Transcript: Alexander announces 2000 presidential candidacy
March 9, 1999
LAMAR ALEXANDER: Thank you very much.
Gov. Sundquist and Martha, Martha Sundquist, Gov. Huckabee, Gov. Branstad, Honey and our family, to our family, ladies and gentlemen.
Two centuries ago in Philadelphia, when the were founding fathers were vigorously debating, Benjamin Franklin noticed a painting of the sun on the back of George Washington's chair. And he wondered: What does that painting represent? A rising or a setting sun?
When the debates were all done and the delegates had signed the Constitution of the United States of America, Franklin told some of those sitting around him that he now knew what kind of sun it was that was painted on that chair: It was a rising sun.
That rising sun was hard to see the day I became Governor of Tennessee. I was sworn in three days early in the Supreme Court building across the street because my predecessor was selling pardons to convicted criminals, and I was determined to put a stop to it.
I can still see that day. I can see our son Drew, who was only nine then, standing by me, barely able to peer over the Bible that my hand rested on. (Daughters) Kathryn and Leslee were on their tiptoes, trying to put their hands where mine were. Honey was four months pregnant with Will.
Everyone was silent. Everyone knew things weren't right. There were some tough decisions to be made. First, I secured this Capitol. Then we locked the prison gates. Then we turned over all the previous governor's records to the FBI. Then I asked Fred Thompson, now one of our U.S. Senators, to review all the pardons that had been granted.
I wanted to bring out the best in our state. But we had a long way to go.
Our people were discouraged and mistrustful of government and they had a right to be. I was taking the reigns of state that was the third poorest state in the nation. We had never built a single automobile. Our roads were poor. We weren't placing a high value on education. The Information Age was coming and we weren't ready.
It looked dark that day that I was inaugurated, but I am an optimist. And I know that sometimes night is darkest before the dawn. And I knew that, for Tennessee, it was time for the sun to rise, and not to set.
The choices we made then changed our lives.There weren't many Tennesseans on that day who thought we could attract the Nissan plant. And then the Saturn plant and become the fourth largest producer of automobiles in the country. Or that we would become the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well. Or the only state to build more than 100 miles of Interstate highways with our own money. Or a state that could have 3,000 homecoming celebrations to lift our spirits. Or become the fastest-growing state in family incomes. But we did all of that working together and we did it with one of the lowest state tax rates anywhere in America.
Just as Benjamin Franklin saw in that painted sun on that chair a new nation, and I just as I saw in Tennessee a state ready for the dawning of a new day, I see in our a country illuminated by the light of a new century and the beginning of what I believe can be a new American century.
This is another time of great choices; a time of decisions in our everday lives that will affect us for years to come.
I see a country that has done great things, but is capable of striving for even greater things; a country that is never finished, but is always beginning anew, a nation that is limited only by the limits of our imagination.
Will we keep our prosperity? Will we be safe from terrorists? Will our children be ready to lead? Will there be a second great American Century?
Nearly forty years ago, President Kennedy challenged our country -- challenged us to achieve what seemed impossible at the time: to land men on the moon and return them to earth. He said, "We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And in just eight years, our nation had done what seemed impossible to do.
I am here this morning to declare that I will be a candidate for President of the United States.
I am ready to help our country face the challenges of a new century and to make the right choices.
This election will be about the character of the nation and its institutions. This election will be about restoring respect for the presidency.
But most of all, this election will be about raising our standards and bringing out the best in our country because that is what it will take to have a second great American Century.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan asked the American people, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" and most people answered "no." Today, my question is different and it is this: "Will our country be better four years from now than it is today?"
I want the answer to be "yes," but if we continue along the path the "Wizard" Clinton and his faithful assistant Gore are taking us, the answer won't be yes. Because they are leading us in the wrong directions. They have given us what their polls tell them but that is not leadership. And, while it is true that the peace and prosperity they inherited is still with us, what of the future?
Look behind the screen of their magic show and see what has really happened in the last six years since they took over. In just those six years, 12 countries have jumped over ours in high school graduation rates. Our taxes are higher. Our federal regulation book is thicker. Our military defense is weaker.
And it is harder than ever for parents to raise children. Seven tons of illegal drugs come across our borders every single day. Dictators thumb their noses at us. We are more divided than ever based on race. And our standards of right and wrong have sunk to a new low.[APPLAUSE]
These are not the building blocks of a new American Century, this is not America at its best.[APPLAUSE]
If we are going to bring out the best in America, we will need a president who talks straight and who will listen. A new American Century will require a moral foundation laid by a president who respects both the office and respects those who put him in the office. [APPLAUSE]
A president who understands what makes this nation great and what it will take to keep it that way.
I believe that the cynicism and the rancor that swirl about our public institutions today is not a permanent affliction. Rather, I think it is a temporary condition that can be washed away by a leader who is willing to unite rather than divide us. Presidents, after all, have a unique ability, a unique position to appeal to our better angels.
That is a responsibility I am prepared to accept and ready to use.[APPLAUSE]
Some people say I've been working awfully hard to prepare for this job. And I assure you, if I could find an easier way, I'd do it. But, among Republicans in modern times, only General Eisenhower made it all the way the first time he tried.
This time the race is wide open. There is no one whose turn it is.
The new president should be someone who wants it. Someone who is well prepared for the job. And someone who knows from the first day he or she takes office exactly what they would do.
Here is what I would do. There are three basic ideas that are the core of my campaign and will be the core of my administration.
Number one, fixing public education; Number two, lowering taxes -- raising family incomes by lower taxes and securing Social Security. And number three, strengthening national defense especially against terrorism.
Above all, from my first day in office until my last I will be a president on the side of parents raising children.
Ninety percent of what a child needs to take advantage of this magnificent country of ours is learned best in a strong family and in a good school. Thomas Jefferson's dream in the beginning last century was of an America that spread to the Pacific. Teddy Roosevelt's dream at the beginning of this century was of an America free of monopolies. My dream as we enter the new century is of an America of the best schools, an America of parents at their best.
By fixing public education, I mean this: Send the bureaucrats home from Washington, D.C., and send thee money to the states, the classroom teachers and the parents, and let them make the decision of how to spend it.
I would send some of that money in the form of a HOPE scholarship for children. College students today have a HOPE scholarship. They can use it to choose among colleges or universities. If a HOPE scholarship is good enough for an 18-year-old, it is good enough for a six-year-old.
I have visited schools in virtually every state. I know that teachers and principals are suffocating under union rules, court orders and government regulations. They need more freedom, not more regulation. They need rid of the overhead that is sapping their creative spirit.
That means that over time every public school in America should have the same freedom from union rules, government rules and court orders that charter schools have.
And, it is time schools reported to parents and communities, not to Washington, D.C.
As president, I would lead a movement state by state to transform our public schools. To pay good teachers more. To support teachers who maintain discipline instead of suing them. To end teacher tenure so that we can make certain no child is made to be in a classroom with an incompetent teacher.
Our schools can be the best in the world. Many of them already are -- just not enough. What is missing is the political will to put in practical reforms that will make that happen. As president, I would intend to supply that political will.
By improving family incomes I mean simply this: You keep more of what you earn and government will keep less of it.
And again, I would start with parents raising children by tripling the tax deduction for each child, to $8000 -- making it worth what it used to be -- and make certain the tax code doesn't discriminate -- because the current one does -- against moms and dads who choose to spend some of that time at home with their own children.
Raising family incomes for me means ending the capital gains tax, ending the death tax and ending the marriage penalty.
It means going back over time as far as we can go, as close as we can go, to the Reagan top federal income tax rates of 28 and 15 percent. It means cutting federal regulations exactly in half because they are suffocating the creative spirits of doctors, of teachers, of farmers, of small business people in this country.
And it also means making sure that Social Security is there for those who depend upon it and those who expect to. That means more options for younger workers so manage more of their own retirement savings. And it does not mean letting the likes of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore and their cronies manage those retirement funds for us.
When I think about strengthening national defense, I think also about the young airman I met not long ago who said to me, "Governor, I am prepared to give my life for my country. How have you prepared to give the order?"
And I thought for a minute and said "I have learned to be as committed to you as you are to our country."
There is no greater responsibility an American president has than as commander-in-chief of our armed forces.
The hardest decision a president will ever make is to send American fighting men and women into harm's way. If I am forced to make such a decision one day, those armed forces can be certain they will be the best-equipped, best-trained fighting forces anywhere in the world. And, before I send American forces abroad, I would make sure there is not only an "exit" strategy, but a "success" strategy."
By strengthening our national defense, I mean building a strategic missile defense system to protect our cities and our troops in the field.
And I also mean defending ourselves against tons of drugs coming across our borders. I would create [APPLAUSE] a new branch of the armed services to stop the flow of those drugs.
The most important choice we make for the new century may be this one: Will we be a nation of individuals respecting one another or a collection of special interest groups standing in line shouting, "My turn"?
In the 60s, not two miles from this Capitol, as a student editor, I helped to desegregate Vanderbilt University.
In the 80s, as Governor in this Capitol, I appointed the first black supreme court justice in our history and as University of Tennessee president the first two African American vice presidents in its history.
As education secretary in the 90s, I said "no" to scholarships based solely on race.
I made all of those decisions for the same reason: If we are to be a nation that pulls together our government should never make distinctions based on race.
There should be a government helping hand, there should be affirmative action, but it should always be based on need -- it should be for everyone, never based on race.
This nation is like no other on earth. All of us -- or our ancestors -- came from somewhere else. The backgrounds we represent are bound together by one single idea: our love for freedom. Yes, let us celebrate our heritage, whatever its origin. We are proud to be a nation of immigrants. We should have a generous immigration policy. But for each of us the greatest source of pride should be these four words: "I am an American."
Today marks the beginning of a campaign that leads to the caucuses and to the primaries. The first will be in Iowa, 48 weeks from now. I am pleased and honored to have as my national campaign chairman Terry Branstad, who served so effectively as the governor of Iowa for 16 years.
And I'm honored also to have the support of Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has worked with me and who has become such an outstanding national leader on issues involving children and families, and to have the friendship and support of my own governor, Don Sundquist. I thank them, and I thank all of you. And I especially thank Honey and our family for their love and for their support and for their patience with me.
This week I will take my message to Washington, D.C., to New York, to Iowa, to New Hampshire, to California, and then back to Maryville, my hometown to visit next Monday with students at Maryville highschool about what it's like to announce for president of the United States and what they hope for our future.
Over two weeks after that, I will outline in detail the policies I have talked about today -- I will make a series of policy addresses expressly for that purpose.
In the summer of 1994, I drove 8,000 miles across America. Approaching Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I thought of what my grandfather, a railroad engineer, used to tell me. He would say, "Aim for the top. There's more room there."
And looking up at Mt. Rushmore I saw George Washington with his chin-to-hairline 60 feet high, imagining -- it seemed to me -- that this could be a nation. And then Jefferson, imagining what kind of nation this could become. And then Lincoln, imagining that this nation was worth saving. And then Teddy Roosevelt, imagining that we could do anything.
That memorial was conceived on a grand and outrageous scale at a time when America was confident and dreaming big dreams and talking big. Those four presidents, perhaps as much as any others, brought out the best in this nation to make those dreams realities.
As we turn the century, we must be dreaming bigger and bolder if ours is to remain a great nation. I have seen what can happen when we set our standards high. I have seen it in Tennessee and I have seen all over America.
We have been led to the end of this century by the finest generation since our country's founding. If we face our choices as they faced theirs, we have a second great American Century.
If they could create the best universities, we can create the best schools; If they could survive the soup lines of the Depression, we can be the best parents; If they could take Omaha Beach, we can surely have the best-prepared military; And if they could reach for the moon, we can reach into each other's hearts, put aside racial and ethnic differences, and pull together as a nation of individuals.
I believe in the United States of America and its political and spiritual heritage. I know that, working together with God's help, we can make sure that it is a bright sun rising on a new American century.
I invite you to join me in a campaign to expand American freedom, to renew our pioneer spirit and to bring out the very best in America and in each of us.
Let us start right here, right now.
Tuesday, March 9, 1999
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