Remarks by the Vice President at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in National Harbor, Maryland
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, NACo. (Applause.) Hello. Hello. Please have a seat. Oh, it's so good to be with you all. I was just speaking with some folks back -- you know, this is the first con- -- well, probably for all of us -- the first conference that I have attended in, I think, a year and a half, and the first conference I've attended as Vice President of the United States in person. (Applause.)
So, it is only fitting that I would be here with you because, as you know and have heard, I started my career in county government. So, it is good to see all of you. (Applause.) It is good to see all of you.
I want to thank you, Commissioner Larry Johnson, for the kind introduction and for your leadership. And thank you to Judge/Executive Gary Moore for your years of service.
And hello, NACo. (Applause.) I also want to thank Rodney Ellis, a longstanding and dear friend, for your leadership.
But it is so wonderful to be with all of you together under one roof. Isn't it wonderful for us to all be together? It really is. (Applause.) After such a long time of isolation, to just -- to see our neighbors and our friends in person.
And I want to just say, it is so wonderful, in particular, to be with you, the county leaders -- the leaders who have been holding it down and holding it up all at the same time. And you really are, in that way, such incredible national leaders.
You know, over this past year and a half, I know you all have been working long, long days. You have had a lot of sleepless nights; I know that. During this pandemic, you all have had to figure out how to free up hospital beds and set up vaccination sites. You all had to figure out how to provide social services and set up food distribution sites.
People looked to you. They looked in your eyes to know and believe that you would solve the problems, their problems. People have looked to you to provide reassurance. They have searched your eyes for comfort and for confidence to know that everything was going to be okay.
And even when you weren't sure, you never gave up. You all never gave up. No matter how tired you were, you woke up every morning to get the job done.
And so, for all of that, on behalf of your nation, I say thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your courage. And thank you for your leadership.
And like I said, you all know I started my career in a county office in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office -- the seat, which is Oakland, California, the place of my birth. I worked -- (applause) -- I worked for the city and county of San Francisco. I know county government.
And I know from personal experience then how much -- how much you all, as county leaders, take on. And the list of services -- so I brought a list. The list of services that counties uniquely provide is a very long list, incredibly long. And so, for those who may not be aware -- our friends in the press and others who might be here -- I'm going to just share with you a few of the essential services that people need to get through -- to get through their lives that counties provide.
So here's the list: behavioral healthcare, birth certificates, building permits and licenses, childcare assistance, Child Support Services, CPR classes, financial assistance, flood assistance, foster care, healthcare services, housing services, jury duty, marriage licenses, pest management, potholes -- don't ever forget the potholes -- (applause) -- property assessment, public works, restaurant inspections, storm drainage, streetlights, substance abuse treatment, transportation assistance, tree trimming services, veterans services, and all things voting. (Applause.) That's you. That's you. And you all know that list is not even near being complete in terms of what you do.
Each and every day, you take our nation's ideals and you make them real. You see the needs of our people and you meet them.
And that is why President Joe Biden and I see county leaders as true partners as we work to rebuild our nation. And we are determined to make improvements that are real, that are tangible, that are felt for generations to come. Sta- -- (applause) -- there we go. And so, let's start with our nation's infrastructure.
Every day -- every day, Americans drive over roads and bridges that are in need of repair. Every day, Americans commute on transit systems that are outdated. Americans have water coming out of their tap that isn't clean. And they use Internet that is not high speed.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Preach, Kamala. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: NACo, the infrastructure of our nation is in desperate need of an update. (Applause.) And you all know this firsthand.
For too long, counties have been trying to maintain or repair infrastructure that simply needs to be updated. Many of you have had to stretch already tight budgets to make that happen, to put Band-Aids on the problem.
And let me be clear, our ailing infrastructure is an all-of-America problem and it requires an all-of-America solution.
The bipartisan infrastructure agreement, we believe, is a very strong start. This agreement, which was developed by Democrats and Republicans, represents the largest long-term infrastructure investment our nation has made in nearly a century. And in so doing, it would improve the lives of the American people in every county.
Take, for example, high-speed Internet. You all have seen what I have seen. In our communities, we have students -- even before the pandemic -- but students who have to go to the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant to use the Internet to get their homework done.
We have seen our seniors -- and during the pandemic, tragically -- who were tucked away at the local library trying to video chat with their doctor with little to no privacy.
We have seen small businesses move from one county to the next, to get a better connection.
More than half of our 3,000 counties have Internet speeds that are below outdated minimum broadband standards. (Applause.)
So, I think we all agree this is clearly unacceptable. We agree that when Americans are cut off from high-speed Internet, they are, in fact, being cut off from opportunity.
The bipartisan infrastructure agreement will help connect every American to high-speed Internet. And through that agreement, we will expand our broadband infrastructure, we will open up competition to bring down prices, and we will close that digital divide.
So, NACo, I'm brenching [sic] -- I'm mentioning all of this to say that the President and I, we need your help to get the bipartisan infrastructure agreement over the finish line, to get it done. Because you know what's at stake -- almost uniquely, you know what's at stake.
And so I'm here to ask you to share your stories and your expertise, as the leaders that you are, to let folks know about the need and to know about the benefit we will provide to so many people when we address this critical issue, which is our nation's infrastructure. And I believe, working together, we can get this thing done. (Applause.)
So, there's another ideal that you make real in the everyday lives of American -- the American family, the American household, the American people -- and that ideal is the freedom to vote. (Applause.) This is a nonpartisan organization, and this issue should be a nonpartisan issue -- (applause) -- because voting is not about one party; it is about our entire democracy, a democracy which must be grounded in a representative government. And, in fact, protecting the right to vote is about as American as apple pie. (Applause.)
We know this. We live this. County leaders are the backbone of our elections. County leaders, you oversee polling locations at senior centers and elementary schools and churches. County leaders hire and train and employ election workers.
Every election, you work hard to ensure the people you serve can cast their ballot, no matter who they vote for. You make sure that their ballot will be counted in a fair and transparent process. And even as you work to make voting more accessible -- I know, because I'm here to speak some truth -- I know that you see how obstacles to voting stand in the way of your efforts.
Several county leaders have shared this frustration with me. For instance, right now, local election officials face threats and harassment. New state laws would punish local election officials for simply doing their job. And as a result, we are seeing local election officials of both parties leave these important positions. That is a major obstacle to ensuring free and fair elections, and one we must overcome.
Local election officials sign up to serve, not to suffer. So please know that the President and I are extremely grateful for your service, and we have your back. And we are going to work to provide you with resources that you need to carry out our elections with integrity. (Applause.) Because in so many ways -- in so many ways, the strength of our democracy depends on you all. It depends on you.
So, in closing -- you know, often -- and you all know this, NACo -- the first interaction the American people have with their government is with you. (Applause.) Yeah.
You are the leaders the American people look to. You are the leaders the American people trust. You are the leaders who deliver for the American people. You do everything I just previously read from that list and so much more.
So, I will end where I started, by saying thank you. Thank you for everything you have done and everything you will do. May God bless you. And may God bless America. Thank you all.
Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in National Harbor, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/351262