Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. It is absolutely great to be here. I first want to -- I had a great chat with Leonard. I want to congratulate him, wherever he went, on being with the federalist society for 25 years. That is pretty amazing and I think everyone owes him a round of applause. Also want to thank Alan and Carrie. They have been dear friends and just very great supporters. If you ever want to have a good, conservative sparring fight and not feel like you are the only loan souls, he is your guy. Fantastic to work with.
Thank you for having me. I want to start by saying, hyperbole is something that has become all too common in the world of politics. That is not a particularly bold statement. We all follow the news, we all know that it is true, and we all know that it can have a poisonous effect on our clinical system and on our society at large. I say that to say this. Exaggeration is something I try to avoid at all costs. Keeping that in mind, we are currently living through what may be the most interesting time in American political history.
And I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you about it today. Where we are, how we got here, where we are going. These are all questions being asked around the nation, and frankly, around the world. There is no single answer, but a theme you will hear from me consistently, today and going forward, is the need for honesty.
In an effort to practice what I preach, I have to admit, I am a little or a lot intimidated to be here. I have turned down this invitation in the past come and not because I don't have a tremendous amount of respect for the federalist society, but because I’m not a lawyer. I am an accountant by trade. Accountants believe in interpretations coming from fax through numbers. Those numbers tell a story. That story is meant to be used to create a better way of doing things. So the goal is to take the numbers that are a fact, create a vision, which creates more opportunity and more stability without causing harm. By implementing that vision, constantly checking its progress against real, meaningful benchmarks, we can create a better life. There is always a solution if we are creative enough to find it.
That is my education. That is my life experience. It is what I know. My experience with attorneys did not always line up with that. The lawyers in my life have seemed to have been taught to say no. To everything. For a while I was convinced you took a class in law school that simply was how to say no. So I can tell you, we have always had that issue in our office. I was never a fan of lawyers because I always felt like their instincts led them to stop everything, irrespective of whether it was positive or negative, but my opinion has evolved.
First, I had no idea how much I would be sued as governor. So I have learned it is nice to have you guys around. Second and more seriously, as a governor, as the head of a branch of government that is supposedly constitutionally coequal, I have come to truly respect the value of attorneys and judges who see, use, and interpret the law as it was intended.
Because we all know that doesn't always happen. America, not just the Supreme Court, not just the legal community, but our nation as a whole, lost an icon this year with the passing of Justice Scalia. Putting aside the immediate affect his decisions had on American law, he inspired millions of Americans to think right about the law, and by right, I certainly do not mean in the political or socially acceptable sense, but as the word itself was intended to be used, correctly. When I think about Justice scalier, what I appreciate the most common is that he never looked at the law or the constitution through the eyes of a man who wanted to be a legislator. While his rhetorical skills and love of life make the word simple, one that few who would use to describe the justice, his judicial philosophy strikes me as so significant, precisely because of its simplicity.
The Constitution is The Constitution. The law is the law. The outcome is the outcome. Legislators make the law, executors execute the laws, and judiciaries interpret the laws, period. I have always seen the role of government through similar eyes. Government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never intended to be all things to all people. Sadly, we have strayed away from that course in America today. Before we go down that path, I want to say this: while I will not pretend to have always been president-elect's biggest cheerleader, I did vote for him. And I was absolutely thrilled to see him win.
There are so many opportunities in front of us because of his victory. At the forefront, the opportunity for President Trump is to ensure Justice Scalia’s legacy of judicial restraint is not just preserved, but expanded on the Supreme Court. President Trump will likely have the opportunity to shape the future of the court for a generation, and thanks in large part to the people in this room, America should be a much better, much more just nation because of it.
This election brought with it countless things we never thought we would see. There is no need to run through all of them here other than to say that there are important lessons to outcomes, both in the primaries, democrat and republican, and in the general election. Lesson that we must acknowledge, honestly, and problems we must fix. The after-the-fact dissection of a presidential candidate almost always focuses on the losing side that is understandable. But if we as republicans are going to lead effectively and have staying power as a governing party, we must accept that Donald Trump's election was not an affirmation of the way republicans have conducted themselves. The president-elect deserves tremendous credit for the way he was able to connect with the electorate, but he did not do it by celebrating the Republican Party, and the American people did not vote for him because he had an (R) next to his name.
He ran against both parties, against the political system at large, a system he argued was fundamentally broken, an argument that the voters subscribed to in massive numbers. They rejected the political class of all stripes, republicans included. And we had no one to blame but ourselves. There have been broken promises at every level of government. We need to go back to the basics and remember that we are the party of limited government, the party committed to creating opportunities for all people, the party of inclusivity.
We pulled away from that over the past decade. We saw a republican congress that kept levels of spending completely out of control. We saw a republican elected officials moved to expand Medicaid instead of working to find real solutions to our health care problems. We saw a republican start to move toward big government instead of away from it with things like common core. Republicans lost our way. We were told that if we elected a republican house and republican senate, everything would change. Millions of people worked hard to give republicans that chance, yet we never saw action. Spending continued to climb, health insurance premiums continue to go up, the federal government continued to make it harder to do business in America. We expected stacks of bills to be put on President Obama’s desk so the public could truly understand where he wanted to take the country, and where we did. That never happened.
Instead, republicans ignore the growing anger and frustrations that was building among the American people. They were walking their paychecks shrink, their student loans grow, their daily lives become more difficult, and all they saw was Washington, D.C. Was republicans continuing to blame democrats.
About a year ago I was given the opportunity to speak to the country following President Obama’s state of the union. I do not make a habit of quoting myself, but I want to repeat a part of my speech because I believe it is even more important today than it was in January. "At the outset I will say this, you have paid attention to what has been happening in Washington in recent times, and you are not naive, neither am I to I see what you see, and many of your frustrations are my frustrations. A frustration with a government that has grown day after day, year after year, yet never serves us any better. A frustration with the same endless conversations we hear over and over again, a frustration with promises made and not kept. We need to be honest with each other and with ourselves. While democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around. We as republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s elected leadership. We need to accept that we played a role in how and why our government is broken, and then we need to fix it." That is what I said last January.
Now, with a unified republican government in Washington, with 34 republican governors, more republican-controlled state legislatures than ever before, we have the chance to do that. It is an exciting time in our history, a time to look in the mirror, remember who we are, and what we believe in, a time to stop the talk and start the action. The opportunity is there. We now have a chance to work on meaningful solutions to change the way we communicate, to remind people that the GOP is the party that will deliver freedom and possibility to all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, or where they were born and raised. That, after all, is what makes the Republican Party and what drew my parents to America.
I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers and sisters and me every day how blessed we were to live in this country. They left a wealthy lifestyle in India with just eight dollars in their pockets to come to America and start completely over. Why would they do that? Because even in 1969, they understood that no amount of money, no lifestyle can compare with the opportunities we have in America. Only here can you be anything you want to be if you are willing to work hard for it. Only here to the circumstances of your birth not defined your future. Only here is anything truly possible. And that is the promise of America. That is the promise of my republican party. And that is the promise we have tried to deliver in South Carolina.
When I took office in January of 2011, South Carolina was struggling. Like many other states, the great recession was hanging over us like a dark cloud. Jobs were scarce, economic anxiety were real. The American dream felt out of reach for way too many. Our state government was in stables. We had short-term deficits and long-term debt. Our public schools were failing too many of our students. Faith in our system had bottomed out. It was dawning the collection of challenges we faced. I remember not knowing quite where to start. Then I came across a quotation from one of my favorite predecessors, Governor Carroll Campbell who used to say that, “if you can find a person a job, you can take care of a family.” I have always believed in controlling what I can control, and while governors do not create jobs, there is a lot we can do, and that starts with taking care of the businesses we already have.
We got to work. We cut business taxes, we passed tort reform that for the first time in our history capped damages on lawsuits. We invested in infrastructure without raising taxes. We stripped all of our regulatory boards and replaced the chairman of our largest and most bureaucratic permitting board with the president of a construction company. We knew that if you are costing a person or business time, then you are costing them money, and that was no longer acceptable in the state of South Carolina. We cut our debt in half and we doubled our reserves.
Look at us now. We build planes with Boeing. We build cars with BMW, Mercedes-Benzes, and now Volvo. We now have five international tire companies. First American flat screen televisions, you will find them in world rural Winnsboro, South Carolina with Element Electronics. For those who said bicycles would never again be made in the United States, look no further than Kent International, a New Jersey bike manufacturer we brought back from China to rural Manning, South Carolina. They now refer to us, and I love this, as the beast of the southeast.
More than 80,000 new jobs and $20 billion invested has been announced in South Carolina over the last five years in every single one of our 46 counties. We had moved 40,000 people from welfare to work. We have now started an inmate to work program which allows us to team up with our inmates, match them up with the skills they need, and they are now able to leave the fence with a job and not just a bus ticket. Unemployment has been cut by more than half from 11.1% in 2011 to 4.9% today. More South Carolinians and are working today than ever before in our state's history. And you have one of your members here that I have to thank for that, my Director of Employment and Workforce, Cheryl Stanton. If you would please stand.
Rock star, just saying. Over the last few years, I have been asked often about what has taken place in South Carolina, as if there is a secret formula that spurred our transformation from a state crushed by the collapse of the American textile companies to the fastest-growing economy on east coast. My answer is that most things in government, it is not as complicated as it's made out to be. What we accomplished in South Carolina was not rocket science, it was always about common sense and about a willingness to get creative, challenging norms, and a belief that all things were possible.
Look at education, for instance. South Carolina has lagged behind in education for a very long time, and yes, we are still behind, but we won’t be for much longer. My first year in office I received a letter from an eighth-grade girl who was being bullied at school. She was contemplating suicide and didn't know where to turn. I am grateful I got her letter. I was able to talk to this young lady, full of potential and we struck up a friendship. But I realized she was not alone. So I started going to schools and around the state talking about bullying. It was a wake-up call. But not for the reasons you might think. My daughter recently graduated from a brand-new public high school in Lexington where every classroom has a flat screen T.V. and every child has a tablet. It would be easy to mistake River Bluff High School for a small college. Yet, when I went back to my hometown to give an anti-bullying speech, they did not even have the equipment to play a video. That is wrong. It is immoral. And it is changing.
More than four years ago, I started a conversation about education in South Carolina. I met with principals and teachers, superintendents and university deans, business leaders and legislators, republicans and democrats. I listened, I learned, and I realized the biggest challenge facing South Carolina’s education system was our failure to acknowledge that it simply costs more to educate a child who lives in poverty. We acknowledge it now. We changed our funding formula to send additional state dollars to children who are on Medicaid or free and reduced lunch. We now provide reading coaches for every elementary school in South Carolina, and we have ended social promotions. Because we know if a child cannot read by the end of the third grade, they are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time.
We are investing in technology, internet to the schools, internet inside the schools, and the tools, computers, tablet, instructional materials, to get every South Carolina child up to speed with the world as it is today, not as it was three decades ago. We are now aggressively recruiting teachers to rural areas and challenging districts, and just as aggressively incentivizing teachers to stay there. We are doing all of this with accountability. We are doing all of this without raising taxes. And we are already seeing that work.
We have made immense changes to the way we teach our kids in South Carolina, changes that will be as impactful as they are uncomplicated. These changes are happening because of two very simple things, both of which are quite uncommon in politics today. A willingness to acknowledge a problem and a willingness to move outside of our comfort zone in order to find a solution. It was out of the ordinary for a republican governor to go to the teachers and principals and superintendents to talk about education reform. That was the democrat’s territory. So it remains unexplored in a state dominated by republicans. But those conversations helped me understand where they were coming from and how and why actions government took made things worse rather than making them better. And it helped them begin to trust me and my intentions, helped us build a relationship that comes in the end, enabled us to together push these changes through our legislature.
Everyone wants to feel heard, and in this nation, everyone deserves to be heard. For too long, leadership of both political parties have written off large groups of our fellow Americans. The angst, the unrest, the distrust of our institutions, these are all very real. Very honest responses to a system that has not worked for so many different people in so many different ways. But just as our political leadership's will put ignorance of the public's desire for government that at the very least attempts to serve them has brought us to a time of distrust and stagnation, outreach, and honest communication can have the opposite effect. It can lead to policy successes as it did with education in my state, and it can lead to even more expansive heartfelt change, as also has happened in South Carolina just 18 months ago.
I speak of the Mother Emmanuel tragedy that happened in Charleston and the removal of the confederate flag. When I first got word of the shootings, I knew this was going to be unbearably painful for our state. Nine shooting deaths in a church on a Wednesday night at bible study. A state senator and a leading figure in the local black ministry shot to death. We never imagined anything this horrifying. Each new piece of information was another kick in the gut. The next morning, we captured the killer, and it immediately became clear that this was the act of a racist, motivated not by mental illness but by pure hate.
Our state stuff or a devastating wound, the first thing we need to do was lift up those families and celebrate the lives of the victims. I decided to attend each funeral. I met the families. I heard the stories, and through it all, I had the privilege of meeting nine amazing souls. After each funeral, I would take the program with a person's picture on it to my two kids, and I would introduce them to the person that I met that day.
I introduced them to Ethel Lantz, who despite losing her daughter to cancer two years prior, was a woman of love and joy who constantly saying her favorite song, "one day at a time, sweet Jesus, that's all I’m asking of you. Give me the strength to do every day what I have to do."
I introduced them to our youngest victim, a 26-year-old budding entrepreneur, anxious to open his own part of shop -- barbershop, who on that night, stood in front of his 87-year-old Aunt Susie, and spoke his last words to the murderer. “You don't have to do this. We mean no harm to you.”
I introduced them to Cynthia Heard, whose life motto was to be kinder than necessary. That is now my life motto.
Every opportunity I have I mentioned the nine we lost and the three survivors, the Emmanuel 12. I do not want to be just their families who knows of the love and compassion, the greatness of those people. I want the whole world to know them, as my children do, and as I do.
The second thing that needed to happen was removing the confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. There are many wonderful, decent, honorable people in our state who revere that flag. They are not racist. They are the same people who twice elected an African-American U.S. Senator and twice selected an Indian-American governor. As I said what I announced my intention to bring down the flag, this was a debate that did not need to have winners and losers. Those who revere the flag for reasons of ancestry or heritage retain every right to do so, but what happened in Charleston shed a different light on an issue in a state that we had long struggled with. What we saw in that extraordinary reaction to Charleston was people of all races coming together.
We did not have riots. We had vigils. We did not have protests we had hugs. The statehouse belongs to all people. And it needed to be welcoming to all people. That was not possible with the flag flying. When it came to the removal debate, we had legislators who truly listened to each other. They walked in each other's shoes, and that made all the difference. That willingness to listen allowed all of us to see each other in a way that does not always happen, with love and grace and compassion.
It is a love that we learn from the Emmanuel 12 who took in someone that fateful night who did not look like them, did not sound like them, did not act like them, and instead of calling the cops, or instead of throwing him out, they pulled up a chair and prayed with him for an hour. The grace we learn from their families who incredibly stood in front of the murderer just two days later and offered him forgiveness. It is the compassion we learn from the people of South Carolina who wrapped in their arms around those families, that community, and each other in a way that we have never seen before. The flag came down and South Carolina has moved forward.
Our nation has just been through an election as contentious as any most can remember. We are deeply divided nation. Of that, there is no question. But I am an optimist at heart. How can I not be? Blessed as I am to be the governor of a state that time and again has pulled through tragedies stronger than when we started. This is the lesson I will take from my time in office. A lesson taught to me by the gracious faithful people of South Carolina, a lesson that I will continue to share with people across this nation. That through our challenges we find our strength. It is my hope that our new unified government embraces our challenges and finds our strength. For if we do, if we listen to the will of the people, if we learn from the mistakes of the past, embrace the opportunities of the future and govern with honesty and integrity, there is no limit to where the republican government can take our nation.
Thank you very much. God bless.