DEMOCRACY IN ACTION TRANSCRIPT
Thank you. Thank you very much. Wow. What great energy. Democrats alive and well in New Hampshire. [cheers]. Well I've got to tell you -- this kind of party for lunch, I'm going to come back for dinner. [cheers]. Sylvia [Larsen], thank you for that very kind introduction, although I did hear, when you introduced me, at the end, a chuckle or two when she introduced me as his excellency. That is not an effort to try to get close to the governor of Virginia. You know, good news, bad news. We are the last state in the country with a one-term governor restriction. Crazy rule. But the good news is the official title of the governor of Virginia is His Excellency the Governor. [laughter]. And let me tell you there are days when that's the best part of the day being in politics. [laughter]. This is tremendous. I am so grateful for so many folks coming out with these great Senate Democrats. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your willingness to host me today. Members of the House. So many great Democrats as Sylvia said, either current elected, future elected, or supporting elected. It is great to have you here.
What I thought I'd do is I'd like to take 10 or 15 minutes and fill in a little bit of the blanks on who I am, a little bit about what we've been doing in Virginia, share some ideas about where I think our country and our party needs to head, and then, as I know in any group in New Hampshire, answer some of those questions. [laughter].
You know there are so many people. There's friends here in the room from Virginia. There's actually one of my college roommates, Jeff Meyers [Manchester attorney] is here. Al Cantor is here; his brother Yale [phon.] was my guidance counselor -- uncle, uncle at Rockville High School. Thinking uncle, brother, one of those, a blood relation of some kind.
Tell you a little bit about my background. I actually am not from Virginia. I -- around me -- one thing you heard that cell phone. I was -- part of my history, you'll hear -- I was the co-founder of Nextel, so when you hear an obnoxious sound, I hear cha-ching, cha-ching. So leave your cell phones on. [laughter, applause]. Turn 'em on. Matter of fact when you're done, go out and start calling people. I'd be grateful. [laughter]. I'm out of a job in 60 days. I've got to have something. [laughter].
My background is this. Actually, as I said, not from Virginia. Born in Indiana, lived there 11, I think 11 years, moved to Illinois, moved to Connecticut, went from 8th grade through high school in Connecticut. Public schools all my life. Only member of my family to have graduated from college. Went to George Washington undergrad. Worked on Capitol Hill while I was there. Went to law school at Harvard. Had I think a unique distinction in my class. I think I was the only member of my Harvard Law School class -- I know there's a lot of attorneys here -- to not get a job offer either place I clerked as a summer associate. [laughter]. Did fine in law school, but being a lawyer just didn't seem to work with me.
So instead I went to work for the Democratic National Committee and worked there for a couple years. Student loans were coming due and I decided I would go and become an entrepreneur. Took my life savings of $5,000, invested it in a little energy start-up company, and in six weeks, in six weeks I helped that company go totally broke. [laughter]. I did a second business; that failed in about six months, and then I actually in 1982 fell into the very beginnings of the cellular telephone business, and I again hate to give my law school classmates grief, but I'll always remember my law school classmates going, Warner, you're so crazy. Who's going to want a car telephone. [laughter]. They're still practicing law. [laughter]. But I was very blessed I fell into the very beginnings of that whole wireless technology revolution.
So I was again co-founder of Nextel, started a venture capital firm, had settled in Virginia, got reinvolved in politics -- where my wife, and she was a Navy brat, but she'd grown up mostly in Virginia -- and got reinvolved in Democratic politics in Virginia. First kind of major immersion was I was very intrigued by the notion could an African American guy be elected governor of Virginia? So I took time off as a major donor and was one of the kind of co-campaign managers of Doug Wilder's campaign. Actually one of the last times I was in New Hampshire was [applause] -- One of the last times I was in New Hampshire when Doug was up here in his -- during his presidential campaign. I was Democratic party chair in Virginia in the early '90s and I have great affinity for anyone, Kathy [Sullivan], that is willing to be a chair of a Democratic party at any level. [laughter].
Running for governor was not my first foray into elective office. I actually ran for the United States Senate in 1996 against John Warner. Mark Warner versus John Warner confused the heck out of everyone. [laughter]. I got the silver medal in that race. [laughter]. There was a cute thing, and I'll tell the story. Mame Reilly, who some of you know, who has worked with me for years and who actually spent some time working for Doug Wilder in New Hampshire, but Mame helped create on of the great take-aways of the '96 campaign. And that was we had a bumper strip -- it simply said on it "Mark Not John." [laughter]. And honest to goodness in Danville, Virginia, a little town in Southern Virginia, one day we were driving in the campaign and somebody rolled down the window and they looked at the bumper strip and looked at me and said, excuse me, sir, is that a biblical reference? [laughter].
After I lost I spent a lot of time -- I'd started a health care foundation. I started an initiative to get kids from historically black colleges into hi tech jobs. I'm passionate about how our country moves forward. We don't leave people behind, in particularly rural communities so I started a series of rural venture capital funds. But I was very concerned about the state of Virginia and where it was headed. So after renegotiation with my wife and three daughters I ran for governor. Now why I ran for Senate in the first place, why I ran for governor in 2001, in addition to the traditional reasons -- as a proud Democrat and someone who believes in our party and believes in our party's vision, my kind of value add, as somebody who had spent again at that point 20 years in business, was I think we live in a moment of historic transformation.
This transformation is taking place honestly whether we want it to or not -- a lot of it driven by technology, a lot of it driven by globalization. You know we called it the new economy in the late '90s; I guess we call it globalization now. It's coming whether we like it or not. It's not only going to change our economy, it's going to change how we educate our kids, how we deliver health care, what kind of communities we live in, and it can enormously empower us or it can create divisions. The folks that are left behind I think will make the divisions of the past pale by comparison. And quite honestly as I surveyed at least the political scene, I didn't think most policy makers understood it. You've got to have a vision a little more towards the future. So I decided to run.
Now Virginia is about, in political parlance, as red a state as you can get. We have every statewide elected official was Republican, our legislature's two to one. You guys know something about two to one legislatures. [laughter]. Virginia hadn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964. But we ran a different kind of campaign. We started with our Democratic family, we got strong support from a lot of folks in the business community, we said we were going to try to govern in a bipartisan way. We even went after a lot of folks in rural Virginia that hadn't voted for a Democrat in ages. We had a bluegrass band, sponsored a truck in a NASCAR series, and, probably maybe some of you will disagree with me on this, I said, while I think we ought to enforce our existing gun laws, if you like to hunt, I'm not going to take away your shotgun. [applause].
Now a funny thing happened, a funny thing happened. Folks listened. I got elected. Ten days into being elected, you know first time I've ever been elected, I'm elected governor of the Commonwealth, I've got a new title of His Excellency. [laughter]. We found that the budget shortfall that my predecessor had said was $700 million was really $3.8 billion. Now normally I again -- people now say and Gov. Warner persevered. Well, New Hampshire Democrats, it'll all come out anyway, I've got tell you the truth. My first reaction when I heard that was is it too late for a recount? [laughter].
Well that $3.8 billion shortfall grew to $6 billion. And why? Because Virginia like most states in the late '90s assumed that the go-go days were going to last forever. No long term financial planning. No sense of the future, again. We had to make hard choices. And let me take a couple of minutes and tell you what we've done in Virginia.
We took that deficit; we did have to make some hard cuts. We spared education, my top priority. We spared Medicaid, but most everything we had to make some cuts. We also used it as an opportunity to completely reform how government operates. From our IT systems to our procurement rules, to looking at the state's real estate portfolio like a business would to find sustainable savings.
But even with all that and an economy that was recovering we still had a structural deficit. Virginia was about to lose its triple A bond rating, our nation's best, and I would argue perhaps selfishly or -- nation's best highter education institutions, we were going to lose them. So we decided we were going to have a debate about what Virginians were willing to pay and what they wanted from the state. Now this is a state that is very red, a state that the Grover Norquist crowd kind of is all coming from. We laid out a plan to reform our tax code -- raise some revenues, lower others. Everybody said oh my gosh that's political suicide. But a funny thing happened.
You know in this country today a little bit of truth can go a long way. People are so tired of spin, they are so tired of political doublespeak. And we laid out a choice. Fifty town hall meetings and power point presentations later, from one end of the state to another, a remarkable bipartisan coalition came together and not only did we pass tax reform, we passed a plan that was larger than the one I initially proposed. Kept that triple A bond rating. Virginia now has the second lowest unemployment in the country and one of the fastest growing economies. And what we were able to do is what I believe a true fiscal conservative is, which is somebody who pays their bills and meets their obligations, obligations to core services.
Earlier today I was with your great governor, Gov. Lynch, and David and a few others at Nashua South High School talking about dropuot rates. We've made enormous investments, record investment in education, but not just with investments, we're also trying to change things.
A couple of quick ideas. In Virginia high schools, for example -- and high school's been a major focus for me. In every high school in Virginia now a student can earn a minimum of a semester's worth of college credit in high school and have it fully transferable, even to the UVAs and William & Marys, in dual enrollment and AP. Now a lot of schools already have it. But we're now making it happen in every rural school and every urban school. For non-college bound students we're saying we're going to give you a chance to not only get a high school diploma, but we want to guarantee you also an industry-recognized certification, and if that takes a few courses at the community college after you graduate, we'll pick it up as part of your basic K12 package. You translate somebody from otherwise from flipping burgers at a minimum wage into a career path -- a computer technician, an auto mechanic, a nurse's aide. We're going into some of our most troubled schools and putting true remediation in. I'm paying a $10-15,000 bonus for qualified, experienced teachers to go into chronically underperforming schools and stay for a minimum of three years. You know because it bothers me -- Everybody keeps wondering why our schools where we put our oftentimes least experienced teachers in our toughest schools, and then they get hired away by more affluent school divisions. We've got to turn that around.
And we're seeing changes happen. Virginia's got the largest increase in math SAT scores of any state in the country. We ended up with a 94 percent graduation rate in our high schools. We had a huge increase in the number of students taking AP courses, and significantly a 20, almost 25 percent increase -- 24 percent for African-Americans, 21 percent increase in Latino students. You raise the bar but you help with extra remediation and students respond.
In health care we've taken a program-- and again somebody who's, there was some young lady I met who was very interested in health care -- said I think I know enough to be dangerous; don't have all the answers, but it always drove me crazy that in Virginia we were turning back money rather than signing up kids for our children's health initiative. We've completely turned that program around. And again you've got to measure, you've got to have outside validators. Kaiser Foundation has recognized Virginia as one of the best states in terms of turning around our kid's health insurance program. We've signed up 97 percent of our kids; 138,000 more kids are going to school healthy and ready to learn in Virginia. There's communities in Southside and Southwest Virginia -- [applause].
Those communities that we're talking about, where folks were leaving town -- maybe some of those challenges you've got in northern New Hampshire, we have it in southern Virginia in communities that have been textiles and tobacco and furniture communities. My belief is that you shouldn't have to leave the town you grew up in to find a good quality job. You ought to give folks that option. If we can build it in Bangalore, we ought to be able to build it in Martinsville, Virginia. [applause]. But we have taken, we have taken everyone of our communities that had double digit unemployment, in tough places, and brought 'em down except one, to single digit.
I had one of the best days I've had a governor in the last month when we were finally able to bring 300 software design jobs to this little place called Russell County in far Southwest Virginia in the middle of the coal country. And I'll have a lot of memories of being governor, but one of the ones that will strike and I will remember more than ever is the memory of we had all of the high school class there and these kids saying you know it can happen here. That promise, that promise of how we get it right is taking place. And now Virginia, yes Sylvia was kind enough, we're named the best managed state. And I think if there's one thing we've seen in the aftermath of Iraq and Katrina, good management is more than about simply delivering services. It can be life and death. [applause]. And it should be the absolute minimum, the absolute minimum that we as Americans should expect in terms of how the federal government deals with us.
Now a lot of folks said well what happened in this last race? Well we had a race where my partner in all this, my lieutenant governor Time Kaine, ran a campaign that was positive, ran a campaign that was focused on the future, ran a campaign that talked about results, not just rhetoric, but real results that you could measure and validate, and his opponent, and his opponent had this litany of he's anti-this, anti-that; you know the whole, all of the social hot-button issues. His opponent even brought in the President the night before the election. [reactions, cheers]. Now ,Virginia's a Republican state. But here was a -- you know and I thought well -- We didn't have any great soundbites or bumper strip slogans, but what we said was this. If you want to compare how things are going in Washington versus how things are going in Virginia, we'll take that comparison any day of the week. [applause].
And in this very reddest of red states not only did Tim win, and I even had to acknowledge to these fellow elected officials up here, he actuallly won by a bigger margin that I did. [laughter]. And watch him, he's going to be a great governor.
Let me give you a couple of ideas about where I think we as a party and our country need to head. First, I believe that one of our challenges, one of our challenges is we've got to shift the debate; shift the debate from kind of the old terms, the old framing, from liberal versus conservative or left versus right. My belief is future versus past. Now the Democratic Party has always been at its best when we've been viewed as the party of the future, the party that's kind of looked down the road a little bit further with ideas, substantive ideas, challenging ideas about where our country needs to head.
I also believe -- and I say this in a state that I guess increasingly, thank goodness to all of you, is getting blue and that we've won in the last election cycles, but I've got to tell you I believe we do our party and more importantly our country a disservice if we put up national candidates and a national platform that can only be competitive in 16 states and then if everything breaks right and you win Ohio or you win Florida, you get to 17 states. Because even under that scenario, even if we elect a president under that scenario, what this country needs is not only a winner, but we need to govern, we need to govern. [applause].
Because if we can turn things around -- and it's not just in Virginia, we've got governors in Tennessee, in West Virginia, in North Carolina, in Kansas; two of the best governors in the country that I was very proud to share the story with Time on -- Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas and Janet Napolitano in Arizona [Nov. 21 article on best five governors]. We've got a great new governor in Montana; in states where we can again if we lay out that future, a national focused effort, we can take back this country.
And I don't think we have the luxury of kind of business as usual coming out of Washington. When we think about the issues this country confronts, we think about the issues around personal security, how we truly defend our country, our homeland, in a way that's meaningful, not simply with color codes, but a way that looks at port security and border security and biohealth security. When we think about America security in terms of not only having the strongest military in the world, but recognizing that we must re-establish America's role in the world and stature in the world, we ought to be taking the lead on these issues. [applause].
When we think about economic security, when we think about economic security, I can tell you the consequences of this national deficit right now, with an aging society, are exponentially worse than they were even in the early '90s when President Clinton had to fix it the last time, and the lack of action on that issue and this notion of well nobody cares about the deficit. Well we better care because it's about not only our future but more importantly our kids' and grandkids' future.
The fact that we are living in a world -- I just came back from India, where this is a country that is in dramatic transformation, producing four times more engineers that the United States. Well I believe the American worker can compete with anyone, but we've got to be the most educated, the most innovative, the most entrepreneurial, and that means the notion of a world class education system has to go beyond a slogan like no child left behind; it has to become a reality. [applause].
We have a health care system, where our Congress rushes back to deal with Terry Schaivo, but nobody's willing to acknowledge what happens with 45 million Americans without health care. And the lack of health care, and I see a lot of these purple stickers in this room, the lack of health care in this room goes now beyond just what that does to individual people and familie,s but it is becoming more and more about our overall economic security because unless we can get our arms around this, the ability for American business to compete in a global stage is undermined.
We don't have a national energy policy and the failure to recognize that an energy policy that continues to rely almost exclusively on carbon-based fuels not only in the Middle East but around the world who are often our biggest foes makes no sense, and not to have energy policy tied into environmental issues and questions related to global warming, and not being willing to take bold steps requires immediate action. So economic security issues and leadership on those have to be what we're about.
And we also have to be about, we have to be about that basic issue of our confidence and integrity. You know one of the things people come up to me all the time now and say in Virginia, they say you know governor, we're really proud of how Virginia's moving forward. They use that term more than you know proud as a Democrat or proud about education or proud about finance. They say we're just proud that the state is moving forward because things are getting done.
We're all incredibly proud to be Americans, but I don't know many Americans today, I don't care what party you belong to, that don't know in our gut that things are not going right in this country. And our challenge as Democrats is to be more than simply against the president, our challenge is to lay out our plan for that future. You know as I've started this conversation with people around the country I travel with, but particularly in groups like this, I probably should wait for the question and then I'll hush up and take questions -- The people are so often angry and disappointed with the president, and they always go through what policy differences they have and they always say well tell me what part of the president do you dislike the most or what part of his policies do you dislike the most? And I've got a lot of disagreements with the president, but my biggest concern with our president is that he has not asked America and Americans to be great. He has not asked us to step up.
I believe after 9-11, I believe regardless of what we feel about the war, after the war started in Iraq, I believe after the opportunity of Katrina, Americans regardless of party were anxious to step up and say we're going to take on one of these issues. We're not going to make it about normal Washingtonese, but we're actually going to get stuff done. Instead we got the administration in Washington going back to saying well it's all about seeing if we can just make the Democrats look bad. The country deserves better. We deserve better. [applause].
So it is a great honor for me to be here in New Hampshire, the state
that has always had and should always have the first primary in the nation.
[applause]. Because the one thing I think I figured out not only
here but when I visited Iowa a couple of times on NGA business during the
summer, is there is a special, and I see it here today, a special sense
of stewardship and responsibility and I thank you for that stewardship,
and I look forward to making sure that we continue this conversation.
So thank you all very, very much and I'd be happy with that to take questions,
comments, suggestions, criticisms. Should I take off my jacket and
let everybody fire away? Let's go. Thank you all very much.
Dick Swett (former congressman and ambassador): I have the first question and --
Gov. Warner: Mr. Ambassador?
Swett: Our president, our president said when he ran for the presidency eight years ago that he was going to be a unifier. Obviously that has not been the case. I've served in Congress; I've seen the Congress become more and more divided. How are you going to bring this divided country back together, specifically with some of your ideas please?
Gov. Warner: Well first of all you've got to look at what we've done. Nothing got done in Virginia except in a bipartisan fashion. You know, there were, I'll acknowledge at the front end when I even had about three of my cabinet officers were Republicans. I remember Democrats at first getting mad at me. Hey you know why are you putting Republicans in office? Why are you keeping even some of the agency heads. I kept them because they were competent -- some of them. [laughter]. You know and people were saying well that makes sense. Well, like I tell you in 2005, everybody, no matter what part of the Democratic party in Virginia, they all ran kind of as Mark Warner Democrats. And I think you've got to be willing to, one, acknowledge that ideas don't come with a "D" or an "R" attached to them. The good ideas, regardless of who they come from, make sense on getting done, and we've got to make sure that with these issues sweeping across us that we don't have the luxury of saying we're just going to do it as business as usual.
You've got to be willing to listen, actually listen, and if you disagree with someone, still treat them with respect, as opposed to demonizing them. Now I know that there's a whole cottage industry in Washington that's all about demonizing the other side, and I'll be the first to accept that it will be a challenge. But you look at what happened in the Senate when there was the question about the nuclear option. There was still that ability on certain issues to find common ground. I think part of the way you do it though, is that you also, when you've got an issue, when you've got an idea, when you're going to ask the American people, you 've got to go to the American people as well, straight to them with straight answers and straight talk. I come back again to what we did on budget and tax reform. A little bit of truth in this country can go a long way at this point. [applause].