“For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all.” -former Texas Governor Rick Perry
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a candidate for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, addressed the National Press Club last week in Washington.
His remarks as prepared for delivery and a video of his remarks followed by a Q & A are posted below:
Ninety-nine years ago – on May 15, 1916 – at a courthouse in Waco, Texas, a mentally disabled 17-year-old boy named Jesse Washington was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his employer.
He pled guilty and was sentenced to death. But Jesse died no ordinary death. Because he was black.
After the death sentence was issued, Jesse was dragged out of the McLennan County Courthouse and into a crowd of hundreds.
Thanks to the advent of a new technology called the telephone, word quickly spread as to what was about to happen, and soon 15,000 people were watching Jesse Washington be tortured, mutilated, and tied over the branch of a tree.
Someone lit a fire under Jesse, and raised him up into the air.
Jesse tried to climb up the chains to avoid the fire.
Someone started cutting off Jesse’s fingers, so he couldn’t keep climbing.
One man castrated him, while another used a pole to prevent Jesse from escaping the fire.
A prominent local photographer took pictures of Jesse’s charred remains and sold them as souvenirs, on postcards.
Even today, we Texans struggle to talk about what happened to Jesse Washington. We don’t want to believe that our great state could ever have been the scene of such unimaginable horror.
But it is an episode in our history that we cannot ignore. It is an episode we have an obligation to transcend.
We’ve made a lot of progress since 1916.
A half-century ago, Republicans and Democrats came together to finally enshrine in law the principle that all of us – regardless of race, color, or national origin – are created equal.
Shedrick Willis was a slave who, before the Civil War, had been bought and sold on the steps of the McLennan County Courthouse – the very place where Jesse Washington would later be dragged to his death.
When I was governor of Texas, I had the proud distinction of appointing Willis’ great-great-great-grandson, Wallace Jefferson, to be the first African-American on the Supreme Court of Texas. In 2004, I appointed Wallace to be the Supreme Court’s first black Chief Justice.
There are tens of thousands of stories like Wallace Jefferson’s.
When it comes to race, America is a better and more tolerant and more welcoming place than it has ever been. We are a country with Hispanic CEOs, and Asian billionaires, and a black President.
So why is it that even today, so many black families feel left behind? Why is it that a quarter of African-Americans live below the poverty line, even after the impact of federal programs like food stamps and housing subsidies?
The supplemental poverty rate for African-Americans is nearly double the rate for other Americans.
Democrats have long had the opportunity to govern in African-American communities.
It is time to help black families hold them accountable for the results.
I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children.
I am proud to live in a country with an African-American President. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership.
We cannot dismiss the historical legacy of slavery, nor its role in causing the problem of black poverty. And because slavery and segregation were sanctioned by government, there is a role for government policy in addressing their lasting effects.
But the specific policies advanced by the President and his allies on the left amount to little more than throwing money at the problem and walking away.
We spend 450 billion dollars a year on Medicaid, and yet health outcomes for those on Medicaid are no better than for those with no insurance at all. Instead of reforming Medicaid, the President expanded it under Obamacare.
In the cities where the left-wing solutions have been tried over and over again – places like Detroit and Chicago and Baltimore – African-Americans are moving out, and moving to cities like Dallas and Houston.
As Americans we are all united by certain aspirations. We all want access to opportunity. We all want good schools for our kids. We want to live in safe neighborhoods. We want to live in cities and states where housing and college and everyday expenses are affordable. We all want to experience the American Dream.
From 2005 to 2007, more African-Americans moved to Texas than any other state except Georgia. Many were coming from blue states like New York, Illinois, and California. Many came from Louisiana, where they had lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.
But each new resident was welcomed to Texas, with open arms.
They came to a state with a booming economy. We kept taxes and regulation low, and frivolous lawsuits to a minimum. And we worked hard to educate every child.
Let me be clear. We haven’t eliminated black poverty in Texas. But we have made meaningful progress.
In New York, the supplemental poverty rate for blacks is 26 percent. In California, it’s 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., it’s 33 percent.
In Texas, it’s just 20 percent. Here’s how it happened.
Because we curtailed frivolous lawsuits and unreasonable regulations in Texas, it’s far cheaper to do business in Dallas or Houston than in Baltimore or Detroit. And those lower costs get passed down to consumers – especially low-income consumers – in the form of lower prices.
There’s a lot of talk in Washington about income inequality. But there’s a lot less talk about the inequality that arises from the high cost of everyday life.
In blue-state coastal cities, strict zoning laws and environmental regulations have prevented builders from expanding the housing supply. That’s great for the venture capitalist who wants a nice view of San Francisco Bay, but it’s not so great for the single mother working two jobs in order to pay rent and still put food on the table for her kids.
It’s not just about how many dollars you earn—though there are plenty of opportunities to do that in Texas. It’s also about how far each dollar can take you, after you’ve paid your taxes, and your rent, and your tuition, and your grocery bills.
In too many parts of this country, black students are trapped in failing schools where union bosses look out for themselves at the expense of the kids. This matters, because kids who graduate from high school typically make 50 percent more than those who don’t.
In Texas, we made sure that the kids come first.
Texas’ high school graduation rate went from 27th in the country in 2002, to 2nd highest in the country in 2013. Our most recent graduation rate for African-Americans was number one in the nation: 13 points higher than the national average.
We also found a way to reduce crime while keeping kids out of jail. In 2014, Texas had its lowest crime rate since 1968. At the same time, we closed three prisons and reformed our sentencing laws.
Too many Texans were going to prison for non-violent drug offenses. And once they got out of prison, many found they couldn’t get a job because they had a criminal record.
Nobody gets Texans confused as being soft on crime. I believe in consequences for criminal behavior. But I also believe in second chances and human redemption…because that, too, is part of the American story.
Americans who suffer from an addiction need help, not moral condemnation. By treating alcohol and drug abuse as a disease, we have given Texans who have experienced a run-in with the law the help they need and the rehabilitation that many seek.
And many now are living in recovery, engaged in saving the lives of others trapped in addiction.
The human soul yearns to be free – free from the chains of addiction, free from the chains of poverty.
I am running for President because I want to make life better for all people, even those who don’t vote Republican.
I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans. Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater, in 1964, ran against Lyndon Johnson, a champion of civil rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because he felt that parts of it were unconstitutional.
States supporting segregation in the South cited “states’ rights” as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.
As you know, I am an ardent believer in the Tenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government is.
But I am also an ardent believer in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
There has been – and will continue to be – an important and legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights.
Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.
For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all.
It is time for us to once again reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.
We know what Democrats will propose in 2016—the same things Democrats have proposed for decades: more government spending on more government programs.
And there is a proper and important role for government assistance in keeping people on their feet. But few presidents have done more to expand government assistance than President Obama.
Today, we spend nearly $1 trillion a year on means-tested anti-poverty programs.
And yet black poverty remains stagnant.
Here is what I have seen in my time in public service: the best welfare program in America is a job.
There’s a fundamental reason why Democratic policies have failed to cure poverty: It’s because the only true cure for poverty is a job, and Democratic policies have made it too hard for the poor to find work.
Just this week, the President announced new regulations for overtime pay that will make it costlier for companies to hire full-time employees. Companies will respond to these rules by hiring fewer people, for the simple reason that money doesn’t grow on trees.
And so my first priority as President will be to reignite the engine of American economic growth by reforming the tax code and requiring federal agencies to adhere to a strict regulatory budget.
A growing economy will give those at the bottom of the ladder more opportunities to climb, just as it has in Texas.
Many poor Americans want to leave welfare and rejoin the workforce. But because of taxes and regulations, it often makes more economic sense to stay on welfare than to get a full-time job.
Furthermore, federal programs impose a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting poverty. In California, someone might need more money to deal with the cost of housing. In Massachusetts, it might be the cost of vocational school.
Instead, we force the poor to enroll in separate programs for housing assistance or Pell grants.
If I am elected President, I will send to Congress a welfare reform bill that will take the money we already spend on non-health care-related, anti-poverty programs and split it into two parts.
The first part will be an expanded and reformed version of the Earned Income Tax Credit so that anyone with a job can live above the poverty line.
The second part will consist of a block grant so that states can care for their safety net populations in the manner that best serves their residents.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most important things we did in Texas while I was governor is reform our drug-related sentencing laws, so that non-violent offenders could stay out of prison. As Texans got smarter about policing and crime prevention, we came to appreciate the importance of keeping promising young people out of jail.
Imagine how hard it is to get a job if you have a criminal conviction on your record.
We are working to stop the inter-generational cycle of incarceration, where grandchildren meet their grandparents behind prison bars. We can reform federal sentencing laws – just as we have done at the state level – to ensure more young people have a shot at a better life. And we can do so while keeping our low-income communities safe from crime.
We all know we have to improve our schools. This is an area where President Obama had potential, but he caved into the demands of labor unions.
It’s a fallacy to assume that the vastly different student populations across the country can be adequately educated with one-size-fits-all policies. We need to empower state lawmakers, school boards and parents to implement policies that address the specific needs of their students, and keep schools accountable and efficient.
Enterprising charter school teachers, like Eva Moskowitz in New York, should be able to replicate their astounding success all over the country, without the interference of the federal government.
And we have to tackle the exorbitant price of a college education. One of the biggest barriers today to entering the middle class – black or otherwise – is the high cost of a college degree.
A four-year degree at the typical private college now costs more than 170,000 dollars.
Compare that to the median home price in America, which is $205,000.
We are literally asking poor students to mortgage their future in order to gain a college degree.
This must end. In Texas, I challenged our state universities to offer a four-year college degree for less than $10,000. Many thought it would be impossible to drive tuition and fees that low. But today, 13 Texas universities have reached that target.
We are on the cusp of an online revolution in higher education, but only if the federal government rolls back the rules that make it almost impossible for students to gain accredited bachelor’s degrees achieved with online instruction.
Furthermore, just as with college tuition, we have to reduce the cost of living for those who need every dollar to be stretched as far is it can go.
Federal regulations, like Obamacare’s employer mandate, drive up the cost of hiring new workers. That means that companies hire fewer people. But it also means that the price of basic consumer goods goes up.
Earlier this year, the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimated that federal regulations cost American businesses as much as $1.88 trillion a year. That’s nearly $15,000 per U.S. household. If you add in state regulations, the problem gets even worse.
If we do these five things – if we create jobs, incentivize work, keep non-violent drug offenders out of prison, reform our schools, and reduce the cost of living – we will have done more for African-Americans than the last three Democratic Administrations combined.
At the American Cemetery in Normandy, nine thousand three hundred and eighty-seven American soldiers are buried in orderly row upon orderly row.
“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest,” a general once said, “it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”
Some of our gallant dead were the sons of Presidents, like Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Most were ordinary Americans, simply doing what their country asked of them. Some of the graves don’t even have names—they’re simply marked: “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.”
Some of the most compelling graves at Normandy are for African-Americans who served in segregated regiments, like Willie Collins of the 490th Port Battalion.
Willie Collins made the ultimate sacrifice for America, despite the fact that America didn’t always treat him in the way he deserved.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Sergeant Willie Collins grew up in different circumstances. Ted’s ancestors had a coat of arms. Willie’s ancestors were brought here in chains.
But Ted and Willie joined themselves together with a commitment that every generation of Americans has embraced: the promise of leaving America – and the world – a better place than they found it. Of ensuring a better future for the children and grandchildren of those to come.
I am a beneficiary of the sacrifices of Sergeant Collins and General Roosevelt, and of so many others known but to God.
I grew up in a place called Paint Creek. When I was young, we had an outhouse and mom bathed us on the front porch in a number two washtub.
We attended the Paint Creek Rural School, where some of the teachers lived on campus. Their profession was literally their life, and they inspired me. I can assure you none of my teachers knew they were instructing a future Air Force captain, let alone a future governor.
But they also have a motto at the Paint Creek School that summarizes the endless possibilities for its students: “No dream too tall for a school so small.”
Many people don’t feel that their lives are filled with endless possibilities anymore.
Americans entering adulthood today have good reason to fear that it will be harder for them to earn a living, to buy a home, to pay off their debts, than it was for their parents.
But if there is one thing we can learn from Willie Collins and the millions like him – from the tragedy of Jesse Washington and the triumph of Wallace Jefferson – it’s that America has overcome far greater obstacles than the ones we face today.
Willie Collins died in the belief that America could become a better country than the one he left home to serve. And he was right.
It’s up to us to be worthy of the country that Willie Collins’ generation gave us. It’s up to us to leave our country better off than we found it.
America has never been perfect. No country composed of imperfect beings ever could be.
But there is no country that has achieved more than the United States of America.
With new leadership and durable reforms, America can be stronger and more prosperous than it has ever been.
America can be that exceptional place, where nothing in life is guaranteed, but where we all have an equal opportunity to build a better life for ourselves and our children and their children.
Thank you—and may God bless America.