Public Papers

Remarks to Members of the National Conference of State Legislators


It's good to see all of you. Listen, nice welcome, thank you. To our Secretary, Secretary Dole, my greetings -- delighted to see you here. And Andy Card and our -- ripped off right out of the ranks of one of your States, the former speaker, Deb Anderson here, who I'm delighted to see in her official duties. And I'm pleased to be here. And I would like to thank the president and past officers for your gracious invitation -- Sammy Nunez, Lee Daniels, Ted Strickland. I thank all of you.

The last time I spoke, we were in the middle of America, in the middle of summer, and in the midst of a tough campaign year. Fate has smiled since that July day in Indianapolis. Then we were all candidates, probably everybody in this room -- maybe an overstatement. Today everyone in this room is a winner. And for those of you who are Republicans, you discerning devils -- [laughter] -- I've got to admit, there was a time when I thought I'd drag all of you down, but here we are. [Laughter] And for those of you who are Democrats, I'd like to claim credit, but I can't figure out how at all. But anyway, well done! And in all sincerity, I do want to congratulate every legislative leader in this room, Democrat and Republican alike, because you did win more than a political victory. The highest honor of all you won -- opportunity to serve. And I feel that way, have always felt that way about public service. And certainly you do, or you wouldn't be here today.

The problems that confront our country as we near the end of this century often seem bigger than our individual ability to solve them -- and they are big. And if we face these problems as only partisans -- Democrats or Republicans -- or parochial members of a region, or a faction, or an interest group, we've got real problems. But by working together as Americans, we can, I believe, lick any problem, no matter how big, how complex, or how deeply rooted it may be.

There are always naysayers who believe we're going to never clean up the environment or never shelter the homeless, never end that age-old affliction of mankind, poverty -- poverty of knowledge and skills, of opportunity, and the poverty of hope. But the cynics never take into account one of the great success stories of our times. And I am talking about State government. In this decade, power flowed from Washington to Austin, to Atlanta, to Sacramento, and to every other State capital. And with it came new responsibilities. I'm talking, of course, of the concept of federalism. And history will remember that you met these broadened responsibilities with distinction.

I know that funds at all levels of State government are tight -- all levels of Federal Government are tight. And I know that you're called on every day to make the hard choices, as I am. But by and large, you are meeting the challenge of a frugal age by devising creative new solutions to these age-old problems of care and concern for the very young, the very elderly, the disadvantaged, the dispossessed. So, whenever I see a problem that some say is insurmountable, I draw inspiration from what you are already doing in the States.

The resilience of the State governments in the eighties vindicates, in my view, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and forever discredits those who would have Washington do it all. And let me assure you, I will preserve and protect a healthy balance, a sharing of power, between the States and Washington, because I fervently believe that federalism works.

And I remember meetings that I had with Governors at the time of the campaign, discussing the social issues. And I learned more from the briefings -- this happened to be in a partisan context of a campaign -- but I learned more from the briefing by the Governors than any of the people here in Washington to whom I had access because I was Vice President. And I thought about why it made such a difference and why I learned so much from them. And it was because they're on the cutting edge; they are out there working with you all to solve the problems, to figure out what works, to make the changes. And so, that may sound elementary to some, but I think you must know what I mean. Governors have to deal in what works, and they get that from you all, with the representation you give in your districts.

As you know, one policy area clearly designated to us here is national defense. And so, perhaps the appeal I'm going to make to you today will be all the more unprecedented. The time has come for me to enlist your energy and expertise in another national security crisis. And you know what it is, and I know what it is and the American people know what it is. And I'm talking, of course, about the threat of drug abuse to the health and the very future of our nation.

I wish that each and every one of you could have been with me yesterday in New York when I went to the DEA headquarters and I talked -- with the widow of the latest victim of the drug criminals at my side -- talked to the agents there. But the best part was the meeting afterward, talking in a very private setting to those agents who are undercover, couldn't be out there in public, but who told me, case by case, of the problems they face. And I don't want to get away from the text here too far, but the thing that really impressed me -- and I expect some of you who have had leadership roles in your States could talk to this -- is that the culture has changed. They say it used to be if you came in and identified yourself as a Fed or a police officer of any sort and drew a weapon on these people, they'd give up. And now they automatically shoot; they go to the barricades. And there's some reasons for that. They get the same penalty for killing a police officer as they get for being caught with a certain amount of narcotics.

We've got to do something about that. Crack, heroin, PCP -- these drugs are a plague that leaves an aftermath of shattered minds and, you know, totally wasted potential. No State in the Union is immune to this plague. And drug crimes have claimed thousands of lives, and having seen some of the barricaded crack houses that have been knocked down by the battering rams of the police, it's everywhere. Los Angeles -- I went out there one evening and took a look with Daryl Gates at what his officers face every day, and I'll tell you, it really drives it home.

As with every battle this country's ever fought, we are in it together as Americans. And as with a war, we've got to have a strategy, and ours is education, rehabilitation, law enforcement, and then doing better in interdiction. I'm encouraged to see so many State governments forming these intrastate drug task forces and interstate panels to share resources and intelligence. And I would appeal to every State to join these efforts. Every State should look for ways to toughen its drug laws.

The Federal Government, just like the States, is animated by a new get-tough attitude on drugs. And we've stiffened the Federal sentence for drug trafficking to a maximum of life. We've toughened penalties for dealers who use children to deal drugs or sell drugs to the kids. And if you commit a drug-related murder or kill a cop, the toughest sentence you can receive is now the toughest sentence there is, and that is the death penalty. And we've also increased our resources as we've stiffened the sentences.

Since 1981 the Federal antidrug budget has grown by nearly 370 percent. But more was needed, so I'm asking the Congress for billion for our antidrug program in 1990. More than billion will be spent to provide grants to the State and local law enforcement agencies to beef up the Federal enforcement, to enhance our prosecution, detention, and intelligence capabilities. And this includes sustaining the 150 million drug grant programs so that the Department of Justice can help State and local law enforcement agencies catch criminals and warn kids away from drugs.

Another shining example of Federal and State cooperation: the seizure and forfeiture of assets from drug dealers. State agencies that cooperate in drug cases will share the benefits from the sale of yachts, planes, and cars used in drug deals. Again, my experience yesterday -- the head of the DEA showed me a table -- million of cash that they had gotten in -- a part of it. I don't think all million was on that table, but a lot of it was, in small bills, incidentally, twenties, tens, that kind of thing. They had taken this money in one -- caught one truck loaded with million, and nobody claimed it. Nobody even inquired about it. Obviously, they didn't want to get in too much trouble. [Laughter] But there was no undercover inquiry; that's just the cost of doing business. So, million is down the tube, and go on about our business. Same as they dump their airplanes in the water off the Bahamas -- the cost of business. Three Cessnas, and that's the cost of getting the stuff in here.

But even with these programs, the campaign against drug abuse will be hard-fought. It's a war, and it's going to last for years. And perhaps we should take inspiration from a nation at war almost 50 years ago. As Britain faced an adversary that tested the courage and character of its people, Winston Churchill vowed never to surrender. And in today's wars against the pushers, we must draw from these same deep wells of national purpose to summon the spirit of defiance.

Our single most important task is to keep the kids off of drugs and out of trouble, and toward this end I am proposing a .1 billion allocation for drug education and prevention -- a 16 percent increase over 1989. Some 7 million of this is going to go to the drug-free schools and communities program to help keep the drugs out of our schools, campuses, and neighborhoods -- an increase of million here. The programs are many. You're going to be able to take the lead in this effort since more than 80 percent of the funds of the drug-free schools and communities will be allocated to the States and territories.

As you may have heard, we can already take heart from some good news from the classrooms. According to the 1988 national high school senior survey, the proportion of seniors using illicit drugs during the prior year fell from 42 percent in '87 to 39 percent -- a modest drop, but at least a decrease. This compares with the peak year of '79, incidentally, when an astounding 54 percent of all American high school seniors used drugs.

Still, 39 percent is horrible. And we're going to spend money to get the job done, but we need to change something. We've got to have a national attitude of intolerance. Let me tell you, Presidents don't normally speak out in favor of intolerance, but the day must soon come when the Nation is utterly intolerant of this casual drug abuse. Back to yesterday, one of the undercover agents telling me about the white collar use -- this guy was down somewhere on Wall Street, and it was just considered normal in the firm in which he was operating to -- at the end of the day -- to offer to the people doing the clerical work there some kind of line of cocaine if they would stay for an extra few hours. I mean we've got to change that whole toleration, that whole cultural identity that suggests that this is the fast lane or the easy way or that it's okay.

Over the next 4 years we're going to face a lot of common challenges. The environment -- I do want to do something on that. With the help of the States, I'm convinced we can here. To our prosperity -- we're going to ask your forbearance as we call for some tough measures to face down this Federal budget deficit. To our compassion -- for those who have yet to participate fully in the American dream.

And the challenge of drug abuse is going to test our resolve and our mettle as a people. So, I just wanted to tell you and pledge to you, leader to leader, that I want to work with you in the State Governments in this struggle. Bill Bennett, our new drug czar, is charged with coming up with a national strategy, a national direction, in 6 months after he takes office. He'll be good. He'll be tough. He's got a difficult assignment because of the way government works -- picture in your own State governments. It's not a very neat and easy way to draw the organization chart, because he has to not only get the attention of the Defense Department or the Attorney Generals without the protocol standing over them, he's got to get their attention and have us all marching in the same direction. So, what that means is the President is going to have to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Bill Bennett. And I'm prepared to spend the time and devote the energy necessary to give it that stature because it won't happen if it just bogs down in some kind of bureaucratic turf fights over who's going to do what on interdiction or education or crime-fighting or whatever it is.

So, I wanted to tell you we do want to work with the States. War tested America and her allies in the forties, and so our people are undergoing a test of national will today. To paraphrase Churchill again, we shall not flag or fail. We're going to keep going to win the fight against the scourge of drugs. And I'm confident; I believe it can be done because I sense a change in the country. I sense people; it's more than rhetoric now. I think it's into every community, every State, and certainly all through the Federal Government.

So, we're not going to give up on this one. We need your help; we need your leadership; we need your ideals. I wish that we had more funds to put in a program here or support of an initiative there. But I don't want to mislead you. We're dealing in a time of very constrained Federal resources. So, we've got to do a lot, working with you and working with the programs that I refer to as the Thousand Points of Light: the willingness of one citizen out there willing to help another.

And so, thank you for what you're doing. Thank you for coming here to the White House. I'm delighted to see each and every one of you. God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:11 a.m. at a briefing in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole; Andrew Card, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff; Debra Anderson, Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; Sammy Nunez, president of the Louisiana State Senate; Lee Daniels, minority leader of the Illinois State House of Representatives; and Theodore Strickland, president of the Colorado State Senate.