. That's the kind of change that this country needs in the fighting-crime field; not just in fighting crime, incidentally, and not just in Government but all across the board.

And that's why I've -- proposing school choice reform -- just finished almost an hour meeting with our Secretary of Education on that one -- so that choices about education can be made from the kitchen table, not from the halls of bureaucracy. Where it's been tried, it has been effective in improving the schools that are not chosen as well as those that are.

And I've proposed a health care reform to improve access for those who need it the most.

Legal reform, we need your help on. We've got good proposals up there on Capitol Hill. Our legal reform is shaped so that Americans can start solving their problems face to face instead of lawyer to lawyer. I'm amazed at the number, the great increase in lawsuits that is really putting a damper on so many aspects in our society.

The kind of change that I'm describing is hard. It has its enemies, and the battle lines have been drawn: the allies of change versus the defenders of the status quo. So, I want to make it very clear which side I'm on; I know which side many of you are on.

So, let the cynics say that this is only a fight for the next election. We know it's a battle for the next generation. And I'm very glad you all are here. And what we'll do is go over here, and I'd love to have suggestions from you as to how we might be doing our job better down here. And of course, I'd be glad to take questions. If they're technical, I'll kick them off to perhaps the most able Attorney General a guy could hope to have with him.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:36 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Kenneth O. Eikenberry, attorney general of Washington, and Jeffrey L. Amestoy, attorney general of Vermont.

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