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Saturday, October 14, 2006 Thank you all for being here. And thanks for taking a few minutes to listen. I always feel honored when someone takes time to listen to what I have to say. I want to say this. To empower anyone, or any group, you have to start with basic things. As a businessman, I often revisit the basics in determining the health of my business, things like customer satisfaction, employee training & retention, Market condition, and our balance sheet. To empower minority citizens of our state, or any state, we will have to address the basics. Things like the family, education, economic opportunity, and wealth building. FAMILY The family is the cornerstone of every human life. If the family unit is strong, the child has a better environment in which to grow. We all know that every family is different, and their circumstances differ widely. Government policy has a role to play in how those families are helped. But the past efforts have been lacking. So, we must try new ways, and offer choices. Over the last several years, this administration has taken a position that just makes sense. It is simply this; In some places the church is the best place to serve those in need. Our government for the first time in years now allows this to take place. It even has a name, Faith Based Initiative The fact is there is no reason we should exclude faith-based organizations from providing social services, and we have a President and we have a congress that is committed to making sure that we get families and individuals in need, the best and the most help they can have, and end the discrimination that exists today against faith-based organizations. Our party offers a choice in dealing with problems in the community. To make progress within the minority community in economic terms, we must as a society stand on the same side as strong families in this country. That means special treatment for traditional families. Every family faces health care needs, and health care is an incredibly important issue. Today, we need health savings accounts that empower people that move from job to job to job to take their health care with them, and also be able to get health insurance policies that are right for them. This means more choices in health care. To be successful in making health care affordable, we must have reforms to medical malpractice liability. No one has ever been healed by a lawsuit, but a lot of people have lost their health insurance because lawsuits drove the cost up too high. EDUCATION This is often the first area addressed because education is so important to everything else. If folks have access to quality education, everything else is possible, regardless of your background. Yet despite the fact that we for a long time have known how important education was, I ask you to think of the status quo in education, back in 2001. The National Assessment of Education Progress showed that in America, in 2001, one out of three white children in the third grade, two out of three African American children in the third grade, and 58% of Latino children in the third grade, couldn't read at a basic third grade level. That was in America. That was in 2001. With facts like that staring you in the face, how can you defend the status quo? We had to at least try to fix this. So, first, we tried to understand the problem, as we all need to do. First problem was, that we measured the means, not the ends. Everyone talked all the time about how much money we were spending on education, but not how much kids were learning. Changing that seemed easy, just measure the results. People complained, and it is not perfect, but at least now we are measuring results. And we need to measure results every year, because ultimately, that's all that matters. Our children learning. That is it. Second problem was that there are a lot of folks who put bureaucracy before children. There are a lot of people that look at education and they say, we can't make those changes that will upset the teachers union. I say that the purpose of the education system in this country is to serve families, not the other way around. The third problem was that we did not expect much from poor, and especially poor minority, children. The President talked about the soft bigotry of low expectations. There is this notion out there that is holding back poor children, and particularly poor minority children. The notion is this: - because somebody started out a little bit behind it's okay to have a second standard for them. - I reject that notion out of hand. If we are going to have democracy, if we are going to have a free country, if we are going to have economic opportunity for every American, then we are going to have to take the position that: - if somebody started out a little bit behind, they need more help, because we want to make sure that there is no one who gets a second class education in this country. So, we understood the goal was to educate children, and we tried to address the problem. The result of this is the No Child Left Behind Act. Yes, it increased funding on education in a massive way. But here’s what else it did, in addition to increased spending on education, we also set high standards, that apply to every single child in this country. We measured every child, every year before it's too late so if a child is falling behind we just don't pass them through, we make sure they get the help they need because if you believe there are no second class children, then passing someone through is morally wrong, it’s totally wrong because that child needs help right away. And the third part of this plan is that there is accountability and there are consequences. If a child does well, we praise the system. And if a child does not do well, that child’s parent knows that year, and we make sure that parent has more choices, and has charter schools as an option. Now, the education unions do not like that part about giving parents a choice. Not one little bit. No, the education unions do not want parents to have a choice, even if the school if failing. Well ladies and gentlemen, we can not afford to let our children be subject to that restriction. That is the policy of the past, and it is a failed policy. So, I say give us a chance and we'll give you a choice in education. ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY As a businessman, a concerned citizen and a Republican leader, I am focused on making sure there’s a ladder, a way to climb up to economic success, for every American. It is very important to the fabric of our society that the bottom rungs of these ladders are available for everybody. I will be somewhat bold and make this statement to you today. The best economic opportunity available to the minority citizen of Alabama is small business. That is your ladder to climb up to financial security. I believe it to be so important that when I was Mobile County Chairman, I took off from work one day every month and visited 8 to 10 small business owners each day with a member of Jeff Session’s staff. This helped both of us learn about their opportunities and their concerns. Now, in this part of the state particularly, our president's economic opportunity plan includes something very interesting called opportunity zones. In those places where there has been job loss and not a lot of job creation, his plan is to reduce the taxes, reduce regulation and make more federal money available. This combination is a way of providing the extra help that's needed in the most challenged areas where there hasn't been as much opportunity. If you think about the African American journey that occurred in this country, we all know of the risks and sacrifice of people that sat at lunch counters to make sure that nobody could be denied the right to eat at a restaurant because of the color of their skin. That was real progress. But if we want to continue to make progress, it is not enough just say that anybody can sit at the lunch counter. We need to enable people, so that anybody can own the restaurant. WEALTH BUILDING Wealth building is perhaps the area where we need to make the most progress. And make no mistake about it, owning a small business can help you build wealth. Just buying the building your business is in can be a great wealth building technique. Our tax cuts and other economic incentives are reducing the barriers faced by small business start ups. And yes, that means more African Americans owning their own small business. We need policies that promote small business in this country. It is a path to wealth creation that is definately open to African Americans and other minorities. Another way to build wealth is home ownership. If we want to empower minorities, then one thing is certainly required. We need more minorities owning their own home. We do have a plan, and it's already created 1.9 million new minority homeowners since George W. Bush was elected president. And when he's done by 2010 there will be 5.5 million minority homeowners in America. When that day comes, if these policies stay in place, the gap that exists today, between minorities and non-minorities in home ownership will be gone forever. Retirement accounts have been a big source of wealth building in America over the past thirty years. However, one of the most important gaps that still exists in this country is the gap between the wealth, the wealth of the typical white family and the typical black family in America. Even though we have made a lot of progress when it comes to the gap on salary, there's still a lot more to do. But, when if you look at household wealth, that gap is still way, way, way too big. And one of the reasons that gap exists is because not enough African American families have access to the ability to take a nest egg and grow it bigger, keep it for themselves and pass it along to their children. By the way, notice that we are back to the family. That is the key to creating wealth in this country. That has been the key from the beginning. It is exactly how immigrants have started off at the bottom of that ladder and risen up to the top of that ladder. I am an example myself. My dad was an immigrant, who never finished high school. But he got me educated, and got me started. Part of our plan says every child in this country, no matter where you're from, no matter what your background, will be able to work in a country where, even if you live from paycheck to paycheck, you will be able to have a nest egg for yourself, for you parents to pass along to your children, or that you can use for your own retirement. And that’s called a personal retirement account. Now, the people in Washington DC understand how it works, you know why? Every single government employee has access to it. If you work for the Federal government, then you have the ability to have a personal retirement account called the thrift savings plan. We think that same right ought to be available to every single family in this country. It always amuses me when I hear folks say, why do we need personal retirement accounts? Everyone’s got 401ks and IRAs. Well, the people that say that may have it, but if you live paycheck to paycheck so you can't set aside money for a 401k, you can't set aside money for an IRA, then you don't have that access. And if we want to close the gap between minorities and non-minorities in access to capital, in the ability to build wealth, in the ability to have a piece of the American dream, the only way to do it is a personal retirement account because that's the only way for folks who live paycheck to paycheck to be able to build a nest egg for themselves or for the future. CLOSING I think it's important, as we have this conversation, to discuss what's been a journey, because there's been a journey not only for the African American community, but a journey for the Republican Party. And if we know where we've been, then it's a lot easier to figure out where we want to go. The Republican Party and the African American community have had a tremendous journey together. I’m proud that I’m First District Chairman of a party that was founded to eliminate slavery in this country. I’m proud that the Republican Party was the party that lead the way to passing the 13th, the 14th and the 15th amendment. Of President Lincoln’s philosophy that could be summed up by one scholar as “the right to rise”, included not only the Emancipation Proclamation, but included the Homesteading Act of 1862 and the Morrill Land College Grant Act which recognized that education and opportunity and property ownership were all essential to the American dream. I’m proud that it was a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, that invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, shocking official Washington at the time. I’m proud it was Republican President, Dwight David Eisenhower, who sent the 101st airborne into Little Rock to make sure that Central High School was integrated. That a Republican President, Ronald Reagan, signed the King holiday into law. And I’m really proud to work for George W. Bush, a Republican President, who has appointed more qualified African Americans to top positions than any president in American history and who has an incredible pro-family agenda. But despite this progress, the fact is this: for the last several years and up until, I think, this last election, no matter how much we might have said we achieved, the Republican Party did a bad job. It did not do a good job of reaching out and explaining ourselves to the African American community, and it did not do a good job of listening in the African American community. And the result was a situation where the Democratic Party, in my judgment, came to take many African American voters for granted. And the Republican Party too often, didn't try to compete. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the George W. Bush Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and the party of Frederic Douglass is here today to compete. And we will persist and we will continue this effort until we learn more, and achieve more, and succeed more in competing to win the African American support.
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