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Rep. Diana DeGette

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Rep. Diana DeGette
DeGette is a fourth generation Coloradoan, educated at Denver's South High School and Colorado College. Read More...


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Hope For South Carolina's Future
Remarks to the South Carolina General Assembly

By Congressman James E. Clyburn

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

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Speaker Harrell, Lt. Governor Bauer, members of the General Assembly, former members, clerks and other employees of this august body, visitors in the gallery; my fellow South Carolinians and Americans. 

Let me begin by thanking those of you who made it possible for me to stand here today, especially co-authors of the resolution, Senator Robert Ford and Representative Bakari Sellars. 

I am deeply honored to address the very body in which I had hoped to begin my service as an elected official 37 years ago.  Although that effort did not turn out according to our plans, I have been blessed in many ways throughout the ensuing years.

I have been blessed with a loving wife, the former Emily England of Moncks Corner.  We are blessed with three lovely daughters-Mignon, with whom many of you are acquainted; Jennifer, a public school teacher who has taught some of your children; and Angela, who is working on the girth and stamina of a few of you at the Drew Wellness Center.   I am blessed with three siblings, and one of them, Charles, and his wife Gwendolyn are here today, along with my sister-in-law Mattie and her husband Bob.

Emily and I are also blessed with a son-in-law Walter Reed, and two grandchildren, Walter A Clyburn Reed and Sydney Alexis Reed.  They are all here with me today.

Two people, who could not be with us today, but I feel a blessing to know are Bill Pherigo and Russell Holiday, co-chairs of the holiday gala that raised $1.3 million to establish the James E. and Emily E. Clyburn Endowment for Archives and History at South Carolina State University.  We will seek to do equally as well at a holiday gala in Spartanburg on November 30th of this year.

Seated with my family are a few other friends with whom I have also been blessed; Janice Marshall, who manages the affairs of my foundation that has donated more than $350,000 in college scholarships to deserving students; South Carolina's AME Bishop Preston Williams and my pastor, Reverend Joseph Darby; my mentor and beloved friend Judge Richard Fields; Don and Carol Fowler; Charles T. "Bud" Ferillo, and Sandra Fowler who poured their hearts and souls into that 1970 effort; Herb Fielding, I.S. Leevy Johnson and Jim Felder whose hopes to join this body were realized the same day mine were dashed; Phil Grose, whose counsel and friendship I have greatly appreciated since our years on the staff of Governor John West, another person with whom I would have loved to share this day. 

Seated among you is Bill Clyburn, a cousin on my daddy's side, and a relative from my mother's side, Leon Howard.  I have enjoyed long and fruitful relationships with too many of you to list all by name, but I would be remiss if I did not thank my long time campaign Chairman, Senator Kay Patterson. 

In Washington we often refer to each other as my good friend when we really don't mean it.  But when I call my colleague Henry Brown my good friend, I really mean it and I am pleased that he has joined me here today.

A few years ago, Emily and I attended a Banquet at the Lexington Medical Center celebrating the naming of an auditorium in honor of Floyd Spence, a former member of this body.  When Floyd rose to respond to the honor, he shared with us some of the experiences he encountered during his well-publicized illness and the complex surgeries that were his cross to bear.

Floyd spoke passionately on that occasion of the faith and hope that sustained him throughout his long ordeal, during which he served admirably and effectively in the United States Congress.  He recalled the callous comments of one to whom he was looking for comfort and survival, but who offered only gloom and doom about his chances of survival. 

Floyd admonished us to never do or say anything that would dash the hopes and dreams of any human being.  I will never forget the passion with which he spoke on that occasion, and will always remember his admonition as I carry out my duties and responsibilities to the people of this great state. 

The Latin phrase Dum Spiro Spero, "While I breathe, I hope," is South Carolina's motto, and an appropriate mantra to which all of us in public service should aspire.  We have been elected because we inspire hope. 

For each of us that may mean something different.  For me, it has several definitions.  It means doing whatever I can to secure our homeland and our families.  It means furthering the education and well being of our children.  It means protecting the serenity and safety of our environment. It means developing new economies and discovering alternative sources of energy to support them.  It means enhancing the creativity of our institutions, and unleashing the marvelous human potential of our communities.

These are not goals which belong exclusively to one level of government or the other. They are not the aspirations of the federal government alone, or the states, or the local jurisdictions. They do not belong to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

We've been too busy in recent years erecting barriers among us, which are harmful to the long-range best interests of our state and country.  It's time we come together as South Carolinians and Americans. 

So in that spirit, let me take a few minutes today to share my vision of accomplishing these goals.  I call them the three E's to our state's future. 

First, let's talk about Education:

One of the great contributions made by South Carolina to our nation is the marvelous public school system.  Sometimes we take it for granted; other times we make it a scapegoat for our own shortcomings as parents and community leaders; rarely do we seem to appreciate fully that it is the very lifeblood of our social, economic and political systems. 

As many of you know, I started my professional career as a public school teacher.  For three years, I got up every morning looking forward to the challenges of the day.  I loved every day on that job, and I admired the teachers and students with whom I shared those days. 

It was an experience that taught me first hand the value of our public schools, and it made me realize that short-changing public education is short-changing the entire future of our state and nation. We should never do anything, or adopt any policy that would undermine the efficacy of a strong and vibrant public school system.

Having said that, I call attention to conditions we all recognize, the conditions of great disparities that exist among our public schools. I do not believe for a moment that we need a judicial decision to address these inequities. 

We know they are there, and we know it is in our power to do something about them. Failure to do so is failure to own up to our responsibilities to future generations of South Carolinians

A few years ago, Emily and I did a rough calculation of our graduating class from South Carolina State.  We found that the vast majority of our classmates left South Carolina in search of opportunities and a better quality of life.   Many of them, including my roommate, Clarence Missouri, who is also seated in the balcony today, are now retired and returning home.

We're glad they're back, but their experience tells us we have a lot of work to do. Our state should be a place of dynamic opportunity for all. It should not be a place which loses valuable college graduates during their active and productive years. It should be more than a place of retirement for those seeking a slower life style.

Later this year, we will reach the 50th anniversary of a very important eye-opening event.  Many of us remember Sputnik, the little grapefruit size object placed into orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union. 

We were shaken, but we awakened.  And over the next several years we took the necessary steps in our educational institutions to meet that challenge.  We vowed to win the race to the moon and we did. 

As we encounter the realities of today’s global economy, we face similar educational challenges. 

I applaud the efforts to educate our talented and gifted students in South Carolina schools; it is a step in the right direction. But we should not do so at the expense of others. We must do more to educate those who may not be good test takers or who may be late bloomers.  Scores of very successful people fit into that category.   I am the product of a liberal arts education, but many successful and productive citizens are not. 

Irrespective of how good our intentions may have been, the current structure of receiving Lottery funded Palmetto, Life and Hope scholarships provide a disproportionate awarding of grants that do not have to be paid back to students from upper income families and loans to students from lower income families that must be paid back.  We should put all educational pursuits on equal footing. 

I often tell audiences that if one of you were to wake up in the morning and turn on your water faucet and no water comes out, you would not need a doctor or a lawyer. You would need a plumber. 

Doctors need plumbers; plumbers need lawyers; lawyers need automobile mechanics.  We need each other, and our education system should recognize that fact. Every day we are reminded that ours is a world in which we all need each other.

Let's talk about the second "E," Energy:

Some parts of South Carolina are doing very well economically, and that's good news.  But elsewhere, there's not such good news.  That's especially true along the I-95 corridor, most of which I represent. 

Because cotton is no longer king, and tobacco is no longer our largest cash crop, the agricultural belt, which once supported much of South Carolina, has become more of a noose, choking farmers and their communities.  But I believe we have an opportunity to create a brighter future for these rural regions, and others similarly situated around the country.

My vision and hopes for the I-95 corridor and rural communities were reinforced last year, when in his State of the Union Address, President Bush called for freeing our nation of its addiction to foreign oil.   And I was absolutely ecstatic when, in this year's State of the Union Address, he acknowledged the threats of climate change and the need to pursue alternative sources of energy.  

All new energy policies must, in my opinion, meet three tests; first they must enhance our national security; secondly they should protect the environment, and third they should create new economies.  Alternative energy sources should be home-grown and American owned.

Our agricultural resources provide the best hope for producing renewable biofuels.  South Carolina should be a full partner in that enterprise.  It's just good business; it's a great new opportunity for our farmers; and it's a great addition to our economic well-being. 

Other states have leapt out ahead of us on development of biofuels, but it is not too late for our state to set an aggressive and visionary policy to establish South Carolina as a leader in this emerging economy.  I am aware of the visionary leadership being shown by the authors of House Bill 3649: The Energy Freedom and Rural Development Act. We can once again make farming a profitable and productive way of life, and I see the I-95 corridor as being the very epicenter of that major economic recovery for our state. 

I have already begun to invest in this new market in South Carolina, securing one million dollars for Claflin and Francis Marion Universities to begin studying how the I-95 corridor can tap into the emerging biofuels economy.  They are making significant progress. 

Claflin University's Center for Biotechnology is having great success developing processes to efficiently and effectively convert sugar cane and other high celluloid crops into butanol.  I am told that Butanol offers substantial advantages over ethanol because, unlike ethanol, it doesn't need to be mixed with gasoline for use in existing internal combustion engines.  Claflin University researchers anticipate beginning a pilot program in South Carolina in the near future.

Now let's talk about the third "E," the Environment:

I do a great deal of traveling as the number three ranking Member in the United States House of Representatives.  That travel has allowed me to participate in many conversations about our state, and I find that more than anything else, people are impressed by the great beauty of our state and the friendliness of our people.

I proudly accept those accolades on behalf of each and every one of you, and we must work together to keep it so.  But our environmental concerns must be about more than beautiful places and smiling faces.

Our countryside is pockmarked with too many Super Fund sites and unattended landfills.  Air quality is not what it should be in too many of our communities. 

At the turn of the last century our life expectancy was less than 50 years.  And at the turn of this century it was over 70 years.  I have learned from researchers that the biggest contributor to this twenty-year addition to our life expectancy is the quality of the water we drink.   There are too many communities in our state where the water is unfit for human consumption, and people are drinking it every day. 

I firmly believe there is a connection between water quality and the health of our residents.  Parts of my district, along the I-95 corridor, are plagued with health disparities.  I am told that this region is known as the buckle on the stroke belt, and is home to the highest rate of prostate cancer deaths in South Carolina. 

 There are other maladies like a high rate of amputations due to the late detection of diabetes and the prevalence of heart disease that I believe can be linked, in part, to poor air and water quality. 

We are beginning to make large and small strides in solving our water problems.  I thank you for the significant financial support you have given to the six-county Lake Marion Regional Water Agency. 

Working together we have earmarked over 40 million dollars to that effort. We are making similar improvements in the water quality in other areas like the four-county Pee Dee Regional Water Agency and smaller projects like the water systems that serve Govan and Olar.

We are also bringing potable drinking water to long neglected communities like Snowden, Honey Hill, and Schulerville.  Clean air and clean water are at the heart of our state's environment.  We must continue to support the infrastructure necessary to insure all South Carolinians have access to those life-sustaining treasures.  

Beyond my broad vision for South Carolina's future, there are a handful of issues that are on the minds of my colleagues in Washington and many of you today that I would like to address as well this afternoon. 

First, is the practice of "Earmarking":

The practice has come under fire lately as being a device for pork-barrel spending and budget increases. That's a total misrepresentation, and let me tell you why.  Two weeks ago the House adopted a budget Resolution which sets federal spending limits for Fiscal Year 2008.  Even if Members of Congress reserve a percentage of those allocations for their constituents' priorities funding cannot exceed those limits.

Earmarks are not add-ons to the budget, and they are not by definition wasteful spending projects.  Every one I have ever secured was requested by a constituent. They are investments in our communities and institutions, like all the water projects I mentioned earlier and I-CAR (International Center for Automotive Research) at Clemson, the Hydrogen Fuel Cell project at the University of South Carolina, the Transportation Center at South Carolina State, and the Hollings Oncology Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

I share these and other constituencies with many of you.  If done through an open and transparent budgetary process, I believe earmarking is a good way for us as elected representatives to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of our constituents.

Eliminating earmarks will do nothing to stop those intent on illegally manipulating the process.  It would, however, shift the entire process of determining funding priorities from us and our constituents to faceless agency bureaucrats, highly-paid grants writers and well-connected lobbyists.

Earmarking is the best way to ensure federal dollars are effectively spent on the priorities outlined by local communities, rather than out-of-state bureaucrats.

Next I must discuss the growing problem of payday lending:

I thank Representative Alan Clemmons, and Senators John Hawkins and Joel Lourie, and the rest of you who are addressing the unfair exploitation of the working poor and unsophisticated consumer in South Carolina.

Payday lending has lured hundreds of South Carolinians into a debilitating cycle of debt that must be stopped. I cannot urge you strongly enough to enact legislation which would protect these vulnerable people who live from paycheck to paycheck and suffer greatly from those who take unconscionable advantage of them. 

Finally, let's talk about the Electoral College:

Since we are fortunate enough to host early southern primaries for both the Republican and Democratic parties this year, I thought it was appropriate to discuss a longer-term issue with you today.

 As all of you know, under current law, South Carolina's eight electoral votes are all awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote in Presidential elections.  It's a winner-take-all sweepstakes, which does not take into account the closeness of a vote or the differences in voting preferences from one part of the state to another.  

A national movement is underway, and at least one state has acted, to award a state's electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes nationwide. Although I feel that the current system is outdated and should be modified, I don't think that replacing one winner-take-all system with another winner-take-all system is the way to go.

I believe that awarding our eight electoral votes proportionately would make the whole process more democratic.  This could be done by awarding percentages of the statewide vote, or by a combination of the statewide totals and the totals of each Congressional District.  It would bring the votes of the Electoral College more closely into line with the popular vote.  It will also keep us from being ignored by one party and taken for granted by the other during the General Elections as has been the case for many years. 

Once again, I thank you for your time and for the honor, and I commend you for the role you are taking in shaping a better South Carolina for future generations.

As Floyd Spence admonished us, it is our job to bring hope to those we serve, and I am further reminded of some words of Dr. Martin Luther King in that regard.  He once said, "If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all."

Let's join hands today and let's vow that in spite of the various artificial obstacles which some would create to divide us, we will work together to find common ground to achieve greater good for those who look to us for the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. Dum Spiro Spero.

Thank you and Godspeed.