Gov. Perry Speaks at American Legion Department of Texas' 91st Annual Convention
*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Thank you, James [McNair, Department Commander] for that kind introduction, and thank you to my fellow members of the American Legion, for having me back here this year.
You might guess I do my share of speaking in my role as governor, and see audiences of every sort across the state, but I must admit I feel most at home in the company of my fellow veterans.
There is something about the rapport that exists between those who have worn the uniform of our nation, whether or not they faced incoming rounds together.
Military life is different in ways that can be hard to explain to those people whose only insight might come from a movie screen, water gun fights in the backyard, or longwinded debates about the military's role in a free society.
Veterans share an unspoken, unbreakable bond of shared experience.
There is something reassuring about the fact that service members reporting to basic training this month will have a chance to do pushups til their arms fail, get gentle instruction from a person in a funny hat, and eat things that just barely fit the definition of food, just like their predecessors have done since our nation began.
Of course, there are a bunch of Texas A&M freshman who will have the same chance when school starts, but that's a different story for a different day.
More than the shared challenges, there is something that happens to a person who is molded to take his or her place in the ranks, of an organization with a noble cause, and serves a cause bigger than themselves.
Technology may evolve over time, and camouflage may look like something from a videogame, but our military men and women serve a cause that has not changed, since a ragtag band of colonists took a stand against the redcoats all those years ago.
America is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and our military lays it on the line to keep it that way.
Here in Texas, we have a military tradition that most states would be hard-pressed to match, with legendary Texans like Audie Murphy of Celeste, Tex Hill out of San Antonio, and Freddy Gonzales of Edinburg.
We also have the second most active-duty military families of any state, second only to Virginia.
As those service members deploy from places like Fort Hood, Lackland Air Force Base or Joint Reserve Base Forth Worth, to serve in theaters all over the world, we owe it to them to support their families, and honorably welcome them when they return.
I am pleased and proud to say that the legislative session we just concluded in Austin moved our state forward on a number of key issues that affect veterans.
For example, I was pleased to sign a property tax exemption for 100% disabled veterans. If you ask me, those folks have already paid enough.
Because education is an essential part of making it in the world, and I'd like to lure more veterans here to strengthen Texas, I called on the legislature to extend in-state tuition rates to eligible veterans.
They did me one better by not only granting that request, but also extending that benefit to our eligible veterans' spouses and children, and waiving tuition completely for the children of Texas residents that the military has deployed for combat operations.
Now THAT is stepping up for veterans and their families.
Your legislators also figured out how to get dollars into the Fund for Veterans Assistance, a resource for local communities to address veterans' needs and enhance their veterans' assistance programs.
Texans will have a few ways to give to that fund, including donations when registering a vehicle, and putting it on the list of organizations state employees can help through the annual charitable giving campaign.
While we were at it, we also found the money for Texas Veterans Commission to hire a few more folks to better serve our veterans.
I also signed House Bill 2117 which moves us one step closer to getting a VA hospital here in the Valley.
I believe that all veterans deserve appropriate medical care in return for their service, and that the sons and daughters of the Rio Grande Valley who served their country, shouldn't have to drive to Houston for medical care.
When it comes to our military, both active duty and veterans, you need to know that this state not only appreciates your sacrifice, but is committed to holding up our end of the deal.
I believe part of that deal is continuing to strengthen our economy.
A strong economy means jobs, jobs mean paychecks, and paychecks mean families that are fed, clothed and sheltered.
As we look beyond the borders of our state, we see economic turmoil.
Here in Texas, things are a whole lot better, thanks to years of fiscal discipline and policies that encourage economic growth, not stifle it.
Did you know that only ten states had job growth last year? Did you know that nearly 60% of those new jobs were in Texas?
I don't know about you, but I think that's a big deal. I'm proud that we picked up more than 93,000 jobs in that timeframe.
In this session, we worked to keep our forward progress going by hammering out a balanced budget, protecting our Rainy Day Fund which is projected to hit $9 billion by 2011, and extending a tax cut to 40,000 small businesses.
I think that makes my fellow governors a little jealous.
There are probably a few leaders in Washington wishing they had taken the Texas approach, rather than throwing bailout money at mismanaged companies, and ending up with entire companies to run.
Then again, Washington and Texas differ on a lot of things, including the ridiculous view that veterans are a bunch of right wing extremists.
Our veterans are a shining example of the simple valor, humble service and enduring patriotism that have made our state and our nation great.
I came here today on behalf of 24 million Texans to thank you for your service, to celebrate the American Legion's principled defense of veterans' rights, and to pledge my continued support.
There are a whole lot of fine young men and women who are serving overseas, missing their families, returning fire, and defending liberty.
Thank you for being their voice back here in the states.
Thank you for your service to our country, thank you for your dedication to our armed forces, and thank you for loving our great state.
God bless you all and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.