Gov. Rick Perry's Remarks to The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
Thank you Antonio. Mayor Garza, Latino Vote 2001 Chairman Henry Cisneros, fellow elected officials, friends in San Antonio. It is my great honor to be with you this evening. Before I begin, let me introduce someone very special to me. She spent 17 years as a nurse providing health care to those in need. Just a few weeks ago, the University of Texas San Antonio Health Science Center named her a Distinguished Alumni and created a nursing school endowment in her name. She's the mother of two great children, and the first girl I ever had a date with. Please welcome my wife and a great First Lady for the State of Texas, Anita Perry.
My fellow citizens, the face of Texas is changing, and tonight, as I look out into this audience, I see many of the faces that represent that change. The Texas of tomorrow is in this room today, a Texas of boundless energy and fresh ideas, a Texas committed to safe communities and good schools, a Texas that is more and more diverse with each passing day. For Texas to prosper beyond our own time on this earth, there are things we must embrace now. We must embrace our growing diversity as a source of strength and cultural enrichment, not a source of division. We must welcome more Texans of differing backgrounds to the table of ideas, and to positions of leadership. And we must stand united behind an agenda of opportunity for every citizen regardless of their financial means, or the sound of their last name. We do have differences, but there is more that unites us as Texans than could ever divide us. Who among us does not yearn to be successful and to live the American Dream? Who among us is not worthy of a good education, and a future as bold and vivid as our capacity to dream? Who among us does not long for a Texas where our children can thrive, and accomplish things greater than ourselves? Yes, we may be Hispanic, African‑American, Native American, Asian and Anglo, but we are all Texans, and we are united in our common humanity.
This place we all call home, this place we call Texas, must be a haven of opportunity, and a place where people are empowered to pursue the course they will chart. Empowerment begins with education, and ends without education. Education is the foundation for success. With that foundation, a citizen of the most meager means is empowered to rise above their current station in life, and enjoy the fruit of a free society. I stand before you today, as your governor, first and foremost by the grace of God. But I also stand before you the son of tenant farmers, and part of the first generation of my family to attend college. My education has opened countless doors to opportunity. I work from a very simple premise, whether you live in Dallas, San Antonio or along the Rio Grande, you should have the same access to a quality education in the Texas of the 21st Century. That starts with good public schools where classrooms are conducive to learning. Education has been, and always will be, my top priority as long as I have the honor of serving you in public office.
In 1999, when I served as your lieutenant governor, I initiated a Master Reading Teacher program that recognizes reading is the building block for all later learning. A child that can master the fundamentals of reading is prepared to take on the principles of math and the theories of science. This session, we built on our successes in reading, focusing special attention on math. The Math Initiative that a bipartisan group of legislators overwhelmingly passed focuses on the critical fifth through eighth grade years when children are either prepared to take on tougher courses like algebra, geometry and eventually calculus, or they are left behind, frustrated more and more by those harder math disciplines, and in many cases tempted to drop out. The Math Initiative gives those struggling students the extra help they need.
When a child drops out, he or she not only drops out of school, they drop out on their future. Over the last two sessions, we had other landmark accomplishments in public education. In 1999, we raised salaries for every teacher, counselor, librarian and school nurse by $3,000. And just recently, we created a $1.3 billion teacher health insurance program that will keep more of our best and brightest making a difference where it matters most, in the classroom. By improving teacher benefits, providing record increases in school funding, expanding remedial education, and continuing to raise standards while reaffirming local control, we have seen measurable progress in Texas public schools, and it is our children who will reap the benefits for years to come.
Success in Texas, however, does not stop with a high school diploma, it only begins there. We must encourage our children to pursue the kind of success that comes when they get a college education. It is not good enough that only one in five Texans has a bachelors or graduate degree, and that an even smaller percentage of Hispanic Texans are participants in advanced education. In a Texas where knowledge is power, a college degree is the ticket to opportunity. In 1999, we created the TEXAS Grant Program that says to every young Texan, "we don't want your future to be limited because your finances are limited." And I am proud to say that the most important thing we did this past session is triple funding for this worthwhile program so an additional 65,000 deserving Texans will be able to achieve their dreams. We also expanded opportunities for Texans to pursue engineering and computer science degrees, the coursework that will prepare them for the jobs of the future. And we expanded opportunities for Texans to attend technical and community colleges so more of our citizens can get a skill that will lead to better opportunity.
Higher education should be open to all, not just an elite few. It must be responsive to the needs of our growing and changing population, and it must continue to push the envelope of excellence and innovation. That growing and changing population includes children of undocumented workers, young boys and girls that we serve in our public schools because it is the right thing to do. I believe it is time they get the same treatment in our colleges and universities. I signed House Bill 1403 so that young Texans who graduated from our public schools, regardless of their immigration status, will be able to pay in‑state tuition and take part in the Texas Dream. We want bright, new Texans to stay here, and contribute great things to our future. We also want to ensure Texans of all backgrounds participate in graduate and professional degree programs. A new law I signed will ensure that graduate schools give weight to socio‑economic conditions of applicants seeking entry into their schools, not just test scores. That is good public policy that will make a difference for Texans from all walks of life.
This last session was also good in terms of expanding access to quality health care. Who among us is not deserving of the best health care available? By simplifying the Medicaid enrollment process, hundreds of thousands of our children will be insured. They will be exposed to routine and preventative care, and they will be healthy and learning in the classroom. Between Medicaid simplification, and the new Children's Health Insurance Program, our poorest young Texans will receive the care they need when they need it. Residents of the border region will also benefit from a new telemedicine program that will hook them up to specialists in cities hundreds of miles away. These doctors will be able to diagnose, and recommend treatment, for illnesses that too often go untreated, conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. We also created a colonia road building program to help address the infrastructure needs of some of our poorest neighbors. How can we tell our children to reach for the stars if they cannot reach the classroom after a downpour washes out their roads and keeps the school buses out?
Increases in border infrastructure, health care and education could be as much as $360 million over the next two years.We addressed the transportation concerns of Texans all over the state. If voters approve, as I hope they will, we will have a new bonding program to get more roads built sooner. None of you here needs to spend another minute stuck on that parking lot known as I‑10 to know it is time to get traffic moving. Every hour you spend stuck in traffic is an hour you could have spent with a loved one or a friend, at a child's baseball or soccer game, or at your place of worship making a difference for your community.
I mentioned earlier bringing people of different backgrounds to the table of ideas. I am mindful of one such individual tonight, a Texan from Laredo who is where he is today because the doors of higher education were open to him. The son of a field worker, Henry Cuellar set his sights on a better tomorrow. He started with an associates degree, then a bachelors degree, and later a law degree, masters degree and a Ph.D. Where would the Henry Cuellar's of this world be if it were not for educational opportunity? But rather than focusing on what fate he would have encountered, I am proud to mention the fate he earned, becoming your Secretary of State, and my very first appointee. I will always look to bring to the table of ideas people of impeccable character, people with fresh ideas and a unique perspective, people who represent Texas. Henry Cuellar, Wallace Jefferson, Max Yzaguirre, Adrian Arriaga, Hope Andrade, these are just some of the extraordinary Texans I have called on to serve this state, and who have answered that call with integrity and skill.
Which leads me to one last point. Education is an important form of empowerment, but it must be accompanied by political participation. Just as your motto states, "su voto es su voz." Political activity is a vital part of individual and group empowerment. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project has done an extraordinary job of empowering more Hispanics through voter registration drives. I salute you for your work, and wish you well in the upcoming election cycle. To continue to register more and more Hispanics to vote is truly the greatest tribute you could make in honor of the memory of a kindred soul, Willie Velasquez. While Willie is no longer with us, his mother Janie Velasquez is, and I would like to take this opportunity to recognize her.
Greater empowerment comes when you have more voices at the table, sharing a diversity of views and opinions, not one voice that expresses one particular view. Take it from someone who was a Democrat for 39 years, I know it is not easy to consider new political alternatives. But both political parties need your voices, directing them from within, to ensure that they rapidly respond to change and pursue common sense, balanced public policy. Political parties change when they are either threatened by extinction, or when they see the tremendous benefit of casting a wider net. It is much easier for you to flex your political muscle within a particular tent, more people will listen, and consider your views carefully.
I would just ask that you look for leaders that share your philosophy regardless of party labels, leaders who believe in strong families, greater educational opportunity, better health care, and access to the jobs of the future. In so doing, you will not be taken for granted, you will be an instrumental part of change. Your right to vote is not just a cherished fruit of democracy, it is THE agent of change. So, let us all endeavor, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, to bond together to make our every today worthy of tomorrow, and the children who will inherit that tomorrow.
Thank you, and God bless you.
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