Otter Remarks At The 2006 GOP State Convention
by Debbie Field - last modified 2006-06-26 04:19 PM
Butch Otter's address to the 2006 Idaho Republican Convention
First, let me thank each of you for what you're doing here today - the role you're playing in the process, and the invaluable service you are providing for our fellow citizens.
Most people have good intentions when it comes to citizenship. They pay their taxes and obey the law. Some even serve on jury duty when they're called. But far too few go the extra mile to participate as you are in the fundamental drive that gives order to our society and helps keep us free.
I'm not talking about our civil servants who get paid for what they do, or even elected officials who might enjoy the prestige or the influence of political success - as valuable as their contributions are.
I'm talking about you - the unpaid central committee members, the women's club members, the precinct committeemen and the volunteers for whom politics and policy are passions, and citizenship is a sacred trust.
That's what I really want to talk with you about today - Citizenship: Valuing it, protecting it, deserving it.
My time in Congress representing the people of Idaho's 1st District has been pretty well framed by two very different models of what it means to be an American citizen. The first came on September 11, 2001, when terrorists turned airliners filled with innocent passengers into missiles and flew them in the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon.
More than 3,000 people lost their lives.
And yet a third plane was supposed to hit the U.S. Capitol in Washington, where I and my colleagues in Idaho's congressional delegation were at work. But with the now immortal words "Let's roll!" the heroic passengers aboard United Flight 93 fought back and brought that plane down in a lonely Pennsylvania field.
Pennsylvania - where the soil once again was consecrated with the blood of patriots who saw their duty and gave their last full measure. The passengers of Flight 93 will be remembered forever for renewing the American spirit of Brandywine, and Valley Forge, and Gettysburg.
They were the first patriots of the first war of the 21st century. They saved untold hundreds or even thousands of lives and inspired all Americans by striking a blow for individual citizens in a nation that values freedom and initiative.
It was a tragic day for all of us, but also one that made us proud and united in a common purpose.
Now almost five years later, we all have been hearing a lot about a problem that illustrates better than almost anything else just how much being an American citizen or even PRETENDING to be one is worth.
There are more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States right now, shoplifting citizenship.
No matter how hard they're working, how wonderful they think our country is or what they're contributing to our economy, every one of them broke the law to come here.
They should no more be excused from responsibility for their actions than we would honor a thief who makes an offering of the "first fruits" from his ill-gotten gain. (Nehemiah 10:35-37)
So what do these things have in common? What do we learn from the fact that so many people become criminals, risk their lives or even die - on one hand to protect their country and on the other hand to experience the freedom and opportunity that is America's promise?
Just this: Citizenship is precious. It's the sum and substance, the flesh-and-blood manifestation of all our inalienable rights. It must never be taken for granted. It must never be given away or sold cheaply. And it must be nurtured with the civic virtue of people like you, who understand just how fragile it can be.
That's why, as your governor, I will work to ensure that everyone understands both the opportunities and the obligations of citizenship - that for every freedom we choose to exercise there is an equally important responsibility.
That means making sure that taxpayer dollars are used more carefully, precisely and effectively.
It means programs like Medicaid - on which the Legislature and Governor Kempthorne made a good start toward reform this year - must reflect the realities of market conditions and the true value of the services being made available to the neediest among us.
And those services must be provided only to those who are living here within the law.
The principle of setting reasonable and even minimal conditions like legal residency and abandoning the idea that government can be all things to all people has never been more important than it is right now. Those who believe big government has all the answers seem preoccupied with dividing up the scarcity that their own policies create or wringing more tax dollars out of the productive.
Well folks, I happen to believe that's no way to run a railroad - or a government.
So let's talk for a few minutes about the way things should be in America, and how they still CAN be here in Idaho with your help.
Many of you know the high regard I have for a little pamphlet that was written back in 1968 by Ezra Taft Benson, a native Idahoan with a deep understanding and providential insights on the "Proper Role of Government" in our lives.
In that pamphlet, President Benson cites an article of Scripture close to the hearts of many Idahoans, and which defines that proper role most clearly:
"I believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that He holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. I believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life."
Unfortunately, there are many cases in which our laws and policies bear very little resemblance to those ideals.
Unnecessary, arbitrary and counterproductive regulations not only increase the size and cost of government, they also inhibit the ability of private citizens to meet marketplace demands, create jobs and grow our economy.
Bureaucracy has its place - institutional memory and the competence that comes with experience can be good things. But when bureaucracy gets too big, when paperwork and regulatory micromanagement get in the way of progress, government no longer is fulfilling its proper role.
In these days of preventive medicine, we routinely inoculate our children with a little bit of virus to keep them from contracting the kind of diseases that Americans used to accept as a difficult but unavoidable part of life.
As Republicans, we understand that a little bit of something often is just enough. But any more than what's absolutely necessary to get the job done - whether it's a virus for immunizing children or government regulations to protect the vulnerable among us - can be dangerous, or even deadly.
Today, Idaho has a stack of rules and regulations governing our daily lives that's grown to 16 INCHES THICK! The number of state employees implementing all those rules has grown to almost 25,000, and state general fund spending has increased almost 60 percent in the past 10 years.
This is nothing new. It was 175 years ago when the political philosopher Alexis De Tocqueville traveled throughout the young United States and wrote "Democracy in America." In it, he considered the likely outcome of even a well-intentioned and benevolent government following the natural tendency to grow, expand and protect itself.
With apologies to the influence of our public schools, tell me whether any of this sounds familiar:
"After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.
"The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."
I'm sure you'll agree that we already have our Shepherd - and it's not the government!
Speaking of the Shepherd, Jesus used a parable in Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 14 through 30, to illustrate the importance of free will and individual responsibility in accomplishing great things - like serving God. Does anyone know it?
To me, the Parable of the Three Servants (or the Parable of the Talents) has always been about the power of opportunity and the importance of magnifying your gifts. But just imagine how the story might have gone if the Gospel was written in America today.
With the EPA and the IRS and OSHA and all the other government agencies taking their share of time and money and effort, does anyone think the servant in the parable who was given five "talents" or small bags of coins for safekeeping would have been able to invest them and return 10 talents to his boss? It's not likely, is it?
And don't even imagine that the servant who was entrusted with only one talent and buried it in the ground for safekeeping would have gotten off scot-free. Believe me, I KNOW a little something about digging when and where the government doesn't want you to!
My message to you is this: It's time for us to recognize and ACT to ensure that freedom and not government is the mainspring of human progress. It's time for us to recognize and ACT to engage the competitive and innovative spirit of our people - not bind them down with proscription and punishment.
So what challenges does Idaho face? We all know what they are - they include reducing property taxes, improving education, protecting our water and reducing the size and scope of government in our lives.
We all know what needs to be done. What the people need is leadership, and what we need is the political will to do the job.
Ladies and gentlemen, with your help, we WILL win this election, and then we WILL get the job done for the people of Idaho!
On property taxes, I recently outlined a plan for expanding on relief for homeowners that was provided by the Legislature this year. My plan will enable Idahoans for the first time to petition their local government for the right to vote on reducing their tax burden.
It also calls for continuing the process started under Governor Batt by moving public school districts' remaining general maintenance and operations costs from local property taxes to the state general fund. The result will be about $250 million a year in property tax relief statewide.
On education, we will promote more opportunities for Idaho students to prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow by gaining the math and science skills needed to be competitive in the global marketplace. We also will promote excellence in our classrooms by offering merit pay for our best, most creative and successful teachers.
Here in Idaho Falls, we have seen and now know what a powerful and productive combination that progressive employers like the Idaho National Laboratory, supportive communities like this and collaborative institutions like Eastern Idaho Technical College can be.
That's why I will work with the private sector, the Legislature, our universities and local organizations to provide the community college opportunities throughout Idaho that our students need and our growing economy demands.
These are constitutional priorities for state government investment in the next generation of Idahoans - not federal mandates usurping our state sovereignty or grudging obligations to be avoided.
When it comes to our sovereign rights, I echo the words of one of the geniuses who created this country, Thomas Jefferson. He stood for "preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union" and against "transferring all the powers of the States to the general government."
No, we won't avoid our responsibility to the future of Idaho. What we WILL avoid, and work tirelessly to overcome, is any threat to our precious and limited water resources.
Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about our water, from Palisades to Lewiston and Bear Lake to the Kootenai River.
We will NOT allow our water to be diverted or appropriated out of state - whether that's downstream to the Pacific or elsewhere - for purposes contrary to the needs of Idaho and our people.
We WILL ensure that our water is preserved, protected and put to work here in Idaho for the diverse interests of our growing population and expanding economy - from irrigation and industry to recreation and stewardship of our wildlife and other natural resources.
All this and much more is our responsibility as engaged citizens and our duty as enlightened leaders.
Accomplishing it will take cooperation and commitment. We will need to be flexible and patient, and we may have to compromise at times on how we accomplish our goals, but we must never compromise our principles.
As Ronald Reagan said, "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right."
There's no doubt about it. The Gipper was right about courage being the key. Learning from the example that President Reagan set by having the courage of his convictions was among the watershed moments of my political life.
But there was another icon of our party who was my first role model of political thought and action - Barry Goldwater.
I read Senator Goldwater's book, "The Conscience of the Conservative," when he was the Republican candidate for president back in 1964, while I was considering for the first time how to exercise my greatest franchise as a citizen of the United States - the right to vote.
You see, I didn't know what I was before that. My Dad was a union electrician, and I grew up during a time when most folks revered Franklin Roosevelt and still thought bigger was better when it comes to government.
It was a lady named Peg Lundy who insisted one day that I at least take a look at her Republican literature and think for myself before blindly choosing the Democrat ticket. Well, I did, and what I read changed my life.
Senator Goldwater correctly theorized that a government which is powerful enough to give you everything you want also is powerful enough to take away everything you have!
I came to understand how all the government "help" in the world is no substitute for the greater compassion of self-reliance and personal responsibility, of individual initiative and the power of having the right to make choices that transform ideas into actions and innocence into virtue.
Now, I'm not claiming to be particularly virtuous. But I have learned over the years that choices do indeed have consequences - for good or ill - and that Senator Goldwater and many other conservative thinkers are right in saying that we cannot and SHOULD not expect government to be there for us in every circumstance.
That's what God and our families are for.
Now, most of you probably know that I'm Catholic. I graduated from what now is Bishop Kelly High School in Boise. Of course the ideal for many Catholic kids is to attend college at the University of Notre Dame.
I guess my opponent in this race went to school there, but I feel pretty good about the education I got at what now is Albertson College of Idaho over in my hometown of Caldwell.
Still, there have been some pretty smart folks come out of Notre Dame I suppose. One of them is that school's former President, Father Theodore Hesburgh. I loved his comment once that, "The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."
My friends, thank you so much for honoring me with your trust and support over these many years, and in the years to come.
Thank you for helping me to develop the experience and confidence in the proper role of government to ensure that the notes from MY trumpet ring with clarity and certainty for each of you, for our Republican Party, and for all of Idaho.
Because Idaho can become what America was meant to be.
That's the legacy that has grown with our Republican Party over these past 150 years. The G-O-P's 150th birthday is a reason to celebrate. It also is a great time to recommit ourselves to the purposes for which our party was created and the principles to which we all are dedicated.
Now, ON TO VICTORY IN NOVEMBER!