Governor Mark Warner
NDN Annual Meeting
June 22, 2006
[prepared remarks]

Thank you, Adam. I appreciate your support. And you know Adam’s really supportive because I just hired away his press secretary.

Simon Rosenberg is a rare breed in politics – he’s a political entrepreneur. Over the last decade, he has seen issues that needed addressing, constituencies that needed tending, and tactics that needed updating. And instead of talking about it, he did something about it – from NDN’s Hispanic Project and work on globalization, to its New Politics Institute.

Simon, you are an innovator and pioneer. At the 10th anniversary of NDN’s founding, you should be proud. I know we are.

Like NDN, I believe that we need to start creating a new politics for America. We need to update not just our tactics, but our ideas for this time of historic change.

Because this truly is an exciting time to be alive. Technology and globalization are transforming the way we educate our kids, the way we deliver health care, the way we protect our people… the very nature of our communities.

And as someone who spent twenty years in the venture capital business before I shifted into politics, I gotta tell you – it’s only going to accelerate in the next ten years. If you’re impressed by the change of the last decade, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

If America were united, if we embraced the change sweeping the world, if we used our great power to truly lead … just imagine what we could get done!

But that’s not what we’re getting from Washington. Instead of unity, we get division. Instead of international leadership, we get isolation. And instead of shaping a global economy that brings opportunity to all, we are struggling to keep up.

Of course, we’ve faced enormous challenges before. But I can’t think of another time when we faced so many substantial challenges all at once. America’s security and standing in the world. Unstable energy supplies. Fiscal meltdown.

And no meaningful action in sight.

I could talk about all of these, but today, I’d like to focus on one issue that’s often overlooked or misunderstood: America’s ability to compete in the global economy.

Let me tell you a quick story about what I think we face.

When I was Governor, I led a trade mission to India. On that trip, I witnessed a country undergoing explosive change. I met with industry executives and government ministers, and saw high tech companies setting up shop in fancy new buildings.  But what made the greatest impression on me was actually a slum in Delhi.

This was the real deal in terms of a Third World slum:  corrugated roofs on tin shacks, no running water, dirt floors, thousands of people crammed into a small space. Most of the kids there didn't go to school. They supported their families by begging.

Now, I was struck by the crushing poverty. But what I also saw was something incredibly hopeful and inspiring.

There was a project called the Hole in the Wall.  Computers were literally placed in a hole in a concrete wall with a little tin roof over it.  They turned on the computers in the morning; they turned them off at night.  No teachers.

I met a kid named Samir. I remember he asked me how to spell my name and I said why. He said he wanted to Google me, to see how important I was.

I had two thoughts as I stood there with Samir.

First, I felt pride in the technology, the opportunity, the hope that was there … so much of it birthed here in America.

But second, at the same time, I thought:  the race is on for the future.  Who’s going to own it?  Who’s going to get there first?  Who’s going to lead in this 21st century?

Because those kids in India – even the poorest of the poor -- are competing for the same jobs as our kids.  And India and China aren’t playing for second place.

It makes no sense that in 2006, America has no effective plan to get in, and succeed, in that race. Because I think the issues that we face are no longer about left versus right, liberal versus conservative, or Red versus Blue.  I think it’s about future versus past.

It’s about whether we, as a nation, will answer history’s call at a time of transformative change.

It’s about whether we can protect that quintessential American value: a fair shot at the American dream – and that fair shot shouldn’t depend on who your parents are, where you were born, where you went to school, or the color of your skin.

But we’re not going to get it done unless this is a truly national effort. The American people are ready for leadership that will empower them to compete – and win – in the global economy.

That’s why we need a clearly articulated, comprehensive, national competitiveness strategy. Let me tell you what I think it should include:

Education, because America is not going to make it unless we have the most educated, the most innovative, the most entrepreneurial workforce in the world.

Research and development, because America’s single greatest strength has been our innovation … accounting for half of all economic growth in the last 50 years.  And our intellectual capital and capacity will serve as the real currency of the 21st century.

Health care, because this isn’t just a moral issue of 45 million Americans without health insurance … when Ford and GM might go under because of health care costs, it’s also a competitiveness issue.

Energy, because it’s time for America to connect the dots between energy policy, national security and the development of renewable energy sources that could actually create American jobs.  And along the way, we just might save the planet.

Infrastructure, because it’s not just aging highways, rail lines and airports…it’s the problems we don’t see until it’s too late:  a faulty power grid, outdated water and sewage systems, inadequate levees.

And…amazingly….this country has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband deployment.

Trade, because the rush of people, goods, and capital across borders is only going to accelerate.  As that happens we need to enforce the rules fairly so that intellectual piracy does not continue to take tens of billions of dollars out of the American economy, and so that countries who don’t play by the rules don’t keep siphoning away American jobs.

Fiscal policy, because if we keep borrowing from abroad to run up staggering deficits, future generations of Americans are going to pay a steep price.  Wouldn’t it be great if as a prerequisite for running for office you actually had to be able to read a balance sheet!?

And a truly national view of workforce development that offers a fair shot at success to everyone in America. Because we’re not going to make it if everybody has to leave their hometown to get a good job.

Now, I could go on at length about all eight. But Simon only has the room until 5, so I’m going to focus on three fundamental competitiveness challenges:  education, research and development, and our workforce development.


It all begins with education.

We’re not going to compete as a nation unless every kid, no matter how inner city or how rural their neighborhood, goes to a school that prepares them for the global economy.

How are we going to do that and get results on the national level?

Let me make 3 suggestions:

First, we’ve got to get education policymakers out of their silos.

When I was elected Governor, it amazed me how rarely folks in education talked to each other. The pre-school people never talked to K-12, and the higher ed folks never talked to the other two.

And federal education policy only reinforces these divisions. Think about it:  Head Start, No Child Left Behind, the Higher Ed Act, the Perkins Act. No alignment at all.  One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing!

Imagine if these funding streams were lined up to achieve clear policy goals… if our universities were really engaged in the future of the American high school... if education was seen as a continuum from pre-school to grad school.

Second, we’ve got to get the right folks at the table.
That means local, state, and federal education policymakers. But it also means the often-forgotten parts of the equation: businesses who will be the actual employers, and the non-profit and foundation world, where the really bold experimentation is taking place.

Together, businesses and non-profits spend more than $34 billion on education but we’re not coordinating those efforts with government. We need to take their bold ideas and build them to scale to achieve results across the country.

And that’s the third point:  we need good data to measure those results.

As Chairman of the National Governor’s Association, I involved the private sector and a number of foundations in an effort to look at improving the American high school.

We found that there was no common graduation rate… a degree in Ohio meant something different from a degree in Virginia.  So we set common standards for high school graduation for the first time in this country.
We launched high school reform in more than 30 states.  But much remains to be done.

We still need to set common standards to measure drop-out rates.

And while standardized tests aren’t perfect, we need some kind of common measurements so we can keep track of results.
Here’s what we did in Virginia.

We paid a $15,000 bonus for qualified, experienced teachers to go into our underperforming schools and stay for a minimum of three years.

We started a training program for principals to become “turn-around” specialists so they could go into underperforming high schools and make a difference.

All college-bound kids can now earn a minimum of a semester’s worth of fully transferable college credit…in every high school in Virginia….not just the affluent ones.

For kids headed straight into the workforce, we guaranteed an industry-recognized certification.  If that meant a semester in community college, the state picked up the cost.   Computer technician, auto-mechanic, nurse’s aide. 50 career paths in all.  Good-paying jobs instead of flipping burgers.

Now, here are the results:

Education must remain a local and state priority. But national leadership that is a relentless advocate for education could shift the terms of the debate, and achieve positive results for all of our kids.


The second thing I want to talk about is research and development.

It makes no sense that at a time when technology and innovation have never been more important, American R&D as a percentage of our GDP has fallen to sixth in the world.

It makes no sense that at a time when science is shaping more and more of our economy and daily lives, some are debating the merits of science itself.

It’s remarkable that in 2006, some in government reject the basis of global warming, stem cell research, and some are even rejecting evolution!

It’s time to redouble our efforts. At the federal level, R&D has traditionally been all about national security.  And in the 20th century that meant better bombs, robust missile systems, or sharper satellites.

But in the 21st century, we need to expand the way we think about R&D…and national security.  That means putting resources into epidemic prevention, cyber-security, communications systems for our first-responders, and – above all – energy.

We spend about $2 billion each year on research into alternative energy sources.  We spend $7.1 billion each month in Iraq.  If we spent on energy research what we spend every two weeks in Iraq, we could more than double our energy R&D.

Of course, that would require an Administration that actually believes in science.

And then we wouldn’t have to borrow money from China to buy oil from countries who don’t like us very much.

And look at our national labs.  These labs were engines for progress in the 20th century… and that’s where most of them still are:  stuck in the 20th century.

We need to make them centers of innovation, not just centers for employment… to pursue that next breakthrough, the next big idea.

At the state and university level, we need to integrate our efforts. We can’t just leave the burden on states that are filling in the gaps where the Administration has been missing in action on R&D.  Just look at the California stem cell initiative.

I don’t want our states and universities to be islands of innovation… I want them to be hubs on a network.

That’s why we need to develop tomorrow’s Internet technologies, build even bigger broadband pipes, so that our great universities and research centers can collaborate.

And as we do this, particularly with the Internet, let’s make sure we maintain net neutrality, so we keep the playing field level.

We also need to do more to support R&D in the private sector.

That means a permanent extension of the R&D tax credit.

That means better outreach from government to the venture capital community, and better incentives for the private sector to do more research on its own.

And that means getting ideas into the marketplace.  We need to accelerate the movement of ideas from the university lab, through the patent process, and into the economy.  And we need to speed up our FDA process to get life saving ideas to consumers faster.

Forty years ago, in the shadow of Sputnik, President Kennedy called for sending a man to the moon within a decade.  I think that call resonated for decades, and paid off in fields that we could not even imagine.

That’s why government has to get behind R&D. Not to pick winners and losers. But to set priorities, and leverage the power of American innovation to make the next breakthrough, pioneer new industry, that will create the jobs of the future.


And that brings me to the final area I want to cover: giving all Americans a fair shot at the American dream.

That includes new Americans. In all the debate over immigration these past few weeks, I think legal immigration has been overlooked.

We need to continue to attract the world’s best and brightest. We need more student visas… more H1B visas… and most of all we need to say to these talented men and women: You are welcome to contribute! You can get your shot here in America!

And as we go forward, we simply cannot leave rural America behind.

We need to ask ourselves:  What is going to happen to the tobacco workers, the textile workers, and the manufacturing workers in this 21st century? What happens after the mill or the plant is closed down?

Let me tell you about a little town called Lebanon, Virginia.

Lebanon is a hundred miles from nowhere.  Appalachia.  The kind of place that if you graduated high school and went to college, chances are you weren’t coming back.

But we said, if we can outsource jobs to Bangalore, we can create them in Lebanon.

We got folks back in the race by helping 35,000 Virginians get their GED. We invested in the largest rural broadband deployment in the country… 700 miles of broadband for 700,000 Virginians.  We reformed education.   We said to kids in Lebanon:  if you work hard, you can get your fair shot at the American dream right here.

My best day as Governor came near the end of my term in a high-school gymnasium in Lebanon. I was there to announce the creation of 300 new jobs…not a call center… software development jobs. Jobs that any community in America would be thrilled to have.

One young man actually told the Washington Post, “before this, I always thought I’d have to move away” to get a good job and raise a family.  Now, he can live his version of the American dream in the heart of rural America.

It’s why I ran for office in the first place.


Our country is being tested as never before. And it’s going to take the skill, the talent, and the will of all of the American people to get this right.

You know, as I travel the country people always ask me:  Governor, what don’t you like about the President?  And I’ve got to say, it’s not something he’s done.  It’s something he hasn’t done.  He has never really asked Americans to step up—for any shared sacrifice—to actually be part of the solution.

After 9-11, I – and you – and all Americans would have done anything to stand up for our country. But the President never asked.

After our troops were in harms way in Iraq, I think I – and you – and all Americans would have been ready to take a new approach to energy that makes us less dependent on the Persian Gulf. But the President never asked.

After Katrina, all of us wanted to do something, anything, to make sure that no Americans have to die in the streets because government can’t deliver basic services or maintain a 21st century infrastructure. But the President never asked.

Instead, we got the politics of division.  Of Red and Blue America. Of leadership that stokes the fires of the past while failing to put forward a vision of the future.

The American people were willing to step up—and they still are.  They’re ready to answer that call. They understand that we are living at a time of transformative change….of harrowing threats and historic opportunity.

Folks, it is time for a different kind of politics, a different kind of policy, a different kind of leadership in this country.

But it’s not going to be easy. We’re not going to get it done by simply having Congress pass a law. It’s time to see a little farther down the road.  Because it’s not an American birthright that we’re going to continue living in the most successful and prosperous country in the world.

Each generation is charged with earning success through innovation and plain old hard work.

Each generation is charged with understanding the consequences of its actions…or its failure to act.

Each generation is charged with protecting that quintessential American value:  a fair shake and a fair shot at the American dream.

Time and again, it’s been Democrats who have led at critical times. Now, it’s time to write the next chapter in our party’s – and our nation’s – history.

It is time to issue that call to bring Americans together…to build a new American leadership in the world… and to bring that boundless sense of innovation and opportunity to all Americans.

It starts right here – with the kind of work being done by NDN. Democrats can take control of Congress in 2006, and keep going and in 2008 take back the White House.

Let’s get to work. Thank you all very much.

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