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Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the National Governors' Conference Winter Session

March 01, 1977

I guess the time has come for me to say a word. I notice that everybody got quiet when the lights came on. [Laughter]

Well, for all of you distinguished visitors from around the country who are visiting Washington, we Washington insiders want to give you a hearty welcome. [Laughter]

After serving as Governor for 4 years and having been entertained all over the Nation, obviously by many of you, I want to let you see how it is to rough it here in the White House. [Laughter]

We've had a good time so far, and I think it's meant an awful lot to us to have been able to serve as the first family of Georgia. It made it easy for us to understand executive management and problems.

I've come through the crisis of not any longer being in office, so far, fairly well. When I got through being Governor, I didn't know what to do. I could see the end of my term coming, and I didn't particularly want to go back to the peanut farm--[laughter]--and I talked to Jody Powell. And he said, "Why don't we maybe go into the newspaper business?" I said, "Well, the only house I've got is in Plains." And he said, "Well, we'll just start a newspaper in Plains." I said, "Nobody lives there but 680 people." He said, "How about the tourists?" I said, "Look, Jody, if there is one thing I am absolutely positive of, above all other things in my life, there will never be a tourist in Plains, Georgia." [Laughter]

And then I talked to Rosalynn and she said, "Well, why don't you take up a hobby of some kind." And I couldn't think of anything. So one afternoon, I talked to Hamilton Jordan. I said, "Hamilton, what kind of hobby would you recommend that we take up after I go out of office as Governor?" So he had a suggestion to make, and so here I am. [Laughter]

I've noticed a lot of similarities about being a Governor and being President. And in some ways, there are advantages in both offices. I know that as Governor, whenever anything bad occurred in the State there was no way that I could ever figure out to avoid responsibility for it. It is impossible to shovel it off onto a Cabinet officer or the legislature. The Governor is always it. He's always accessible.

I've tried to do it differently up here. I've tried to give my Cabinet officers credit for all--[laughter]--. Well, I've really tried to give them credit for all the good things. When we decided to cancel $5.1 billion worth of water projects, I let Cecil Andrus get the credit--[laughter]-for all the savings that he brought to the taxpayers. When I get invitations to explain to the Texas State Convention or the Chamber of Commerce the repeal of 14(b), I'll let Ray Marshall go down in his home State and take responsibility for that. When we have an international problem, I try to turn to the people with the most experience.

As you know, my first week in office I asked Fritz Mondale, the Vice President, to go on a round-the-world trip. And he did so well--I haven't announced it before--but Mr. Idi Amin 1 has asked me to send a delegation. [Laughter]

I want to send the most experienced person I have to do the negotiations. In the future, when we close down military bases, Harold Brown has volunteered to take the credit for that.

So, you can see there are a lot of advantages both ways. I have been particularly blessed, yesterday afternoon, to have you come up and to let me and my Cabinet and Vice President, Mondale spend 2 1/2 hours or a little bit more meeting with you.

I believe in our country, and I believe in the system of federalism. It's ever present on my mind after 2 years of campaigning that your constituents are mine. And when something goes wrong in your State and I hear it on the news or read about it in the paper, I think about the lonely days that I spent campaigning through your States and the hospitality that I and Rosalynn and all our family received. And it's not an artificial sense of a common sharing of responsibility with you for the welfare and happiness and benefit of your own people at home. And this is a sobering thing, but it's also a very gratifying thing.

I know that I'm going to make a lot of mistakes--economically and, perhaps, in foreign affairs, as well. But the thing that gives me a reassuring feeling is my sense of partnership with you. I've learned a lot about government as a Governor. And I know that the cumulative experience and ability and sensitivity and idealism in this room by the men and women who serve as executive officers of the 50 States is a tremendous resource for me and the Cabinet and others in Washington to tap. You have a practical understanding of what goes on, where services are delivered. And I'm very eager to continue that close relationship with you.

It was particularly beneficial, I think, to the members of the Cabinet yesterday to get to know you and for you to get to know them. This is a time, I think, of restoration in our country of some of the higher ideals and the surest sense of confidence in the future--not because of me at all, but just because our country has come through a difficult time. And as we look back on it, there is a growing realization of the basic, unchangeable strength of the American people. And I think this gives us all a sense of assurance about the future.

I've got an awful lot to learn. And I think that you can help me with it and, perhaps, we can learn together. I've had a chance to learn about matters concerning defense and matters concerning intelligence and matters concerning foreign affairs. And I've seen in other parts of the world a great sense of dependence and a growing trust in our country and what it stands for. I just want to be true to those ideals, along with you, in the months to come.

Finally, I'd like to say that we are going to do some things that we hope that you will share with us. When I was Governor of Georgia, we had a sister state in Brazil named Pemambuco. Recife is the capital. And Rosalynn and I went down to visit Brazil, I think, the first year I was in office. We formed a lot of friendships. And when we got back, we organized just on our own, with the help of other people in Georgia, of course, an exchange of citizens. We chartered a plane. I think it cost $200 per person, about, and we loaded about 200 people on either a 707 or a plane of that size and flew down to Brazil. I didn't go. Rosalynn did. And those 200 people, Georgians, unloaded in Recife, and 200 Brazilians got on the plane and came back to Georgia.

None of them ever stayed in a hotel or motel. They all stayed in each other's homes. And the 200 Georgians had made arrangements while they were gone for 200 of their neighbors to take in the Brazilians. And the same thing had happened in Brazil.

It was a tremendous exhibition of the yearning of people in another country who spoke Portuguese--none of the Georgians spoke Portuguese--to learn about us and for us to learn about them. So we're going to try to do this on a nationwide basis and ask those of you who are interested, either the Governors or their spouses, to be thinking about it, and later on you'll get a letter concerning it. And perhaps your own State this first year would like to just take one airplane, and we've asked the State Department to give us advice. And we would like to have somebody go, maybe a couple of hundred folks go from, say, Idaho, to perhaps Morocco, and let 200 Moroccans come back.

There won't be any public funds involved at the State or Federal level. We're going to try to join in and raise enough money in private places to finance these trips.

But I want to see the ties of our own country with other foreign countries-large and small, powerful and weak, very friendly and not so friendly--strengthened. I think it will be an exciting thing.

Perhaps the first time, you might get some fairly affluent people to go who could not only pay their $300 or $400 or whatever it is these days but could also help pay the price of a Moroccan to come back to one of the homes.

We're going to try to work it out in detail. But we will hope that we can get you to help us with it. You can either wait till you get a letter or you can volunteer. We're going to try maybe a few trips this first year. But eventually, we'd like to have it be kind of a massive exchange of people going back and forth from the United States of America and for the other countries around the world.

And I particularly want to keep it removed from Government. The only thing that we'll provide is mine and Rosalynn's personal involvement in our spare time and, perhaps, yours and the help from the State Department in giving us advice on where to go. And we'll try to provide a little school for the ones who volunteer to go, about the country to which the visit will be made.

So, if you're interested in doing it, you can contact Rosalynn directly, or we'll be writing you a letter soon. There is a volunteer in Georgia, a young man who happens to be a Presbyterian minister, who was a missionary in Brazil. He was the one who had the idea for our first exchange. And he's going to just volunteer to kind of coordinate the whole effort.

But I think this is the kind of thing that we can do that is a little above and beyond Government--kind of nice, that perhaps you can help us with.

But I particularly want to break down any remaining barriers that exist between the State governments and the Federal Government. We want to make there be a common sense of community between people in your communities and the city of Washington, and remove any sort of last remaining feeling that this is an alien Government or that it doesn't care about you and doesn't need your help.

Only those of you who've served as Governor know how much I need your help. And I hope that you'll be free with it.

To conclude my brief remarks before we go in for some entertainment, I'd like to offer a toast to one of the finest groups of public servants in the world who will provide a constant inspiration to me and my family, the Governors of the 50 States of the most wonderful nation on Earth.

Here's to the Governors and their families.

1 President Field Marshal of Uganda.

Note: The President spoke at 9: 45 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the National Governors' Conference Winter Session Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242866

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