Public Papers

Remarks at the Republican Governors' Association Annual Dinner


Thank you, Chairman Hayden. Thank you, Mike, Governor, for that gracious introduction. And my congratulations go to you for your effective tenure and the success on this dinner and, of course, to your successor, John Ashcroft, the Governor of Missouri. And I'm just delighted to be here with both of you. And, Lee, it's always good to see you here. I'm very proud of our national chairman. He's doing an outstanding job in broadening the base of our party.

I want to thank the members of my Cabinet for being here. We have a good Cabinet -- outstanding men and women of ability. We have a real team, and I think that is understood and appreciated around this country. I'm proud of them all, and I'm just delighted they're here with me tonight.

I want to thank the Chaplain of the Senate, Chaplain Halverson, for his invocation. Eight years I was Vice President, and that meant I was the President of the Senate. And though I had known Dick Halverson before, while -- it was there that I heard him, and I'm just delighted that he's with us tonight. I don't want to start singling out additional members of the White House staff who are here, but I do think it's appropriate to mention my Chief of Staff, a former Governor, John Sununu. He's out there somewhere. He's gone!

And I'm very pleased that one of our retiring Governors -- retiring, meaning leaving office -- Tom Kean, will be the part of our team as the head of the Advisory Committee on the President's Points of Light Initiative Foundation, the whole voluntary effort that I'm determined to see successful. And so, Professor Kean, wherever you may be, before you go on, thank you. It's very important, and thank you for doing it. I'm also sorry that my good friend and fellow Texan Governor Clements could not make it tonight. You may not know this -- I expect Tom Loeffler does -- but the Dallas paper reported last week that Bill Clements was dining in a restaurant when a holdup and shootout occurred right in front of him. The most remarkable part of all, however, is that not once through the whole ordeal did he put down his hamburger. [Laughter] And I'm not sure if that was Texas courage or hunger or the need for a new pair of glasses or a hearing aid. [Laughter] But nevertheless, you talk about trauma.

As you all know, I'm not an alumnus of this organization, but over the years as I've worked with the Governors, I have come to fully appreciate the responsibility that you are shouldering and the leadership that is provided at the State level. And I'm sure there are times when federalism seems to be a mixed blessing. It's not possible for a Governor to shy away from the hard decisions. But to sit where the buck stops, to resolve disputes, to help those in need, and to set a course for the future is to know a special kind of satisfaction. And for that reason, I believe we can -- indeed, that we must -- as chief executives take responsibility, join forces, and make common cause of building a better America.

And that is why we came together in Charlottesville at an historic summit -- only the third of its kind in the history of this country. And we came together with your Democratic counterparts -- and I salute them for the nonpartisan way in which they approached it -- in open, wide-ranging, and creative sessions to seek a new direction in education. And in the end, we agreed to an historic compact, a Jeffersonian compact, if you will, to set national goals, to allow for greater flexibility, more creativity, and then to be accountable for the results.

And we could achieve this because in Charlottesville we put progress before partisanship, the future before the moment, and our kids before ourselves. And America simply faces too many of these long-term challenges for us to act only as Republicans or Democrats or conservatives or liberals. And still, in spite of that, there is a Republican approach to the challenges we face, and we have proven time and again that the Republican approach is the best approach.

Now, I consider this a matter of record, a record that includes 83 months of economic growth and more than 20 million new jobs. A few years ago when our opponents said that a tax cut would hurt the economy, we cut the taxes, and it did the opposite. And when our opponents said that a stronger defense would make the Soviets more militant, we revitalized our Armed Forces, and the Soviets met us at the negotiation table.

In short, whatever has worked at the Federal level happened only because Republicans and enlightened Democrats in Congress joined forces to make it work. And so, the bottom line is this: Throughout the 1980's, the Republican Party has been the party of ideas. This is no less true at the State level. And while Republicans are leading the way, where is the opposition? Answer: in the throes of an identity crisis. And after the longest peacetime expansion in history, the Democrats can't quite bring themselves to admit that Republicans were right. And nor do they have a new vision of where America should be going. All they can do is cloak their out-of-step ideas in the language of moderation.

I don't often quote Franklin D. Roosevelt on partisan matters, but the little story he told to make fun of his Republican opponents fits the liberal Democrats so well today. Remember the story of the unfortunate chameleon which turned brown when placed on a brown rug and turned red when placed on a red rug, but who died a tragic death when they put him on a scotch plaid. [Laughter] And this is precisely what we've got to do -- [applause] -- it's precisely what we have to do in the 1990 election: to keep the focus on the issues and expose the true colors of the chameleon candidates. For the national and State elections of the 1990's will not just be a battle of the century, it will be the first battle for the 21st century.

We have proven time and again that our party can keep the White House; but to win a majority of Governorships, State offices, seats in Congress, we've got to roll up our sleeves and get down to the basics of winning elections. And we must be more competitive; we must rededicate ourselves to the nuts and the bolts of grassroots politics as our opponents do. And as we look to the upcoming elections, we have three obtainable goals: first, to move toward our rightful place as the majority party of Governors. As federalism has enhanced your role, so the control of the Governorships has become one of the most critical national goals of our party. Our second goal is to recapture the United States Senate. And third, we must open the House of Representatives to two-party competition.

But the key to all three goals is the first: elect more Republican Governors. It is no coincidence that our party slipped to minority status in the House of Representatives as we became a minority in State government. The Founding Fathers intended the House to be the most sensitive barometer of the changing needs of the American people. And instead, whole generations have never known what it means to experience a change in party control of the House.

Let me tell you about our son Neil as a way to illustrate the seemingly unending nature of the Democratic majority. He's 34 years old -- born on January 22d, 1955, and 3 weeks after the last Republican Speaker turned the gavel over to a Democrat. Not once in his lifetime has he seen the leadership of the House of Representatives change parties -- not one time. And think of all the millions of men and women across America in their twenties and thirties who has never known true two-party competition in the House.

Well, will the House remain static for another 34 years? Yes, but only if Republicans passively accept it. Today, Democrats now have a redistricting advantage in the States that compose about 90 percent of the seats in Congress. And as Republican leaders, you can veto these gerrymandering schemes and take our message to the voters of your States by declaring that this form of voter discrimination must end.

But we have far greater reasons than reapportionment to pursue the Governorships of America. America faces tough problems, problems that require more than Federal solutions. And they require national solutions. And solutions are now possible because the States are embracing a new dynamism based on an old vision.

The great Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis foresaw a time when a single courageous State may serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country. To borrow a phrase, the States are becoming these laboratories of democracy, with each State endowed with freedom -- freedom to fail, freedom to succeed, and freedom to discover and share its discoveries.

In an era of tight resources, necessity, the mother of invention, has also proven to be the mother of creative politics, of policies. You're following the advice of Teddy Roosevelt, a great Republican Governor, who said that our national greatness is not what we have that will make us a great nation, it is the way in which we use it.

Dozens of States are experimenting with ways to remove obstacles to opportunity and to bring the creative energy of entrepreneurship to the public sector. Some of your experiments are certain to become the national policies of the next century. But to be creative, you've got to have freedom. You tell me the Federal Government must not tie your hands, must not mandate your programs, must not dictate your policies. And I hear you, and I am ready to work with you to ease the Federal control and mandates over the States.

The States are at the forefront precisely because the first instinct of our Governors is not to look to Washington but to the combined strength of the public and private sector. And much has been written about how Governors in both parties are rejecting the old ideologies and stale approaches of the past. Credit should be given where it's due.

But I have to say, while Democrats have been adept at promoting new programs that attract a lot of fanfare, the Republican Governors have quietly distinguished themselves with programs that work. The people know this. And come November 1990, I believe the voters will choose innovation and daring for their State government: They will then vote Republican.

It's been a great pleasure for Barbara and me to be here tonight and a great pleasure to speak to you tonight. But due to the Gramm-Rudman sequester, I have to cut my remarks by 5.3 percent. [Laughter] So let me leave this with you tonight -- one thought: To win big, you must think big. And Republican Governors are already thinking big -- thinking big, thinking ahead. And you are the planners and the prophets and the managers and visionaries and the dreamers and the doers. And you are the ones I look to, to join me in a partnership to win the future.

So, this is our vision. We are going to be the party that leads the States. We're going to be the party that leads Congress. And then we will be the party that leads America into the 21st century. Thank all of you Governors for being here tonight, and thank those of you who were supporting this noble quest.

Thank you, and God bless you. And God bless the United States.

Note: The President spoke at 8:38 p.m. in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capital Hilton. In his remarks, he referred to Mike Hayden, the association's chairman; H. Lee Atwater, chairman of the Republican National Committee; and former Representative Tom Loeffler.