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Date: 7/22/02 Speaker: Richard A. Gephardt
Location: Miami Beach

Gephardt Speech to the National Council of La Raza Conference in Miami

"I am very proud to be here with you. Let me open here today by spending a moment telling you about who I am, where I come from and what I believe in.

"I grew in St. Louis, Missouri. I have been married to Jane Gephardt for 36 years. We have three children. I have a daughter who is a teacher, I have a daughter who is a social worker and I have a son who thinks he's in the software business although you know that's not so sure today. I have two parents. My father was a milk truck driver and my mother was a secretary. Neither of them got through high school, but they worked very hard and wanted my brother and I to have a good education.

"They saved all the money they could; they got my brother and I to go to college -- the first in our family, in our large family to be able to go to college. And because of their hard work and our ability to have three or four jobs, we were able to make that happen.

"I feel enormously benefited to have that opportunity from that kind of background and to have had the opportunity that every person in this country wants. And I always dedicated my public service to that overwhelming value and that is: every person in this country must be afforded an equal opportunity to succeed in their lives -- and I will always stand for that.

"I am also guided by the values represented by the values of my extended family in the United States House of Representatives. The Democratic Caucus is the only Caucus in Congress that really looks like America. Really is like America. We have most of the African American members, we have most of the women members, we have most of the Asian American members, we have most of the Hispanic members, we have most probably of the gay and lesbian members. The Democratic Caucus looks like America and our values come from the diversity of America.

"The other day I was talking with Xavier Becerra and Sylvestre Reyes. They taught me a saying; I think it sums up what Democrats stand for as a party. Now, I am not going to dazzle you with my Spanish, but let me try to say this probably with a St. Louis accent: 'Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres.' Tell me who you hang out with and I will tell you who you are.

"Democrats in Congress have always supported the issues that are important to the Latino population. We opposed Proposition 187 in California and we led the drive against English-only initiatives across the country and in the Congress.

"During the campaign finance debate, and I hope some of you saw it at 2:30 and 3 o'clock in the morning. It was the Democrats that defeated the misguided plan that Republicans tried to put forward that outlawed political contributions from legal, permanent residents. And if you heard that debate, you heard Xavier Becerra go to the floor of your House of Representatives and say to the Republicans, How dare you say that my mother who worked hard in this country and paid taxes for 30 years, cannot take part in giving me a $10 or a $30 dollar contribution; shame on the idea that legal permanent residents cannot take part in our political elections, and we won that debate.

"We have fought efforts to deny benefits to hard working, legal immigrants in the welfare reform bill and we fought and won the fight to restore food stamps for immigrant families. That's what we've stood for and those are our values.

"My dream and my vision and our values call for representing everyday on every issue the working- and middle-class families like yours and mine who live by the rules, who work hard and simply want fair play. I know first-hand the entrepreneurial excitement Latinos bring to our extended American family. In my own district in St. Louis, which Cruz so well described, there is a street called Cherokee Street. Not many years ago it was run down- there were not many people there. But in the past few years, small grocery stores, small businesses, small restaurants and other Hispanic businesses have been bringing Cherokee Street back.

"Today when you walk down the street you smell freshly made bread, you see people bustling about. You'll find headquarters of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. You'll see two Spanish-language newspapers and one Spanish-language newscast. The vibrancy, the vitality, the excitement in the community is so much improved because of the people of Hispanic background and Hispanic tradition, who have brought their strength and their excitement and their passion to our community. And so, let me describe to you today four or five values that we need to realize in communities everywhere in this great society.

"First, education. You can't have opportunity without education. I got a great education in the public schools of St. Louis. As I said, my parents saved so that I could go to college. I wouldn't be here today without that opportunity. I had a principal in grade school who called my mother and father to the grade school when I was in 5th grade and said 'your son has some potential.' She was very realistic. She said, 'he might have a chance to go to college, but he won't be able to go unless you start saving money so that he can.' My parents took that seriously and they started to save their nickels and dimes, and because of that that I had that opportunity.

"How many youngsters in our society today, especially our Latino youngsters, are not afforded the opportunity that I was afforded? How many young people are we losing potential for because we have not made the proper investments in them? Why cannot we put together the national resolve to have pre-school for every child in the public schools of this country, to have after-school for every child, to have drop-out prevention in every school? To have our Hispanic-serving institutions properly funded so that every Latino youngster has a place that they can get the college education? Why can't we pass the Dream Act that lets states offer in-state tuition rates to every student so that every student in this society has an opportunity to fulfill their potential?

"The second value: opportunity for all. We are all immigrants, unless we're Native American. My great grandparents came from Germany. They were immigrants. They were welcomed to this country and they had opportunity and therefore I had opportunity. Today there are probably millions of immigrants in this country who have done everything we have asked them to do. They worked, they stayed out of trouble, they obeyed the law, they helped their family, and they would like an opportunity.

"President Bush talks about immigration reform but there's not been enough action to match the rhetoric, in my view. The administration's discussions with Mexico in particular on migration reform have stalled. And we know that we need to make progress if the government in Mexico is to be able to achieve some of its goals. Well, let me describe to you today what we've been doing in the Democratic Caucus.

"The House Democratic Caucus has been working on a proposal that recognizes the hard work of immigrants with earned legalization. It ensures the security of our borders and unifies our families.

"We have succeeded in passing a strong border security measure that accomplishes part of our goals on immigration reform. But today, in front of this wonderful organization, I am pleased to announce the next big, significant step in the development of our immigration proposal. I am going to recommend to the House Democratic Caucus after months of work with the Hispanic Caucus and with the Labor Unions and with other organizations around the country, that we introduce legislation in the next two weeks that will provide earned legalization to undocumented immigrants who have resided here for five years, worked here for two years and have played by the rules.

"Hard work, fair play. Our proposals will bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into the light of accountability and greater cooperation in our fight against terrorism. And I hope that people on the other side will not try to make political hay in the name of fighting terrorism against these proposals. These proposals reward hard work with fair play and help us in our fight against terrorism in this great country. Make no mistake about it.

"While I am talking about the fight against terror, I want to alert you to one proposal that has come from this administration that I think is dangerous - and doesn’t make good sense. And that is the attempt to deputize the local police to enforce federal immigration law. It is a bad idea. It will dilute our local efforts and it will dilute our federal efforts, it will threaten our civil liberties and it should not be done.

"Third: economic opportunity. I want to reduce unnecessary regulations that hurt small business. We need to get the tax on small business down and we need to help entrepreneurs and small businesses provide health care for their employees. And as my friend from New York Representative Nydia Velazquez recently told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ‘our party wants you and those who work for you to have the tools to build the American dream.’

"We want firm accounting rules so that your 401k(s) and your pension plans are secure. We want to build value back in our stock market and we do not want to eliminate Section 8a, which accounts of 60 percent of our federal contracts to minority businesses. That's another bad idea that we should reject.

"Fourth, I want opportunity for our elderly. And I want all of our elderly to be treated with the respect they deserve.”

"My mother is 94 years old. She lives in independent living in St. Louis. She called me the other day in Washington and she said, 'Dick, I have a problem.' I said, 'What's wrong?' because when you're that old you always worry about illness. She said, 'I'm not ill, but I've got a bad problem and I don't want to talk about it over the phone.' So I went to see her a week later and I sat down in front of her and I said, 'Mother, what's wrong?' She said, 'I just bounced three checks.' I said, 'join the club.'

"The reason she was bouncing checks was that her prescription drug bills were going up every month. She has high blood pressure. She had a stroke she recovered from five years ago. She has glaucoma. She has one little bitty bottle of drops that cost $100 that lasts two weeks. Her drug bills are now about $700 a month. She's lucky: she has my brother and me to make up the difference from what she gets from Social Security and her other bills.

"What about the millions and millions of elderly who are not as lucky as my mother? How do they get the glaucoma drops? How do they get the blood pressure pills? How do they get the pills to take care of the stroke? How do they get the pills to control the diabetes? The truth is that today, millions do not. We want a Medicare prescription drug benefit not written by the pharmaceutical companies, but written for the people of this country; and we will fight to get it done for the elderly of this country.

"And finally, my values call for us to never quit until we get the good health care policy for every person in this country. You know you could be Bill Gates. He's probably not worth as much today as he was a week ago, but he’s still worth a lot of money. You could be Bill Gates and have billions of dollars, but if you lose your health you have nothing. And all the money in the world is meaningless.

"Let me give you another story in my own life that makes me understand this issue deeply. I have a son, Matt. I mentioned him a moment ago. When he was two years old, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors told us that he had a tumor on his prostate that was incurable and was very large and that he would probably not survive six weeks. We prayed to God every night - some nights all night. We worked with doctors and nurses in St. Louis to get him the therapies to try to deal with this cancer tumor. We were very lucky. Many people aren't as lucky as we were.

"Through the work of good doctors over a seven-year period, he was freed of the disease. He has had 13 operations. The therapy was very difficult but he's alive today and he's married and he lives a near normal life in Atlanta, Georgia. And every time I see him, I get warm all over because I realize he's a gift of God. But I also realize that he is here because we had the benefit of a good health insurance policy so he could get the therapy that he so desperately needed to stay alive. How many millions of people in this country today do not have that policy or do not have a good enough policy to take care of a loved one who winds up in that kind of difficult situation?

"I met parents of children who had cancer like Matt did, who were being treated for their cancer who did not have insurance. And they would say to me that to get the next chemotherapy treatment or the next radiation treatment for their child, they had to go to neighbors, relatives, friends and had to borrow the money to keep their child alive; and they lived in daily terror that their child would die not from the cancer, but because they could not get the money to take care of their child.

"No one should live in that kind of terror. My values tell me that we must move heaven and earth to see that every family in this country has a good health insurance policy for their loved ones.

"Hard work, fair play, opportunity for all. Let me end by saying again: we are all immigrants, except for Native Americans. We live in the greatest country that has ever existed on earth. We are all so fortunate to be in this country and our obligation, our responsibility is to work very hard together to make sure that the values of this country are not diminished but are strengthened for all days ahead, and that we work together with respect and trust to make that happen.

"At the construction site at the Pentagon, to repair the damages of nine-eleven, hundreds of workers put up the walls, put up the ceiling, laid the bricks, installed the power lines. I visited the scene and I saw workers displaying U.S. flags on their cars. At the site, there were bilingual signs. I heard a lot Spanish being spoken. There were immigrants from El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela and many, many other Latin American countries. They were there; just workers - friends - hard workers, working together with people from all kinds of backgrounds to rebuild the Pentagon and to rebuild America.

"When the firemen of New York bravely walked into the burning building without thinking about their own safety, there were African-American fire people, Hispanics, Anglos, Asians, people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Shoulder to shoulder, boulder to boulder, walking into the building without any concern of their own safety, and they were trying to save everyone, not just one group, not just one another. They were there as Americans, putting their lives on the line as we always have. To make sure that the values of America will always be developed and always be realized.

"That's the way our country should work everyday on every issue. That's the way our Congress ought to work everyday on every issue. I thank you for being here in such large numbers today. I thank you for believing in America, believing in American values, and sharing the responsibility with all of us. Let's make America better, stronger than it's ever been, and make every person in this country realize their full potential.

"Thank you. God bless you. I look forward to working with you in the days ahead."