Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to a Joint Session of the Iowa State Legislature in Des Moines.

March 01, 1971

Governor Ray, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Legislature, members of the Supreme Court, Senator Miller, all of our distinguished guests on this very special occasion:

As Governor Ray has indicated, this is my first visit to Iowa as President of the United States. And I am honored that it takes place here in an address to the Legislature of the State of Iowa.

I should point out that Vice President Agnew has made a visit to Iowa since we came into office. You may recall that in a speech that he made in Des Moines on November 13 [1969] he received quite a bit of national publicity. I was talking to him on the phone yesterday about my pending visit to Iowa, and he suggested that if I really wanted to make major news that I might address myself to the subject of the news media when I appeared before this group.

As a matter of fact, that is the most risky idea the Vice President has advanced since he invited me to play golf with him a few weeks ago.

I want you to know that I appreciate this invitation both to share with you a few of my thoughts about America's future and to reaffirm my own strong conviction that in the State capitals of America there is a wealth of wisdom and compassion and understanding of the great needs that confront our Nation's people.

This is my first appearance before a legislative body since I delivered my State of the Union before the Congress of the United States--and I am especially pleased that it is before this legislature, which I note was recently cited by the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures as one of the best in the Nation. I congratulate you for getting that kind of recognition.

In that address, I outlined six great goals for America, and I urged the Congress to join in bringing about a new American revolution, a peaceful revolution, in which power was turned back to the people, in which government at all levels was refreshed and renewed and made truly responsive to the people of this country.

It is especially appropriate that that appeal to the Congress should be followed by this, the first appearance as President of the United States I have had an opportunity to make before a State legislature. For as we consider the changes that are needed in American government, we must remember that we have not one chief executive in America, but many; not one legislature, but many--and that each of these is a vital part of the American system.

One of my key proposals to the Congress is that we make a $ 16 billion investment in renewing State and local government by sharing Federal revenues without the cumbersome restrictions that now follow Federal funds. I have noted that this legislature has already expressed its support for the principle of revenue sharing. I have also proposed a sweeping reorganization of the Federal Government itself to make it more responsive to the needs of the people.

Together, these changes can give us, can give us all here in Iowa and across this great Nation, better government, but they have a special meaning, these proposals have, to what we call rural America.

First, in terms of dollars, I am announcing today that I am increasing by an extra $100 million the amount that I originally proposed in special revenue sharing for rural community development. That brings the total to $ 1.1 billion for the coming year. This is 24 percent more for rural development programs than is being made available to the States under .existing categorical grants this year.

The direct dollar benefit to rural America is obvious. In addition, rural America will share substantially in general revenue sharing funds, and also in special revenue sharing for manpower, education, transportation, and law enforcement. And all of these, of course, cut across all of America, whether it is rural or urban or a mix of the two.

Funds for urban community development will also go in part to urban communities, like the city of Des Moines, in largely rural areas.

A second reason that these changes that I have offered have special meaning to rural America is that one of their chief purposes is to give each State in this country and each community greater freedom to decide for itself those questions that directly affect its own future. If the lessons of the past decades mean anything to us, they mean that as power has been concentrated more and more in Washington, D.C., as decisions have been increasingly made by remote control, the special needs of our rural communities and of the great heartland of America more and more have either been neglected or even gone unrecognized.

I want those decisions that affect rural America made by people who know rural America. And the people who know a place best are the people who live here. To put it bluntly, I believe that legislators in Iowa in this capitol know better than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., what is best for Iowa.

Now, it is fashionable in a lot of quarters these days to scoff at State and local government, to speak of its corruption and its inefficiency and all of the other problems that seem to confront it at this time. But to those who sneer at State legislatures, at city councils, at any level of government other than that in Washington, I say that they do not know the American people or the American system.

I reject completely the contention that you cannot trust State and local government. The patronizing notion that a bureaucratic elite in Washington knows best what is best for people everywhere is completely alien to the American experience.

The honesty and efficiency of government depends on people. Government at all levels--at the Federal level, the State level, the local level--has good people and bad people. And the way to get more good people into government is to give them more opportunity to do good things, not just at the Federal level but at the State level and at the local level as well.

You know and I know how much dedication there is in State capitals, how much of a desire to do the right thing--and how much frustration there is with restrictions and the red tape that Washington so often imposes, also with the tightening squeeze upon needs and resources.

Like other State legislatures, you confront here in Iowa enormous problems.

As in the case of most of our States, I know that you are wrestling now with ways of avoiding the prospect of a deficit this year. And that is true of a majority of the States in this Nation this year. I know how heavy the burden of State and local taxes has become.

I was thinking of that in retrospect as I was preparing my remarks for this occasion. I entered public life as a freshman Congressman from California almost 25 years ago. And since then I have been in and out of government all of that time, a little more in than out.

But in that 25 years, I have noted what has happened. Listen to these comparisons: Today, we find that State and local expenditures are 12 times as high as they were just 25 years ago; property taxes are six times as high as they were 25 years ago; and State and local debt is nine times as high as it was just 25 years ago.

Now, against that background, let's look at the double mismatch we have here: As the Nation grows, as the economy expands, needs grow fastest at the State and local level, while revenues grow fastest at the Federal level. And at the same time, experience shows that the Federal Government, as all of you know if you have had anything to do with the income tax collectors, is very good at collecting revenues and often very bad at dispensing services.

So it makes elementary good sense to turn over some of the money collected by the Federal tax system to meet State and local needs.

It makes good sense because people on the scene are often the best judges of what those needs are.

It also makes sense because our people need relief from the mounting burden of State and local taxes.

Here in Iowa, with our revenue sharing program, let me tell you what it would do for you. It means you would make a choice. Your choice could be to increase services, if you desire to do so, or to avert a deficit, if you desire to do so, or perhaps to increase appropriations for the agricultural land tax credit, if you desire to do so.

The point is you make the choice as to what should happen to those revenues. And you would choose according to your best judgment of the needs and wishes of the people of Iowa. And that is the way it should be here in Iowa and in every State in this country.

Let me also say a word about my proposal to reorganize the Federal Government-and particularly as it affects the farmer.

One of the automobile companies has recently been using the advertising slogan--you have heard it on television and radio--"You've changed. We've changed." But when we look at the farmer and the way the Federal Government is organized, it is a very different story. The only way to state the case, sadly enough, is that he has changed and we have not. The farmer is a man of many talents now--he is a businessman, a technician, a scientist---often a man who makes his living in more lines of work than farming alone. The term "agribusiness" is often used here in Iowa, in my own State of California, to describe this great, new, powerful instrument of American agriculture, which has made America first in the world in productivity in agriculture; first in the world in terms of this very important fact: that the housewife in America, the best fed country in the world, pays less of her budget for food than in any country of the world.

This is an indication of what the farmer has done for America.

And when the farmer and American agriculture has done that, when it is the most productive of all of the various phases of our economy, certainly American agriculture and the American farmer deserve a fair share of America's increasing prosperity.

But now let's take it a little beyond that farmer. Let's look at the rural community in which he lives or here, the city where the farmer comes from time to time.

We find that that rural community is becoming increasingly diversified in its economic base, in its land use, in its population patterns. While all this has gone on, we have sat in Washington with the same Department of Agriculture that we have had there since 1862.

Oh, changes have been made in the organization. New functions have been added. But the Department of Agriculture, as far as its mission is concerned, is the same as it was then when the problems were very different. "You've changed and we haven't"--this could become the epitaph for rural America, for the countryside where the Nation's roots are. But to be able to say that you have changed and so have we--that could be the keynote for a new surge of vitality and progress on the farms, on the ranches, and in the towns and the open lands across this Nation.

It comes to a question of whether farmers and others in rural America want an Agriculture Department for its own sake or whether what they really want are things like better farm prices, better technical assistance for agricultural problems, wider development opportunities in rural communities, better schools, better roads, and so on. I think, of course, they want the latter; they want the results.

Under the present setup, only one Cabinet department represents the farmer in what he wants. And under my proposed reorganization, four cabinet secretaries-half the Cabinet--will be speaking up for the farmer when his diverse interests are at stake. I submit this is not less representation, but more; it is more effective representation because the rural interest of America will be represented wherever decisions are being made that affect that interest.

I recognize that I speak today before a bipartisan group. These proposals, I submit to you, are not made as Republican proposals or as Democratic proposals. I have offered them in a bipartisan spirit. In Washington, I met with all of the Republican Members of the House and the Senate and all the Democratic Members of the House and Senate at breakfasts after the State of the Union in order to present them in that bipartisan spirit.

That is why today as I speak to you I seek not partisan support, but bipartisan support, for these proposals cut to the heart of our hopes for progress in America, not just this year, not just next year, but for the balance of the decade and the balance of the century. This Nation at the beginning developed a Constitution and a form of government that has survived magnificently for 190 years, not because that Constitution was developed out of partisan debate--oh, there was debate all right, but it was not on party lines; it was on the great issue of what is best for this new country, and out of this came a Constitution and a system of government which we have been very proud to have since that time.

That is what we need today as we look at the new problems of America and new ways to meet those problems.

I have met with many groups in the past few weeks, just as I am meeting with this group today. I have talked with them about these proposals for reform and renewal of government in America. And I have told them that I know there are many objections that people will raise to this proposal and that proposal and the rest--and objections should be raised. That is the way to refine a proposal, to make it better, to make it more effective in reaching those goals that we all want to reach.

But I have told these people, those who object, that when they have an objection, I challenge them to answer this one question: I say let the first person who thinks that we ought to keep things as they are stand up and defend the status quo--I have yet to have a single taker.

Now, I realize that many, and particularly many in government--and I am proud to be, as you are proud to be, a man who is in government--I think many in government throughout the land were somewhat shocked or taken aback when I used the colloquial expression that a majority of the American people today are fed up with government. That doesn't mean just Government in Washington. But it means government at all levels.

But we know it's true. And here are the reasons: They are fed up with government because they think it costs too much; they think it doesn't work; and they think they can't do anything about it.

What I have proposed is designed to meet these needs--to cut the cost of government, to make it work, and to give the people a greater chance to determine what kind of government they want.

Now that is a goal above partisanship. It is the goal that I submit to the Iowa Legislature and ask for your support. People know that we need a change. They know that what may have been right 20 years or 30 years or even 40 years ago may not be right today.

They know that like any living thing, government in America has to change and develop; it has to adapt itself to new circumstances. It has to be made to meet the demands of our people, as those needs exist in today's America, so that the farmer, the worker, the taxpayer, the housewife--for everyone in America-government can do a better job.

America's great strength lies precisely in its great diversity--in the fact that our States and communities are different, that we don't all fit in the same mold, and that each of us has his own ambitions, his own desires, his own individuality. The essence of freedom is to give scope to that individuality, respect to that diversity.

And when I talk about returning power to the people, I am talking about just that--about letting people make their own decisions in their own lives and in the lives of their own communities.

Because, you see, I have faith, as I am sure you have, I have faith in the people of America, and faith in people is what the American system of government was all about in the beginning. And it is what it is all about today.

Here in the heartland of America, we can see the heart of America is good, that the people deserve our faith. We became a great nation because the Nation's founders had the courage to place their faith in people, because, having that faith, they established institutions that allowed the people to prove themselves worthy of it.

And now the time has come, one of those great watershed periods in the history of a nation when we return to that faith, we return to renew those institutions and, by so doing, to lead America to a new birth of greatness--a greatness not simply as the richest nation or the strongest nation but a greatness that springs from the unshackling of people themselves.

We meet today at a time when America's involvement in the longest and most difficult war in our history is coming to an end. It is time to turn the great energies of our people to the works of peace in this last third of the 20th century.

And at this time, I invite you to join with me in beginning a national renewal, in fitting our government to the times we live in, in strengthening our government at the State and local level, in forging a new partnership that can give us prosperity with peace, progress with unity, and freedom with diversity.

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in the State Capitol.

Lt. Gov. Roger W. Jepsen was president of the Iowa State Senate; William H. Harbor was speaker of the House of Representatives; and Theodore G. Garfield was chief justice of the State Supreme Court.

An advance text of the President's remarks was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to a Joint Session of the Iowa State Legislature in Des Moines. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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