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Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With the State Legislators Working Group

March 20, 1989

The President. Well, let me just say in the beginning here I'm delighted to see all of you here -- forerunner of things to come in the electoral process -- because we do have to shift gears and look ahead to redistricting and to all the political process that you've participated in and in which you have been leaders. And so, we don't want to neglect anything that has to do with building our numbers. I'm glad to see Lee Atwater down there. And I can say that he and Jean -- where's Jeannie Austin? Do I see her here? But in any event, they have done a fantastic job getting going at the Republican National Committee. And I'm glad to see Mary here, and of course Deb Anderson here, coming out of your elected ranks, here in the White House now. So, I hope that we'll have a sensitive White House: a White House sensitive to the political requirements out there from people that are seeking election. And one thing I wanted to urge was recruitment: getting good candidates in the State races, as well as those that are for Federal office. And I wanted to let you know that we want to assist in every way possible on that.

In terms of Washington, DC, I think things are off to a reasonably good start. I got here, and with the help of Governor Sununu down there and many others in this room, why, we addressed ourselves right up front with one of the -- I guess the biggest problem, and that is how we feel the deficit should be brought down. And we're going to keep plugging away, working with the Congress. We have to do that, want to do that, will do that to get this problem solved. And it is one that there will be some give-and-take on it, but the ideas we've proposed are sensible. They are in keeping with the way I ran for office and the way many of you that ran this time ran for office. And I am convinced that we can get a good deal, project that budget deficit down with finality, and do it without doing what the American people don't want, and that is raising taxes. We've got to do it with holding the line on taxes, not raise them. And I believe that the proposals we made are very sensible in that regard.

But in any event, we're off and running on that. Our Cabinet's in place. We're doing reasonably well in terms of our other agenda. I'm very pleased with the start that our drug czar is making -- first testing waters, in a sense, because this is a new job. It's a coordinative job. But Bill is a good, strong leader, and he will certainly meet the deadline of coming up with a plan that is required under the law in 6 months. But it's going to be more than that, because in the meantime, we're -- as you've seen -- taking certain actions in the administration that I think are appropriate in this regard. We're moving forward with legislation on education that I'm pledged to go forward with. I think our environmental leader, Bill Reilly, is off to a good start -- went to a conference in Europe, in England, and in a meeting with Margaret Thatcher, put the U.S. out front on the whole CFC [chlorofluorocarbons] question.

And so, we're moving. But we need your suggestions. We are going to be reaching out to you all. And I'm just delighted to see you here. And I'll be glad to take a question or two before we turn the agenda back. John, did I interrupt? Were you in the middle of something?

Mr. Sununu. No.

The President. But this is an important meeting for us. We want to keep you tuned in, and we want to ask your support and leadership out across the country.

Gubernatorial Elections

Q. Mr. President, I'm from Virginia. As you know, Virginia has a very important election this year for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and attorney general. And I know that your high priority is to get back to Virginia and New Jersey this year, but I thought the members of the press might want to know how important you consider this. [Laughter]

The President. Nice slow ball. [Laughter] No, I do, and as you know, there are these two States that have the special timing here. And I've said all along -- said it last year before I was elected -- the importance that we place on Governors because we believe in the federalist system. Some of the soundest advice in the campaign came from the Governors and from State reps and leaders in the various State legislatures, because they're out on the delivering end. They're out on the cutting edge. And so, this Governor's race in Virginia -- we have an opportunity to pick up a seat. In New Jersey we want to hold -- Tom Kean leaving. So, we will put the proper emphasis from here. Lee Atwater's already begun working on setting our priorities and how much help we can give from the national [committee] on that. But I'm glad you raised it because it is key.

Women/Gun Control/War on Drugs

Q. Mr. President, two things: Number one, as a legislator who in the past has always had the NRA [National Rifle Association] backing, I want to applaud you for the action you've taken on the Federal level. As a State legislator, I think that's the only place that semiautomatic weapons can be dealt with, and I just want to tell you that I think that mainstream America is really with you on that action. And I hope that it will lead to something further. I don't know exactly what that should be.

The second point I want to make is that, although I think the bread-and-butter issues are really the women's issues just as much as men, I think many women experience poverty that men do not experience. I think also impressions are reality, perception is reality, as we know in politics. And giving lots of advice in the future with your other appointments -- I've been very pleased with the appointments that you've made for women, for minorities. And I just want to encourage you to continue that if the Supreme Court or any openings there -- that you would give, and I'm sure you will, enough consideration to other people of color, or a woman, for example. So, it's not just like the one woman on the Supreme Court -- thank goodness that Mr. Reagan put Sandra Day O'Connor there -- but that you, too, will continue your efforts to bring women and people of color into your administration.

The President. Well, we want to do that. We are doing it. I'd like to be further along. Recognizing that the subject might come up, we did a little homework in terms of an administration in which I proudly served. At this juncture they had -- we had, I should say, because I was a part of it, something like 8 percent of the jobs for women -- high-level jobs -- and we're up at about 21. But we want to keep moving. I think we've done about 12 or 15 percent overall of the jobs, so we want to keep our sights set on doing the best possible job on appointments. And I think that is important, and I think -- to the degree there is that visibility -- I think it'll help in this recruitment that I asked you to engage in. I mean, I think the people see good signs here, and I think that they'll involve themselves -- more apt to get into the electoral process. So, I think they are linked.

On the NRA, of which I'm a member -- a proud member, I might add -- I believe we can find accommodation between the legitimate interest of the sportsman and the interest of the police chiefs in protecting their people who put their lives on the line every single day. And Bill Bennett made this recommendation to me on these shipments coming in. That's well within the law. What we're doing is enforcing the law, determining the suitability for sporting purposes. That's the way the law reads. And so, I appreciate your support on that.

We haven't found the ideal answer. I know some of your State legislatures are working on this right now -- California having moved out -- and I'm interested that you have the NRA support, and I think you'll keep it, given the position you've stated, because the country needs to know that there is some answer to this. And I don't yet know what it is, and I was interested in your frankness saying you don't. And some of the legislators in California that voted for it or opposite the bill -- they're not sure where it ought to go. But we're in very different times now, and I am convinced that reasonable men and women can work together to find an answer to the problem of these automated weapons. And I think we've already had some signs in the sporting community that there is support for what we've done, but we're going to keep working it.

I am very serious about this drug fight, and it's going to be fought on all different fronts. And we have got to give the police proper support when they lay their lives on the line for us. And so, we'll find some answer that is constitutionally sound and that also protects the lives, as best one can from Washington, of these officers. I'd like to tell you I think the solution can be found right here, and that'll solve it. But that's not true. It's going to be found in various ways out in the States, in my view. But we have a responsibility, and I appreciate the support for the action that we have taken.

Family Issues

Q. I was particularly pleased of your emphasis on family issues during the campaign. As I said to people, as a legislator working in the area of family and children's issues, that it is really encouraging because it is the first Presidential campaign that has really focused on family issues. While I don't think the Federal Government is the place to solve all those problems, I do think it's important for the Republican Party, and important for women in families in Pennsylvania, though, that those issues remain high priority to the administration and that direction, money is given to the States so that we can deal effectively with some of the issues that are particular, I think, to families today, with the breakdown in traditional family structure.

The President. Lois, I couldn't agree more. And we are not going to deemphasize the importance that I place on families. And indeed, one of the major tests right now is going to be the question of the approach one takes to child care. And we're talking about choice. We're talking about doing it in a way in which the family is emphasized and is strengthened. And so, there'll be this. There'll be other issues that come along. But I'm glad you raised it, and believe me, I have not diminished my interest in all of this. In fact, as you look at the problems facing society, so much of it gets back to the weakening of the family. So many of the problems are out there because of this new trend towards single-parent families and all of this. And it's a tragic thing in a way.

So, we are not going to depart from the traditional values. We're going to keep emphasizing them, and when it comes to Federal legislation, be sure that what we propose will strengthen, not weaken, the family group. And even things like education -- as much choice as possible is a good thing there.

Yes? I've got time for just a couple of more, I've been told here.

Mrs. Bush's Literacy Efforts

Q. Yes. Mr. President, I wanted to tell you, first of all, I think those of us who are in the house and senate in the States who are Republican, first of all, would like to tell you that we think one of the biggest assets both the Republican Party and you have is Mrs. Bush.

The President. I agree with that.

Q. I'm particularly interested in her cause on literacy, and wonder if by any chance there has been any work done in any of the prisons? I have personally gone into our prisons and have found out that about 75 to 80 percent of our prisoners are functionally illiterate and, consequently, cannot be trained to do something. They can't even read the want-ad in order to get a job.

The President. I don't know that Barbara's done anything on that end of it. She's starting now a brand-new foundation that will help enormously in this whole private sector end. I know our Secretary of Education is very much interested in the education for the prison population. I don't know that Bar has gotten any of her volunteer work involved in that segment, but I expect she'd love to hear from you on it, because she is keeping up that interest.

Q. Mr. President, first of all, my daughter asked me to ask you if any of the puppies were left. [Laughter]

The President. The demand is intense, let me tell you. [Laughter]

Gasoline Taxes

Q. There's a good deal of concern in southern California, where there is high growth, rapid economic growth, but also concern on transportation. And it has been said that there's a possibility that the gasoline tax may be raised in order to help this budget reduction financing. Our concern, of course, is if this were to happen, what would happen then to the opportunity for California to go forward with gasoline tax increases in order to support our infrastructure needs, and would this be in conflict and perhaps cause us a problem?

The President. There are no plans for that, and I don't know where that is coming from. But the administration has no plans to raise the gasoline tax.

Ocean Dumping

Q. We appreciate your coming to the Jersey shore and just want to report that in this election year for our Governor in New Jersey the environment continues to be the number one issue. And certainly any support you can give us for a tough approach to polluters of our very precious ocean would be appreciated.

The President. We're going to continue. And as I say, I have great confidence that Bill Reilly, the new Administrator [Environmental Protection Agency], is going to be good in that sense, very good. And we're following up. I think we even have some legislation now in the mill that will be helpful on that ocean dumping. But I'll keep talking about it. I'll keep encouraging the States in this regard.

One more?

Republican Party Minority Participation

Q. There are many concerns in all of our States, but I think that we must get more Hispanics and blacks involved to run for office. And I think we have to put across to the people throughout the country that the Republican Party is the people's party.

The President. You make a good point, and I think that Lee Atwater, Mary, others here agree with you on that. And we've started moving out. How it gets into the recruitment business I would leave to our political people here. But that emphasis is important, and I agree with Lee that much progress can be made. And the issues that we're talking about -- including inner-city fight on narcotics -- we're on the proper side. These people are outraged by what's happening in their communities. They are concerned, Lois, about the disintegration of family in some of these areas.

And so, I hope it will mean that we can get our message out better by having quality candidates out there. So, we're going to keep trying. I've been pleased with the support so far, though I no longer live and die by the polls like I used to when you and I were working side by side in New Hampshire. But I've been pleased with the openmindedness, in the figures in terms of support for the President from groups where historically we haven't done well. That could change, but I want to keep doing it.

I think some of the reason for that is the beginning that the national committee has made. And so, we will try here, Deb Anderson, Bobbie Kilberg, and me, working with the Chief of Staff, to do what we can from this building to encourage that. But the field is open, there's an openmindedness in some of these areas -- the blacks and Hispanics and other areas -- that I think means that our ideas and our direction for the country makes a certain degree of sense. Now, I know we're up against formidable history in this regard. We've got to keep trying; we've got to keep reaching out. And I believe that we can do better -- much, much better.

Listen, thank you all very much for your attention and for being here and for what you're doing. And I repeat: I do think it's important. Sam Rayburn talked about the critics of either him or the President at that time. He says, "Well, that fella's one of the severest critics." He says, "That guy's problem was he never ran for sheriff." [Laughter] And it was a very profound statement, I mean, because when you are in the arena and you do have to take your case to the people, why, you have a certain sensitivity to the government processes. And so, I think this group can do an awful lot. You all run for sheriff. Indeed, you've been elected -- not sheriff, but something else. [Laughter]

So, thank you very, very much for being here today. And we appreciate the support, and we'll work hard to merit your continuing confidence. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:11 a.m. during a briefing in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Lee Atwater, Jeannie Austin, and Mary Matalin, chairman, cochairman, and chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, respectively; Debra R. Anderson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; William J. Bennett, Director of National Drug Control Policy; Lois Sherman Hagarty, State representative from Pennsylvania; and Bobbie Kilberg, Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.

George Bush, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With the State Legislators Working Group Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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