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Springfield, Illinois Remarks at a Fundraising Breakfast for Michael Bakalis.

May 26, 1978

Senator Stevenson, Governor Shapiro, my longtime friend and classmate, Governor Dan Walker, Secretary Dixon, future Senator Alex Seith, future Governor Michael Bakalis:

I've enjoyed my visit to Illinois. I've been excited and exhilarated by the friendship and the warmth of the welcome here, by the determination and the spirit that exists within the Democratic Party.

I have been concerned about some things, though. The problems that I face in Washington seem to be much more acute when you leave there and come out among people.

The price of food concerns me. You could have bought the same breakfast yesterday morning for $2 or $3. [Laughter] But perhaps this is good for Mike. I understand that in Illinois the Governor has to get used to lobster, cognac. [Laughter]

Mike pointed out the trials and tribulations and also the excitement of running for a major public office and dealing with political questions as an underdog. I know how that is. I have to deal with the Congress every day. [Laughter] But I do know that there is a need in this State for a man who fills the unique standards of leadership.

I've gotten to know Mike Bakalis since I first came in Illinois to campaign. Mike had a campaign breakfast for me here in Springfield the first time I visited your capital. And I've studied the issues in Illinois. And I've tried to think about what the people of this State would want if they were choosing a perfect Governor.

First, I think there would be some requirement of compatibility between the Governor on one hand, local officials, schoolteachers, colleges, county Democratic Party officials who are loyal, congressional delegations, the President, to make sure that we get the best out of our system of federalism, with which God has blessed us; a man who can work in harmony, not in a disputatious or combative way, because the people don't like to see division and sharp disagreements among public officials who serve them. It might make the headlines and the press might be intrigued with it, but what the people want, who are not particularly interested in politics but just want their services to be filled, is someone who can bridge a gap and not create a gap.

I think Mike Bakalis is that kind of a person. I would say in this day and age in our country there is a real concern about distrust of government by people. How can we have good service, at the same time be treated fairly, have our children lead a better life, even than the one we have, not have our government run uncontrolled and waste our taxpayers' money? These are questions difficult to resolve.

And if I were seeking for a perfect Governor of Illinois, I would want a man whose background and experience could guarantee that that is his qualification and his attitude.

There's not a more self-sacrificial commitment that I know than a bright young person who volunteers, when he begins his life, to be an elementary school teacher and to teach high school and later to be responsible for the educational system of a great State. It's a thankless job. And particularly during the years when Mike Bakalis filled this responsibility, because that was in a transition phase when quite often mayors and Governors, Members of Congress were reluctant to accommodate social change and to deal with the difficult question of caring for children—some of whom were black, some of whom were white—but to educate us, were on the cutting edge of making changes that have benefited us all, it took not just dedication and unselfishness and knowledge and high training but it took a sensitivity and a compassion that this man has exemplified.

I think it's important, too, that there be a close relationship between a public servant and people who still have to work for a living. A lot of us have been blessed by God with high achievement and a sound and secure economic status and a predictable job opportunity that we don't have to worry about every day, and we are socially prominent and we are politically influential. If our children get in trouble with the law, the chances are that we can go to the judge and in a completely proper way say, "Judge, I have a good family and my boy has made a mistake. And I hope that you will let him not go to prison. It would destroy his life; let us be responsible for him."

The chances are the judge would do right and say okay. But someone who does not enjoy our standards, who might be very poor or illiterate or from a divided family, or the father unemployed or black or who can't speak English well, the same judge, with the same open heart and the same dedication to justice, might say I don't think we can trust this young person who's made a mistake to go back into that family home.

So, I think that a public servant has got to know from experience how to deal not only with students in the classroom but with their families back home and say, "How can we correct the defects that exist in our great country and give those dependent people who want to share our blessings an opportunity to do so, not with a government handout, but with a chance to work, to have some self-respect, to feel like they are equal in a country that's dedicated to equality of opportunity?" And that sensitivity exists in Mike Bakalis.

Government is designed to serve those who need help most and the humaneness of government is not incompatible with a tough, competent, businesslike, managerial approach. You can't deliver services adequately from a limited supply of tax income if the government is disorganized or wasteful and if you don't have the judgment and the sound practical experience behind you to make priority judgments and to work harmoniously with your fellow public servants.

Well, Mike has had that kind of background and experience. He's done a superb job in his present position. No one doubts it. Everybody agrees. There are some Republicans who think he ought to stay there because he has done such a good job. But I think that combination of understanding the need and the thrust and the legitimate function of government on the one hand, and tough, competent business management on the other, is rare. But he happens to have it.

And, finally, I would like to have a man that has a background that kind of gives him a picture, even from his infant years, of what this country is, the diversity of people. Now this is not a melting pot, as I said many times during my campaign, it's more like a mosaic. You've got different people that retain their identity and their heritage and their pride, but still fit in together to create the strength of our country. And as Mike himself just mentioned, his parents came here from a foreign country, from Greece, a man who had no assured job—Mike's father—he drove a truck, couldn't speak English well, of course, later saved up money because of hard work and care, and the love and support of his family, bought a little short-order restaurant.

But he had two boys that he cared for and loved—George became a lawyer, a very expensive process, and Mike got his doctorate in education.

And it was the kind of family structure that I think is needed in our country—a solid, unshakable, family interrelationship that is the foundation of what America is. Because the boys didn't sit back and say, "Daddy, you put me through college." They joined in and did their share and then some, and it was a mutuality about that thrust and purpose in those young men's lives that's part of the American dream.

And there's no doubt in my mind that Mike can understand the special problems of Spanish American people who still can't speak English very well, or the very poor, or the black, or the very young or the very old, or the European families who have come here recently, who make up our country. He can understand that, not because he goes and studies it or asks some college professor to let him read a book, but because he's part of it.

So, you've got the kind of leader here who has those qualifications, and I would say the last and most important thing as far as a political campaign is concerned is not letting down one's supporters. I would hate to invest $500 in the campaign of somebody if I didn't think they were going to do more than their share. Well, you don't have to worry about that. You've seen Mike in the past, in his two previous campaigns against almost hopeless odds, win.

And that ability to plan a campaign against hopeless odds is a very good preview of the way someone serves as a school superintendent or a comptroller or a Governor, because if he can put together that, it shows that you can work with other people in the same common goal. But I think the campaign being successful also shows that he can relate to the person on the street when he reaches out a hand and says, "I'm Mike Bakalis, I'm running for Governor." I think that there's got to be a kind of an interrelationship there and a mutual trust. There's a foundation for a success, and I know that you know that Mike Bakalis will never sit back and say, "Let my friends do it." He'll be working longer hours than any of you or any of his staff, and he'll be studying the sensitivities of Illinois people and the needs of this State more than perhaps any of you.

So, in closing I would like to say this: I'm thankful to you for your generosity in coming here this morning to help out a good man. But there's more to it than that. This is not going to be an easy campaign.

I know how difficult it is to run against an incumbent. President Ford was my opponent. And in spite of the early polls when Ford and Ronald Reagan were still fighting each other and each one of their supporters didn't want to pledge to support the other, I saw that to run against a good, sound person who has the aura of the office is very difficult. But I've got confidence in Mike that he can win. But it's not going to be possible for him to do so if you come here this morning, say "I've done all I can, I've given a good contribution, let Mike handle the rest."

Every one of you ought to be thinking now about how you can go back to your own community and become the core of a rapidly spreading campaign organization, kind of a personal campaign manager. It's important to Illinois. You know how I feel about this brilliant young man who's kind of one of the shining new stars on the political horizon, who has all the qualifications that I've just described. I wouldn't say them if I didn't really think they were true.

I don't think anyone in here would disagree with what I've said about him. Even his political opponents could not possibly disagree with what I've said. He would be a credit to Illinois, and a credit to the United States of America.

I hope that you and I can help him get elected.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. in the Lincoln Room at the Holiday Inn East. In his opening remarks he referred to former Illinois Governors Samuel H. Shapiro and Dan Walker, and the secretary of state of Illinois, Alan J. Dixon.

Jimmy Carter, Springfield, Illinois Remarks at a Fundraising Breakfast for Michael Bakalis. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245056

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