Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Community in Sacramento, California

July 23, 1996

Thank you. Thank you, Gail, for that fine introduction. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the warm welcome in more ways than one. [Laughter] This is a beautiful Sacramento day, thank you. It's a little hot, but it's still awfully pretty. You have so many trees in this community; a lot of you at least are under the trees, and that's good. The mayor told me Sacramento had 380,000 people and 250,000 trees, and I think that's about the right ratio. I wish every community had that many.

Let me say, Mr. Mayor, I'm delighted to be here again and to be here with you. I've enjoyed working with you especially on developing a new plan for the future of McClellan and for dealing with a lot of your other defense and base-closing issues in this community. But you blew my cover today; you pointed out that I have been here four times. This morning before we got here, I was complaining to my staff that I had not come to Sacramento enough. But I still think I haven't been here enough. I like coming here, and so I thank you.

Thank you, Chief Venegas, for your words and for your work and for the remarkable work that you and the others in law enforcement are doing in this community. I want to thank Congressman Fazio and Congressman Matsui. I can tell you that they are clearly among the most well-respected people in Congress in either party because they put their work where their words are. They actually try to deliver; they actually try to do something that will make a difference in the lives of people, and I admire them so much.

I also want to thank, Congressman—I want to thank your wife, Doris Matsui, who works in the White House and has done a remarkable job for us. Thank you, Doris. Your Lieutenant Governor, Gray Davis, is here today; I thank him for being here. Thank you, Gray. Thank you, Art Torres, for being here.

I'd also like to thank the law enforcement officials who are here, the Central Sierra Chiefs, the Sacramento law enforcement and community chaplains, the people involved in the Safe Streets effort. And there are more than 40 Sacramento neighborhood associations represented here, people who are making this a safer and better place to live.

Most of all I want to tell you that I'm honored to be here today, to thank Gail Jones and the people at WEAVE and all of you who work to fight against domestic violence. As a father, as a husband, as someone who knows personally something about this issue, I want to join with families throughout California and our Nation in pledging to do all that I can to stop violence against women and innocent children. No child should ever have to grow up in a home where a gun is fired, a knife is flashed, a hand is raised in anger. And we have to work to do something about this.

If I might, I'd like to explain to you how this issue of domestic violence, which is a very big one for me and for Hillary, plays into my larger view of what we should be doing as a country. When I was a Governor and when we had more private time, Hillary and I spent a lot of time, especially around holidays, in shelters run by friends of ours in Little Rock with women and with children, talking to them, encouraging them, asking them about their circumstances, getting them to look to the future, and trying to support in whatever we could the activities of the wonderful people who are engaged in that work in our hometown.

But this is a very important part of what I think we should be doing as a country. When I became President I did so with a simple, clear vision of how I wanted our country to look as we move into the next century, which is only 4 years away. There are three things I want for America. I want the American dream to be alive for every single man and woman and boy and girl who is willing to work for it, no matter what their race, their background, their income, their gender, their condition of disability. I want this country to continue to be the light of the world and the leader of the world for peace and freedom and security and prosperity in a new era, in which the cold war is fading away but we still have to deal with things like terrorism and ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds crossing national lines, the proliferation of weapons, the proliferation of drug dealing and organized crime. This country needs to be fighting that fight around the world to keep it better here at home for our people. And finally, as you look around this crowd today and you see a picture of America, I want our country to go into the next century strengthened by our diversity, not weakened by it. I want us to be coming together, not drifting apart.

To achieve that vision, we all need to do what we can to create more opportunity for all of our people, to demand more responsibility from all of our people, and to create a real community in America where we know we're going forward together, we're going up or down together, we're determined to make the most of this together. For me, that means giving people the tools to make the most of their own lives and to build strong families. It means asking people to assume responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, their neighborhoods, their communities, and their country. It means reforming Government to make it smaller and less bureaucratic and less burdensome but also to make sure it is strong enough to fulfill the responsibilities that we have to meet together, things like keeping a clean environment, making sure the water and food we use are safe, making sure our young people have the educational opportunities they need, building a strong economy, and making our streets safe.

Today we're talking about strengthening our families. One of the most important things we can do is to reform our welfare system to make it possible for people to move to independence so they can support their children and so they can raise them well. But I think it's important that we ask and answer this question in the midst of this great welfare debate. What is it that we want for poor children and poor families in America? I think what we want is what we want for middle class families and for wealthy families. We want people to be able to succeed at work and at home, and we don't want to have to choose one or the other.

In the last 4 years, we've given 40 States permission to try experiments to move people from welfare to work in a way that was tough on work but good for children. There are now 1.3 million fewer people on welfare than there were the day I took office. And child support collections have gone up 40 percent as we get people to support their children.

Do we need welfare reform legislation? We do. We do because States shouldn't have to get approval every time they want to try an experiment. We do because we need to do more to strengthen child support collection across State lines. If everybody paid the child support they owe we would move 800,000 women and children off welfare tomorrow morning, if everybody paid that.

On the other hand, we want a bill that actually is welfare reform. You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle. [Laughter] We want real welfare reform. The Olympics are going on—I like to jog, but I couldn't make it in the 100-meter dash. We want real welfare reform.

Today the Senate, I want you to know, took some major steps to improve the bill going through Congress. It significantly increases support for the nutritional and the health care needs of young children who happen to be on welfare. And that's encouraging. If we can keep this progress up, if we can make it bipartisan, then we can have a real welfare reform bill, that honors work and protects children, coming to the White House for my signature. We can reduce the welfare rolls more, and we can achieve for poor families what we want for all families, having people succeed at home and at work. That is my goal, and that is what I want America's goal to be.

The first thing we have to do if we want families to succeed is to create an economy in which there is opportunity, in which people can find jobs. We changed the economic strategy of America in 1993. After quadrupling the debt for 12 years, we had a lot of debt, a huge annual deficit, and the slowest job growth since the Great Depression. We said we'd cut the debt in half, expand trade in American products, and do more to invest in our people, in technology, in research, in environmental protection, in things that will create the jobs of tomorrow. And after 4 years we now have a deficit that is 60 percent lower than it was when I took office. The deficit's going down. You need to know that the Government's deficit is going to go down 4 years in a row under one administration for the first time since the 1840's. And I'm proud of that.

And that economy with lower interest rates has produced over 10 million new jobs, 3.7 million new homeowners, the fastest rate of homeownership growth in 30 years, and the lowest rates of unemployment and inflation in 27 years. We are moving the economy in the right direction. California has its lowest unemployment rate in 5 years. And for the first time in a decade, the average wages of working people are finally beginning to go up instead of to be stagnant. We are moving it in the right direction.

This is not a record to reverse but not a record to rest on, either. We have to do more, and the previous speakers alluded to some things. We ought to pass that health care reform bill that says you don't lose your health insurance when you change jobs or somebody in your family gets sick. We ought to make it easier for people who work in small businesses or people who are self-employed to start saving through a pension plan that they can keep even when they lose their jobs and they can keep throughout a lifetime, that will be secure. We ought to raise the minimum wage. It's going to be at a 40-year low if we don't do it, and we're working on it.

And the best tax cut of all we could give is to give people a tax deduction for the cost of college tuition for their children or themselves. And on top of that, I have asked the Congress to make 2 years of education after high school as universal as a high school education is today by giving people a refundable tax credit worth $1,500 a year to go to any community college in America for 2 years. That's what we ought to do.

To try to help people succeed at home and work, the first bill I signed was the family and medical leave law, which says you don't lose your job if you take 12 weeks off when there's a baby born or a sick parent in your home, you have a genuine emergency. Twelve—listen to this—12 million Americans have used the family leave law in the last 3 years, and every study shows there has been no significant damage to American business. We are creating jobs at a rapid rate, not losing them. It is good for the business community to take care of the families of working people. It is the right thing to do, and it is good.

We tried to help families raise their children by challenging the entertainment community to come up with a ratings program for children's television and a V-chip on new televisions so people can control the access of their young children to programs with excessive violence or other inappropriate material. And we're doing our best and I hope we win to stop the advertising of tobacco products to children and the sales and distribution to them. That is wrong and not right.

But as the chief said a moment ago, all the economic opportunity in the world doesn't amount to much if people aren't safe in their homes, on their streets, if our children aren't safe in their schools. We have worked very hard to help communities fight crime. We did pass a bill in 1994 to create 100,000 more police officers on the street. Forty-four thousand of those police officers have already been funded. We are ahead of schedule and under budget on that. California has gotten over 6,000 of those new officers. We have awarded Sacramento County $12 1/2 million to hire or redeploy 191 new officers; 56 of them are already patrolling the streets of Sacramento. That is a good thing for the United States. And in California and in Sacramento, the serious crime rate is coming down, not going up, for a change. We need to keep doing that.

Mr. Matsui mentioned the Brady law. When that passed, a lot of people said we were going to take their guns away. There's not a single hunter in California or my home State or any place else who's lost a hunting rifle because of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban. But I'll tell you who has lost out: 60,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers have not been able to get handguns because of the Brady bill. It was the right thing to do.

We have more to do, more to do in our schools. In the last few weeks I've been in Long Beach, California; yesterday I was in Monrovia, California, to celebrate California communities that are using things like school uniforms, tougher enforcement of truancy laws, curfews, things designed to reduce school dropout, to reduce juvenile violence. There is a lot more to do, but we can move in the right direction if we do this as a community. The most important thing the chief might have said is that you've got people in your community working with the police officers to try to prevent crime before it happens and catch criminals when it does. That is the most important thing. I want to encourage you to stay with it.

We will never be fully successful until we deal with this issue of domestic violence and treat it as a public, not just a private, issue. It is a terrible, terrible problem. There's no such thing as a perfect family, we all know that. But there's a lot of difference in a family with a few problems and a family that is terrorized by violence. This is not a women's issue; this is an American issue. And every man in America ought to be just as concerned about it.

We passed the Violence Against Women Act. We set up a program to provide funds to help communities train police officers who would be specially equipped to do this. One of the most impressive Americans I have met since I have been President is a young police officer in Nashville, Tennessee, who grew up in a family of five or six children that was ripped apart by domestic violence. He is devoting his entire life to strengthening the ability of his police department and police departments around the country to deal with domestic violence. And the murder rate from domestic violence in his community has dropped by 50 percent since he started doing his work. That is what we need every place in America, people like that who care about that issue.

The WEAVE Center here gets help under this program, and soon California will receive $11 1/2 million in grants to community groups to help fight domestic violence. Our program on police and community policing has recently awarded $300,000 to the city police department and the county sheriff's department to help train police officers here to do more to fight domestic violence.

We've also launched a 24-hour-a-day, 7-daya-week toll-free hotline so people in trouble could find out how to get emergency help, find shelter, or report abuse to authorities. Listen to this: In just 5 months this hotline has become a lifeline to thousands of women who had nowhere else to turn. It has answered more than 35,000 calls—a national hotline on domestic abuse. And I never miss an opportunity to give you the number. It's 1-800-799-S-A-F-E, SAFE. I want more people to call that hotline. It's saving lives, and I'm proud of it.

To give you an idea of what a big problem this is, listen to this: The National Legal Services Corporation, present in most communities in our country, says that one in every three cases they handle is a family law case—one in three. In 1995, 59,000 of them were attempts by poor women to get legal protection from abusive husbands; 9,300 of them involved neglected and abused children. If we want to protect people against domestic violence, we must not destroy the Legal Services Corporation; we ought to let them do their jobs so they can help the rest of us protect people.

We have to do more to hear the cries for help as well. And Gail mentioned this. We cannot do what we need to do on the issue of domestic violence unless we do something about the stunning fact that the 911 emergency number system today is completely overburdened. Today, it is groaning under the weights of hundreds of thousands of calls a year. Victims of domestic abuse, victims of all violent crime are having a harder and harder time getting through. Sometimes they have to wait up to 30 minutes for the phone to be answered. That can be way too long. Sometimes they never get through at all. Last year in Los Angeles, 325,000 calls were abandoned before the operator could answer. Who knows how many of them involved life-threatening emergencies.

The reason for the problem is simple and straightforward. Today, most calls to 911 are important and serious, but they're not emergencies. They should be handled elsewhere. In some areas, 90 percent of all the calls to 911 are not emergencies. Callers may have a legitimate reason to reach the police, but their calls don't involve crimes in progress or life-threatening situations that need immediate action through 911. It just is the only number they know, and so they call it.

So I have asked the Attorney General to work with the Federal Communications Commission, our Nation's law enforcement leaders, and the telecommunications industry to relieve the burden on 911 by establishing a new number like 911 for nonemergency telephone calls to the police. I asked the telephone companies to help us meet this challenge, to make it happen. People ought to be able to get in touch with law enforcement easily in any situation, but we have to make sure that emergency situations get the special attention they need.

Citizens will also have to do their part. They'll have to learn this new number, and they'll have to be responsible—they'll have to use 911 when there is an emergency—so they don't keep other emergencies from being addressed. We need a new national community policing number that's just as simple and easy to remember as 911, so that if you have a tip for the police, if you see a suspicious activity, if a car alarm is going off, you will still be able to call a community policing number. But if you have a real emergency, like domestic violence, you can call 911 and this time your call will go through.

Let me say finally that none of these measures will substitute for people like you supporting programs like WEAVE. And if you're lucky enough not to have ever faced this sort of problem, then you'll just have to do it out of the goodness of your heart. But that's what in the end will save our country and enable us to go into the next century as the strongest and best country in the world, the goodness of our collective heart.

When Hillary and Chelsea and I went down to open the Olympics, I had the opportunity to speak to the American team. And I looked at them and I realized just looking at them— great looking people—that if they were not in that room with me, identified as the American team, if they were just out there in the Olympic Village wandering around, you could look at them and you wouldn't have any earthly idea where they're from. They could look like they're representing a Latin American country, a Caribbean country, a Middle Eastern country, an Asian country, an African country, a Nordic country. Why? Because this is not a country defined by our race, this is a country defined by our values, by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the belief in the dignity of all people.

And what we in Government should be doing is empowering you to make the most of your own lives, to meet your challenges, to protect your values. I see some hats out here of some of our young people who are involved in the AmeriCorps program. And I just want to say to you that, to me, more than any other single thing our administration has done, that symbolizes what kind of America we're trying to build. All kinds of folks can be in AmeriCorps. They may come from poor families; they may come from wealthy families. They're mostly someplace in between. They get some credit, some money to pay for their college education by devoting a year or two of their lives to helping other people meet the challenges of their lives, meeting our common responsibilities. That's what WEAVE does. That's what Sacramento is doing. And if America does it, nothing can keep our best days from lying in the future.

Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. outside the Women Escaping A Violent Environment (WEAVE) Counseling Center. In his remarks, he referred to Gail Jones, WEAVE executive director; Mayor Joseph Serna, Jr., and Chief of Police Arturo Venegas of Sacramento; and Art Torres, California Democratic Party chair.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in Sacramento, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives