Heritage Foundation President-Elect Jim DeMint made the following remarks last month in New York City during the first stop on Heritage’s ten-city Presidents’ Tour. DeMint will take the reins as Heritage’s president in April.
You know, for the last 40 years, presidents have come and gone from the White House, senators and congressmen have come and gone, as have Supreme Court justices. But Ed Feulner and the Heritage Foundation have been the leaders of the free world, and I’m very grateful to Ed. Thank you very much.
And I too want to thank you. Folks outside of Washington have had my back for the last several years, and every time I’ve taken on the establishment in some way – whether it was the whole Washington establishment or even the Republican establishment – I think I would’ve been run out of town if I hadn’t had millions of people who’ve told me regularly, “We’ve got your back.” And I know a lot of you here are Heritage members; some have supported the Senate Conservatives Fund that I have been a part of putting together.
But all of you are here today because you’re willing to stand and fight for the ideas that we know make this country strong and make life better for 100 percent of Americans. And you inspire me by being here, because if there’s any group of people in the country who have the right to be somewhat discouraged, it’s conservatives in New York. The fact that you’re here should tell people all over the country that we should never quit – we should never even consider quitting. We are fighting for the greatest country that’s ever been on the face of the earth. We know the ideas that work and we need to stand up and move forward with them. I want to talk about how they’re working all over the country, but first I want to tell you just a little bit about me and Heritage, because I’m really a product of the Heritage Foundation.
At 47 years old, I was a businessman with four children, on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and United Way and countless other volunteer organizations; I had very little interest in politics. I thought there were normal people and then there were politicians. After being in Congress and Senate for 14 years, I was exactly right. I’m not quite sure now if I’m still normal or if I’ve gone the other way.
What happened to me was a professor friend of mine who had done a fellowship at the Heritage Foundation began to pass along these old Backgrounder policy statements, and I started reading them. I really didn’t have a political perspective of life; mine was real life experience. But I started seeing in these policy papers the policy ideas and the political ideas that related to the things that I’d experienced in my life. And what Heritage was talking about were the things that I knew worked, and they inspired me to want to make more of a difference and to change things in our country.
I was a marketing and strategic planning consultant for many, many companies, and I had seen that the power of ideas could change things, and I thought if I went to Washington and took these right ideas, with a little salesmanship and persuasion we could get these politicians to just scoop them up and run with them. That’s why I ran for Congress. For my first day in the House, I was using Heritage ideas, working with the people at the Heritage Foundation to develop ideas such as personal accounts for Social Security. I was one of the main sponsors of health savings accounts. I developed a lot of the tax reform ideas; I supported fair tax and flat tax. I just wanted to get the conversations started, because these things we needed to do.
I was convinced the Republican Party wanted to do this, because all the candidates campaigned on those ideas. The discouraging thing was to find out that it seemed that the Republican leadership at the time was less interested in the big ideas and more interested in how we raise money for the next election, how do we redistrict to protect our seats, and frankly, my six years in the House were somewhat discouraging. When I went to the Senate, we had a large majority of Republicans in the Senate and the House and a president in the White House. I thought, this is the time we were going to change things. But it seemed the Senate was absorbed, even the Republicans, okay, how do we get the most earmarks to take home to our states? And it seemed people would vote for almost anything if they had earmarks to take home to their states.
I got frustrated, and that’s when I started the Senate Conservatives Fund, I took the ideas outside of Washington and started working with people all over the country to change the people in the Senate, because it was clear we weren’t going to change Washington until we changed the people who were there. What I learned from that was a great deal of opposition from my own party, but I learned that people all around the country, if you just gave them a target, they would shoot at it. If you stood with them, they would stand with you. And that the key to changing things is to taking the message directly to the American people.
We saw new people come to the Senate that everyone told me could never come. They said Pat Toomey couldn’t win in Pennsylvania. They said Marco Rubio would never win. Rand Paul didn’t have a chance. Neither did Mike Lee in Utah, or Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. And this time the same thing happened. Even though the Republicans had a bad election, we got some new superstars. Ted Cruz from Texas, who was outgunned 100 to one as far as spending, but he was a great candidate with the right ideas, and more important, he had the people of Texas and all across the country standing with him. Jeff Flake from Arizona, Deb Fisher from Nebraska. We can change things if we get involved as people.
The Heritage Foundation has been a part of that for years. And now with Heritage Action taking more of the message directly to the people, we’ve got the one-two punch that we need to win. We take the right policies to the lawmakers and we build consensus out across the country for the right ideas. Heritage is poised more than any other organization in the country to do that. I wouldn’t have left the Senate if I did not think that the Heritage Foundation was in a better position to turn our country around than the Congress was, or any president or any other organization in the country.
I wouldn’t have left the Senate if I did not think that the Heritage Foundation was in a better position to turn our country around than the Congress was, or any president or any other organization in the country.
And now is an urgent time. We don’t have four years to wait to start over. It’s not about the next election. It’s about starting right now. And we need to be encouraged by the fact that our ideas are proving themselves all around the country today. If you just look at Washington, you think well, nothing good is going to happen over the next four years, and you’re probably right. But all across America, there are champions, conservative champions, of the right ideas. You see governors and legislators pushing education choice in Florida and Louisiana, and you see African American children, poor children, disadvantaged, at risk children making progress and having successes.
I mean, in Greenville, South Carolina, we’ve got fifth graders studying to be engineers because of alternative, specialty, charter schools. I mean, these are exciting ideas. We’ve got people getting jobs, just like in Charleston, working for Boeing, because they were seeking a right to work state. And the fact that companies are moving from failing states to right to work states means Indiana adopts right to work, Wisconsin follows, and then even Michigan follows – not because the politicians thought it was good policy, it was because people began demanding the ideas that work.
We’re not talking about political ideas. When you give people the freedom to choose where their children go to school, that’s not a political idea, it’s an American idea. And it’s an idea that we can prove works. When you give people the freedom not to join a union, not to be forced to pay union dues, that’s not a political idea. Some people try to make it a political idea, but it is a basic right, a basic freedom that is an American idea that we can show works for the benefit of 100 percent of Americans.
We as conservatives want to do everything we can to make sure that every American can reach that ladder of opportunity and climb as high as they can dream.
Ed Feulner stated the vision of the Heritage Foundation, of building an America where freedom and opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish. If you translate that to the individual level, what we’re saying is that we as conservatives want to do everything we can to make sure that every American can reach that ladder of opportunity and climb as high as they can dream. We’re about serving 100 percent of Americans, not just those who think the way that we do or vote the way that we want them to do. Because our ideas help the poor and those who are disadvantaged more than anyone else, and we can prove it.
And that’s one of the things that we’re going to focus on over the next few years at Heritage. We’re going to focus on success stories of children who get better schools, adults who get better jobs, and families who build a better future because their states have adopted conservative ideas. We’re going to work with coalitions of states all over the country who are coming together now for initiatives on conservative ideas. One state helps another. That’s what happened in states like Wisconsin. It wasn’t just folks there, but people from all over the country who believe in those ideas and have seen them work came together and supported them in one state, and now we’re going to other states with other ideas.
And as Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action, we’re going to pull together those coalitions. We’re going to have the forums of people to talk about the successes that they’ve had in their states if they eliminate their income tax and the businesses that come there, or if they reform their litigation system so that lawsuits are not so prevalent and businesses can succeed and they have a regulatory framework that allows jobs to be created. And what you’re seeing across America is you’ve got about half of our states now moving in the right direction, accepting positive, optimistic conservative ideas with great outcomes. You see other states who are going down the liberal progressive route and they’re failing.
The good news for us as conservatives, if we stay vigilant, if we continue to build this infrastructure of freedom across the country at the state level, is when the big government liberal ideas fail, the people are going to come to us. And they need to know that there’s a good alternative, because the reason now people are embracing education choice who just a few years ago opposed it is because they see the successes, they see the children who are succeeding, they see the change that it’s making to their state. We’re going to show these successes as Heritage Foundation and continue to build on this infrastructure of freedom that Ed Feulner has built over the last 40 years.
I am more optimistic than I’ve ever been because I know that these liberal policies are going to fall flat right in front of our faces at the federal and at some of the state levels. And as we build this alternative architecture and as we give people positive choices, you’re going to see them gravitating to us. I think we may be in a better position than we ever have. As Ed talked about, the Heritage Foundation is doing things that even I had no idea they were doing. I didn’t know until I went through the building the other day that they had the best legal minds in the country training lawyers to go in front of the Supreme Court to argue for property rights. On any given day, you’ve got the communication experts at Heritage meeting with dozens and dozens of bloggers who have millions and millions of people reading their blogs, briefing them on the policies that we need to be working on at the national level, encouraging people all over the country to call their congressman and senators and tell them to balance the budget.
I saw Mike Needham with Heritage Action last week pull together dozens of conservative groups, who again have millions of people on their email and mailing list, talking about how we need to push the House Republicans to move in the right way on this debt ceiling debate and this whole spending debate and how do we push them towards balancing a budget. I and a number of other people at Heritage last week were meeting with a number of state conservative think tanks through the State Policy Network to build initiatives all over the country. We’re building a grassroots network to build consensus around the right ideas so that we pressure the people in Washington and at the state level to do the right thing.
I wouldn’t have left the Senate if I didn’t think that Heritage was the center and the power behind the conservative movement in this country.
I wouldn’t have left the Senate if I didn’t think that Heritage was the center and the power behind the conservative movement in this country. I appreciate you being here. I joined the Heritage; I hope that you will join me in whatever way you can – financially or in just working with us and building our coalitions here and around the country – because now is the time for us. As President Obama said, “We were made for this time.” He’s trying to take it one way, but America needs to go the complete opposite direction. We have the people behind us with the right ideas if we can just show it to them. That’s our job at the Heritage Foundation.
For years, we’ve been on the outside looking in at the Republican Party, hoping that they would take some of our ideas. In the future, we’re going to make our ideas so pervasive, so persuasive to the American people that the Republicans, the Libertarians, the Independents, and even the Democrats are going to have to embrace those ideas to get elected. We’re going to make it happen because the ideas work and we can prove that they work by the successes all around the country. That’s our job and that’s our challenge. I hope you’ll join me at the Heritage Foundation.