George Bush photo

Remarks to the Texas State Legislature in Austin

April 26, 1989

Thank you very, very much for that warm welcome. Mr. Speaker, thank you, sir, for presenting me to this esteemed body. And, Lieutenant Governor Hobby, my respects and thanks to you and to Bill Clements. It's a good thing it isn't his birthday. [Laughter] I'm not sure another plaid day in the Texas Legislature is in order. But a belated happy birthday, anyway.

I'm delighted to be back in Austin with so many friends. And I'll want to discuss a few issues facing Texas and all of America. But let me just say a few words about what it means to be a Texan. My credentials: I have my driver's license here, and I have my Texas hunting license here, and, somewhere, my voter registration slip. And it is true, I like Kennebunkport, but I am a Texan. And so, I just want to clear the air and say a few words about that.

You know, like the former kingdom of Hawaii, Texas is a nation that had to reconcile itself to being a State. But like Hawaii, we'll never reconcile ourselves to being ordinary. From the Pecos to the Pedernales, from the Rio Grande to the Red River, there is no place on Earth like Texas, nor is there another capitol in America quite like this one, built of this rose-tinged granite that blushes in the low sun. And this being Texas, we had to build a capitol that is exactly one foot taller than the one in Washington. And so, I hope it's not too much of a cliche to say that Texas stands tall in the heart of this President.

Perhaps for this reason, Larry McMurtry, who was at the White House the other day -- he's one of my favorite writers -- in "Lonesome Dove" he describes the mythic Texas and conjures that sense of the place we all know so well. And I'm inspired by a man of letters who can convincingly adopt the voice of the cowboys and the outlaws, men whose only schooling was in dodging bullets, whose only lessons were in how to run or rustle cattle.

But unlike Davy Crockett, I first set out for Texas not on horseback from Tennessee but from Connecticut in a red Studebaker in June of 1948. And more than 40 years later, that trip is still a vivid memory: Highway 80, neon Pearl Beer signs appearing in the desert twilight -- and see, I've got a note here -- and stopping at a cafe -- I'll admit it I didn't know if chicken-fried steak was a chicken fried like a steak or a steak that tasted like a chicken, but I've learned. [Laughter]

And still, Bar and I settled in Texas, as did many before us. We raised five kids and helped get into the business world -- helped start a business. And in that span of 40 years, I've watched with pride as this State has grown into even greater glory. And in my lifetime, I've seen the oil wealth of west Texas help finance the building of great cities, the expansion of great universities and colleges -- the origins of a Texas renaissance, if you will. The energy business helped make Texas what it is today: the third coast of the United States.

This Texas renaissance lasted for years, even decades. But you also know another more recent chapter of the Texas story: oil cheaper than some of this fancy mineral water, skylines of sometimes empty buildings, expensive homes to be had just for the monthly payments, and thousands of laid-off workers. Now, I'm no cowboy; I pitch horseshoes for a living, but I don't ride these broncos. I understand, though, that cowboys have a term for the most dangerous and cunning bronco of all, and they call it a sunfisher. And those broncos will rebel against a rider by adopting a motion not unlike the sunfish: a full-force leap into the air, back arched high, flank twisting the rider to the left, head and upper torso twisting the rider to the right in an attempt to tear him apart. And let me suggest that not so many months ago, the whole State of Texas, our State, felt like it had been on just such a ride. But strong men and women are challenged by adversity, and I believe Texas has proven that. And there may be a few more bumps and bruises ahead, but make no mistake: Texas is back -- back in the saddle, strong in every way.

State unemployment has dipped to its lowest level in 4 years, signaling, I think, the diversification of the Texas economy. In 1970 the energy sector accounted for nearly 25 percent of State output -- 25 percent. And last year it accounted for 11.4 percent. And yet Texas has more than regained the 208,000 jobs it lost from 1986 to 1987, with employment in plastics and aviation, electronics, space, and computer programming leading the way. More people are at work in Texas today than ever before in our history. And the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex leads in defense and aviation and technology; Houston in space and biomedical research; Austin, microelectronics. Another sign that Texas is becoming a world center of technology is the selection of Ellis County as the site of the Superconducting Supercollider. And when built, the SSC will enable us to study elemental particles with names like quarks and mesons and neutrinos -- sounds like a breakfast cereal that these grandkids of ours are into these days.

But as Tom Luce, chairman of the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission, said: "With a little imagination, you can conclude that future research in the field of high energy could some day help us conquer cancer or discover a way to boost the amount of information on a microchip or answer questions that eluded Einstein, giving us a glimpse of the forces that bind the universe together." The SSC is a key to understanding nature and to developing the technologies and industries of the 21st century. Let me assure you: I will back the construction of the SSC because it is good for the entire United States of America. And let me also salute you, the members of the Texas house and senate, and the voters of this State, for having the vision to take an early lead on this project. Texas got its act together and made an outstanding presentation early on.

Still, no matter how diversified and high tech that we become, a strong domestic energy industry is important, still important, to the future of this State and, in my view, to the future of all America. I find it disturbing that nearly 50 percent of America's oil is imported. This is not good for the national security of the United States of America. And now some are questioning the future of America's energy production in the aftermath of the wreck of the Exxon Valdez off Alaska. I am as concerned as anyone, as all Americans are, by the environmental tragedy in Prince William Sound. We're using Federal resources intelligently to clean it up. We're working with industry to develop an improved plan in the event of a future spill. But shutting down our domestic energy production is no answer and would merely increase our dependence on foreign oil. We must, and we will, maintain a strong domestic energy industry.

To reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we must return to high levels of exploratory drilling. I propose to stimulate domestic drilling with tax credits and other incentives. We need more research -- this isn't just a function of the Government, incidentally -- but we need more research to learn how to recover more of our secondary and tertiary oil. And I want to do something else. Texas has a 65-year supply of one of the cleanest forms of energy known to man: natural gas. And I call on the United States Congress, at long last, to fully decontrol natural gas. And I believe that's going to happen soon.

We need a national energy policy that relies not only on oil but on other sources as well. I believe we can and must use safe nuclear power. I believe that coal has a bright future. And you know my confidence in natural gas. As we all become increasingly concerned about the need for clean air, we must look more to natural gas and to nuclear power. We must press forward with clean-coal technology, and we must produce more of our corn crop to produce -- switch more of our corn crop to produce ethanol; more of our natural gas to produce methanol. And the greater use of these alternate fuels will rapidly improve the air quality of our most heavily polluted cities. And I'm talking about Los Angeles, Denver; I'm talking about Houston, Texas, and other heavily impacted areas.

I know there are still a few dark clouds remaining on our economic horizon. I know that you're concerned about the continuing crisis in many of the savings and loan institutions. And I've asked for measures to restore these institutions to financial health. And I've asked for $37 million in 1989 funds for the Justice Department so that those who willfully abuse the trust of the small savers can expect to be pursued, tried, and, if guilty, put into prison. We must go after the white-collar criminal in this country as well as the others. The United States Senate has acted expeditiously on the savings and loan bill that I put forward -- strong support on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans alike. And I now call on the House of Representatives to pass a responsible savings and loan bill as soon as possible.

Texas, like all America, faces many challenges. But I believe that by working together, as Republicans and Democrats, as Federal and as State officials, we can lick any problems down the path. Federalism works; federalism works because of your leadership and your initiative. The old dictum of the best government being that which is closest to the people applies here, right here in this chamber, right here in Austin, Texas -- right here at the Capitol. True, some problems of the recent past linger on. Some areas of the State are recovering more slowly than others.

But the way is clear to a future as bright and promising as the blue Texas sky: a new reliance on a diversified economy and the technologies of the next century. And this is the secret of the Texas turn around, and its unfolding is a tribute not just to the entrepreneurial spirit of Texans themselves but to the leadership of Governor Clements, Senators Gramm and Bentsen, the congressional delegation, and the men and women of the Texas legislature. Texas is starting to feel like its old self again. And there's a feeling now that anything is possible. I'm not standing here trying to underestimate the problems of education or health or urban blight, but there is a new feeling abroad. Who knows, the Astros might win in the National League, and, yes, under enlightened new leadership -- [laughter] -- the Texas Rangers might even win in the American League. Good luck!

Seriously, as we face our future in the White House, Barbara and I take with us memories of people and places from a State that has been home for most of our lives -- all of my adult life, if you will. We remember those 12 years in west Texas. It's a dry heat. You don't feel it -- [laughter] -- my eye! We were there for 12 years. But the people -- I feel their strength and fierce independence to this very day. And I remember driving the kids across Texas. We moved down from west Texas down to the gulf coast, slowing down to take in the fields of the blue bonnets and Indian paintbrush. I don't think you can drive through that country without thinking of yourself as a naturalist or an environmentalist, or at least counting your blessings. And I remember the people of Houston, many of them mature and skeptical, but who nonetheless listened to a very green young man and sent him to Congress in 1966. And I remember Lyndon Johnson at his ranch back in 1969, when I went over there -- an elder Democrat, retired from the Presidency, giving neighborly advice to a young Republican, while his very special Lady Bird held out her hand in hospitality.

Barbara and I treasure these 41 years as Texans -- the sights and sounds of our adult lifetime, the trust of many friends, and the love of a family. And all this and more we remember when we think of home.

You know, I've been thinking about it. Ann Richards was right. [Laughter] Why do you think that I said we could cancer conquer? [Laughter] Look, I kept putting that silver foot in my mouth -- [laughter] -- all along the way. But the bottom line is when they ask, "Where's George?", say he's in Austin, among friends. And I'm very proud to be back. Thank you all. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 4:35 p.m. in the house chamber of the State Capitol. He was introduced by Gib Lewis, speaker of the house of representatives. In his closing remarks, the President referred to State treasurer Ann Richards, who spoke at the 1988 Democratic national convention. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Miami, FL.

George Bush, Remarks to the Texas State Legislature in Austin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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