Lamar Alexander
Press Conference
Tennessee State Capitol
August 16, 1999
[transcript]

Thank you for coming. I may learn a lesson from this; I seem to be attracting more attention getting out than I did getting in. So thank you very much for being here.

Iím ending my campaign for the presidency today. My heart tells me to keep going and so do a lot of telephone calls this morning but thereís really no realistic way to do that.

My purpose in running for the presidency was to push to the top of the national agenda two issuesóparents and schools. And in my conversations with the other candidates today and in the coming weeks, Iím going to encourage them to pick up the two most important ideas that I advanced. Number one that we triple the tax deduction for each child to $8,000ómake it worth what it used to beóand extend that deduction to care of an elderly relative, and number two that we create a pilot $1,500 HOPE scholarship for middle- and low- income children to give them choices of good, safe neighborhood schools.

Iíve been privileged to see this country, this magnificent country, in a way that very few people have ever seen it. I wouldnít swap those experiences for anything. Honey and our family and our friends, both here in Tennessee and across this country have been enormously loyal and enormously generous, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am especially grateful to Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, our national campaign chairman, and to Ted Welch, our national finance chairman, and to our staff and to hundreds of volunteers across this country. And I hope that the successful Republican nominee for president of the United States, whomever he or she may be, does a remarkably good job of bringing out the best in our country as we face what ought to be an exciting new century.

Iíll be glad to take your questions.
 

QUESTION: Do you have any plans or are you at this point endorsing anyone?

My plans are to make every Titan and UT football game. I started out last night watching the Chiefs and Titans play. I do not have plans to endorse anybody. I campaigned on the idea that we ought have a contest. That our country and our party is much better off when, particularly with this new generation of candidates, when we put us out there and see what weíre made of. Iíd a lot rather for us to find out in the middle of a Republican primary whoís ready to be president than find out in the middle of a debate with Albert Gore that weíve nominated someone whoís not ready to be president.

So I would like to see the contest continue. I said yesterday in some remarks that there is a powerful force for George W. Bushís nomination in this country, and I saw it in Iowa last weekend. But I also saw in that group of 25,000 Republicans a powerful interest in a contest, and in a contest on the issues. So weíll be better off if the contest runs.

You may not have heard it in Tennessee, but I proposed in Iowa that we not only have an 11th Commandment in the Republican party, which is thou shalt speak no ill of any other Republican, but we need a twelfth one, which is when picking a president thou shalt have a contest; the contest shall be on the issues.

QUESTION: ÖIs there any source to the rumor that you might come to Vanderbilt?

No thereís not. Iíll come to study or Iíll come to football games, but that wouldnít be a good fit for me nor do I think it would be a good fit for Vanderbilt.

QUESTION: Theyíve asked you though.

Theyíve not. Someone asked if I would be interested and I told them what I just told you, that I think Vanderbilt is an extraordinarily fine institution but that wouldnít be the right fit me nor for Vanderbilt.

QUESTION: Governor, what is next in your career plans?

I donít have any plans. Iíve had an exciting, interesting life. This may be the first time in a long time that I havenít had specific plans. But rest, relaxation. Well Iíve got a mill I want to build up in East Tennessee and even a tree house Iíve been thinking about. So Iíve got a few projects in mind, but Iím going to settle back and take a look at life. For Honey and for me this is [pause] a different period of our lives is what Iím searching to say, so for the first time in a long time weíll have some extra time, and weíll see how we decide to spend that.

QUESTION: Would you consider governor again?

No thank you, Drew [laughter]. I loved being governor of Tennessee; I loved bringing out the best in this state, but two terms is enough for me and I think for anybody.

QUESTION: Are you going to rule out any future run for any office?

Jim, this has been my last campaign. Iíve run for president twice, just as I ran for governor twice. In my first race for the presidency we did pretty well; we did better in the New Hampshire primary than President Bush did the first time he ran or than Bob Dole did the first time he ran, so we had a good run and I think I earned the right to run for the second time, but this is my last campaign for public office.

QUESTION: Governor you talked a lot about having a contest. Do you think thereís too much emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire at the expense of the rest of the voters out there?

No thereís not too much emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire. Those are terrific places. If we could make the values of Iowa, the values of the country weíd be a better country. I know Iowa well enough to know that. The values there are strong families, good schools, the most efficient agriculture in the world, fine universities, civilityóthose are good values.

If there were something we could change in the process, and Iím not here today to make any kind of excuses about it, it would be to make it less reliant on money. Itís become more of a media-money contest, and even in Iowa, which was always the place where you could spend, oh two hours with twelve farmers or your crowds might come up to four or five and it still made sense and you learned a lot, and you met special education teachers who were spending too much time on paperwork and hog farmers who were losing their farms and teachers who had a lot to say to you or older people worried about Social Security--weíre losing that even in Iowa. And Iowa is becoming more of a media event. Itís important, but itís simply the first media event in a long series. And too much of the emphasis in the early years is based upon money, and thatís not healthy for our country.

Weíre talking about the biggest job in the world; weíre talking about making decisions about sending your grandchildren to fight a war or improving your schools, and we ought to relax and allow a contest to proceed and let the best men and women compete until the race attracts the attention of the American people. And that really comes a couple of weeks before the elections. So if we continue down the path of rushing to squeeze people out of the race a long time before the race starts, before anybody casts a vote, we may find a large number of unhappy and cynical and frustrated voters about the first of the year when they turn around and look at the presidential race and they donít find many choices. And they may be saying, "Hey wait a minute, I thought I was supposed to decide this." So itís not Iowa and New Hampshire, itís a focus on money and itís a rush to judgement which I think is premature.

QUESTION: Do you believe a shoe-leather campaign such as yours is obsolete now?

Well the shoe-leather campaign such as mine didnít get me as far as I would like for it to have gone. And certainly any candidate who wants to win the Iowa caucus will have to think twice about spending more time going to Rock Valley and Belle Plaine and Eldridge and Clinton as I did, and will probably spend more time raising money and holding media events. I think thatís unfortunate. For the last thirty-five years the shoe leather campaign in Iowa has made a big difference. My guess is unless things change, it wonít make as much difference in the future.

QUESTION: Governor, back to your endorsement statement, does that mean that somewhere down the road you still wonít endorse anyone?

Oh I might Deran[?]. Iím going to watch and see. Iíll do what most voters do I think; Iíll form my opinion as time goes along. Governor Bush is our favorite. I donít think thereís a frontrunner; I argued this very strongly the other day with one of the reporters. I donít think thereís a frontrunner until somebody votes. Nobody votes until next January. But Governor Bush is the favorite. He is a very attractive candidate. He has the advantage of having several years of executive experience which I think is all in his favor, but thereís some other good candidates in that field as well and I think they ought to be considered carefully and ought to have a chance to show us that might be the best one to deal with war and peace and life and death and the amount of money in our pockets.

QUESTION: Did we ask you about vice president?

You didnít, but you didnít need to. [laughter].

QUESTION (follow up)Ö vice president?

The answerís no.

QUESTION (follow up)Ö inaudible

They do and Senator Thompson and Senator Frist would be terrific candidates for vice president. [laughter].

QUESTION: Sir do you think the national media gave you a fair shake?

I would like for the national media to have given me more of a shake. Unfortunately whatís on television in the year as we run up to the election makes an enormous amount of difference, and if Ted Welch and I awake every day and it says that George Bush is already elected, Lamar Alexander has no chance to win, that makes our job pretty difficult, even if Iím a good candidate and heís the best fundraiser, to persuade people to give us money. So sometime later I might have more to say about that, and I understand news judgements have to be made, but the power of television is so important that, particularly in the year it comes up, not to be invited to appear on major television shows, to constantly be pictured as not capable of winning, long before thereís a chance to present your views, that makes it more difficult and it makes it impossible to raise money.

The rush to judgement plus the thousand dollar limit will weed out most of the people who are likely to run for president. If weíre not careful weíll end up with a race between only the rich and the already famous. I mean we might have Donald Trump versus Cher [laugther might be what we can look forward to in 2004. I hesitate to say that because I said that about a month ago and next thing I heard Donald Trump was running so. [laughter].

QUESTION: How about Honey, sheíd make a good candidate.

Honey: Thank you, Drew.

Lamar: Honey can speak for herselfÖ

QUESTION: Governor, how do you feel about having spent those six years of work and all that youíve put into it brought to a halt by what is essentially a popularity contest? Even as you said, nobodyís even voted yet.

Well Iím disappointed. But I wouldnít swap a minute of it. I would do it all over again in a minute. I mean Iíve had a tremendous number of wonderful experiences. Iíve seen this country as very few people have a chance to see it, and Iíve seen how it works and Iíve seen how it can work. I mean this is a marvelous, marvelous country.

I was in Belle Plaine, Iowa the other night at the home of a mechanic whoís a tenant farmer. He got involved in my campaign four years ago and he still had his red and black shirt and he invited me to come there and meet his friends. I spent two hours. C-SPAN happened to be there. A week later I was in one of the ritziest apartments on Park Avenue in New York and they had all watched my visit to Belle Plaine, Iowa, and they wanted to know what they thought of Belle Plaine, Iowa. And you can see how this process can work, even in this big diverse country, if its given a chance to continue.

So I donít like having to get out; Iíd like to stay in. I saw that Phillip Fulmer [sp?] said the other day that his goal as the University of Tennessee coach was to be in at the end and then play to win. Thatís where Iíd like to be. Last time when I did that I was at three or four percent in the polls three weeks before the Iowa caucus and I came very close to winning it and next thing you knew I was tied with Bob Dole in New Hampshire. So I know what can happen in the last weeks. But Iím also realistic and I know that at this stage in the campaign, as much as my heart tells me Iíd like to go on, I realistically canít do it and the primary reason is money.

QUESTION: inaudible

Jim, I really havenít decided. Iíve had a pretty lucky life. Thirty years ago I became interested in politics because of Howard Baker, and then got a taste of it as governor, and the time I spent as governor has been the best part of my life because I watched our state change. I saw us bring out the best in it. I know a governor doesnít do that, but the governor can help create that environment. And it was that opportunity that caused me to want to run for president.

Now Iím grown up enough to know that just because you want to do something and you think you'd be good at doing something, doesn't mean  that persuades the majority of people you ought to do it.  So I can accept the fact that you know I wanted to do it, worked hard to do it, enjoyed that, that I won't be able to do that.  I'm going to step back and look at the rest of my life and see what there is to do.  The longevity tables are running longer these days and I may be able to contribute a lot before I'm through.

QUESTION: Why do you think that Mr. Bush is doing as well as he is?

You know, I don't know, and I'm not sure he knows. And I guess it doesn't matter as long as he is doing well.  Part of it is because his parents are among the most respected family in our country, part of it is because he is the governor of a big state, part of it is because he has had a good first term and he's an attractive candidate and Republicans are desperate for a winner and he looks like he might be one.

My only argument in the campaign was, a winner is someone who can beat Al Gore in a debate, and we better have a rehearsal before we pick our candidate.  And a president is somebody who can send your kid to fight a war and we better make sure that person is ready to do the job.   Mr. Bush may be, and if he is the Republican leadership and most of the news media will be delighted because they've got a lot invested in his frontrunning status.  And perhaps after a good contest, he'll be the strongest nominee, and if he is I'll be happy about that.  I talked with him this morning and wished him well and told him of my plans, and I think he's a very promising candidate and I look forward to seeing how he does in the contest that's coming up.

QUESTION: If he were elected would you accept a post in his administration?

As far as I'm looking ahead is the football schedule and spending some time at home and going to the cabin and winding up the campaign in an orderly way and thanking
lots of people who've been generous and loyal to this campaign.  Thank you.

QUESTION: inaudible

Tom, well know more about that in a few weeks.  All our bills are paid up to thirty days and they'll all be paid off in the next two or three weeks.  We may have a little debt; we may have a large debt.  I'll have to wait and see.  But we pay our bills as we go along and we'll not have a problem with that.

QUESTION: inaudible

No I'm through having fundraisers in Tennessee.  I've had plenty of those.  Thank you very much for coming.

QUESTION: Governor, one last question [inaudible]... who specifically are you refering to?

Oh, did I say that?  I meant that the environment and circumstances made it impossible for me to continue. And what makes it hard for me to continue is waking up every day to a report that George W. Bush is already elected and that Lamar Alexander has no chance to win. Maybe that's true. But after it's been repeated every day for a few months it's more likely to be true and it makes it virtually impossible to raise money, and when that happens you can't continue.  So I'm not a big conspiracy person; I have no excuses; I take responsibility for the campaign.  I'm here to look ahead not to look back and to complement those who are still in.  I'm just trying to face facts; I think I faced them honestly today.  Thank you. [applause].

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ema 8/16/99