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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 27, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS AT THE

The State Dining Room

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. We will follow our custom tonight, which means that Governor Leavitt and I will give toasts, after which there will be no more duties and we'll have a good time. (Laughter.)

I want to welcome Governor and Mrs. Leavitt, Governor and Mrs. Glendening and all of you to the White House, the 93rd meeting of the National Governors Association. I feel like I've been to most of them. (Laughter.) Actually, we were thinking tonight, Secretary Governor Riley and Secretary Governor Babbit, when we leave this year will have attended 16 of these dinners. (Applause.) And I figure Governor Thompson and Governor Hunt are about that many. But I will have attended 20.

I told Governor Kempthorne tonight that he made a good swap when he left the Senate and became governor; and I told him I never got tired of being governor and I always look forward to your coming here.

Two hundred years ago exactly this year, Thomas Jefferson became the first governor to be elected President. One of the central principles he carried with him from -- the writing of the Declaration of Independence to the State House to the White House -- is that the role of government can never be fixed in time or place, it must remain fluid while anchored to firm principles. Jefferson said, laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times.

Well, today, 200 years later, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, our nation's governors are keeping pace with the times. This year, your theme is "Strengthening American States in the Global Economy." It is truly a new economy. It has changed not only the way people make a living, but the way we live and relate to each other and to people all around the world.

For seven years now, you and I have worked as partners to give the American people the conditions and tools they need to make the most of this new world, with a federal government that is smaller, less oriented toward regulation and more committed than ever to achieving high goals. With your help and hard work, America has made great strides in these last seven years -- cutting crime, cleaning the environment, improving education, moving millions from welfare to work, building the longest prosperity in our nation's history.

For your role in all these achievements and for the work that you will do with us in this millennial year, I thank you. It has been a great joy and a great honor for me to serve as President, and especially to work with the governors.

I leave you with only this thought. In my lifetime our country has never had the opportunity we now have to build the future of our dreams for our children. The longest expansion in American history before this one was in the decade of the 1960s. I graduated from high school in 1964. President Kennedy had been killed, the country was heartbroken. But we united behind a new President; we believed at the time that the economy; which was booming, would go on forever; that we would solve our civil rights challenges peacefully, through laws and courts; and that we would prevail in the Cold War without particular incident.

Two years later, riots were starting in the streets and four years later, two days before I graduated from college, Senator Kennedy was killed. That was two months after Martin Luther King had been killed and nine weeks after President Johnson said he could no longer run for re-election; and our country was divided along partisan and cultural lines in ways that still manifest themselves.

I say that not to be somber, but just as a cautionary reminder that it's easy to assume when things are going well that it is part of the natural order of things and that it will always be so -- without regard to what actions we take, what words we speak, what hopes we harbor in our hearts. In a year, I will be a private citizen; most of you will still be serving. Remember that. We have the chance of a lifetime and I, for one, have waited 35 years for my country to have that chance. It's a great honor for all of us to serve.

I offer you a toast and the fond hope that you will make the most of it. Thank you very much.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)

Governor Leavitt, the podium is yours.

GOVERNOR LEAVITT: Mr. President, as I approached this evening at the White House, I had a sweeping memory of my first time to visit. I approached the gate in a different style and different manner. I presented the guard with two VIP tickets and said, I have VIP tickets. He said, thank you, get in line. (Laughter.) I said, no, no, you don't understand. I have VIP tickets and I received from a member of the U.S. Senate. He said, yes, sir, we understand that. You see that line that goes around the corner? Every one of the people in that line have exactly the same ticket. (Laughter.)

That memory causes me to reflect again tonight on the remarkable experiences that we have shared together during the last eight years in this, the house of the people. I remember and recall the first time I stood in the Blue Room, alone for a moment, and looked out upon the South Lawn to the Washington Monument and realized that the glass I looked through was the same glass that Lincoln had looked through, the same glass that Presidents from that point forward, and felt the privilege of standing in this place.

I remembered the fall day when I stood on the South Lawn and saw emerge from this house you, Mr. President, flanked by Yasser Arafat and Yitzak Rabin; and stood at the end of the table and listened to them speak their hearts. I heard Yitzak Rabin say, I am a soldier and I have spent my life fighting these people; I have mourned with the mothers of my soldiers; I have had the blood of my countrymen on my sleeve; I say to you today, enough blood, it's time to give peace a chance.

And I watched, transfixed, as I saw the world wait for that moment when you had, with your arms, bring them together, wondering if they would shake hands. And they did. And as they did, I saw above the Old Executive Office Building an American flag. I heard above us in the air helicopters, there for the protection of us all; and chanting in Lafayette Park. Little did any of us know that that moment would ultimately be paid for with the mortal life of Mr. Rabin.

But it made me think of the privilege to stand in this place. For all of the days that you have allowed us to come here, we thank you. For the privilege of doing this service together, we all give gratitude.

And with that, Mr. President, I raise my glass in this, the first meeting of the National Governors Association of the 21st century, with the hope, with the desire, with the understanding that the prosperity of the last century will be with us for the next; with an expression of gratitude for your constant memory of your days as a governor, your kindness to us and your willingness to always listen.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)