Secretary Ray LaHood
--Remarks as Prepared--
Ronald Reagan Statue Unveiling
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Thank you, Chairman Snelling, for that great introduction. Thank you, Secretary Dole and Secretary Burnley, two of America’s finest transportation secretaries, for honoring us with your presence and participation. And thank you, Fred Ryan, for your leadership in making this day – and this statue – possible.
Every year, millions of people travel through Ronald Reagan National Airport. They are visitors, whose hearts skip a beat when they reach the 14th Street Bridge and catch their first glimpse of the Washington Monument, with the Capitol dome glowing in the distance. They are business travelers, rushing to and from meetings downtown. They are Members of Congress, racing to make the last flight home after doing the people’s business in our nation’s capital.
Beginning today, each and every one of them will see this beautiful statue on their journey. As they do, they will be reminded of the man who believed it was always morning in America.
Future generations will celebrate a President Reagan cast in bronze. But many of us here were fortunate to meet or know him in life. We knew his radiant warmth; his contagious optimism; his rare ability to bring staunch political adversaries to the negotiating table – and then to win them over.
Now, I may be biased, but I believe one of the most underappreciated elements of the Reagan presidency was his unwavering support for our nation’s transportation system. That’s why it’s so fitting that this airport bears President Reagan’s name. As he himself said, on many occasions, “America’s transportation system is a special part of our heritage.” In his typically wonderful phrasing, President Reagan argued that it – quote – “has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely and easily to every corner of our land.”
Of course, as many of you know, President Reagan didn’t just talk the talk when it came to creating jobs by investing in America’s roads, bridges, transit systems, and airports. He walked the walk, too.
Twenty-nine years ago this month, this Republican president asked a Democratic-controlled House and Senate to approve major legislation putting their constituents back to work rebuilding America’s transportation systems. Within 40 days, they answered – enacting a significant, bipartisan transportation jobs bill that helped to rebuild our country.
This week, the United States Senate will consider the transportation portion of President Obama’s American Jobs Act. This legislation will make a similar investment in construction jobs – and in all the economic development and economic opportunities that follow them.
I think we’d all be well-served to remember: There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican roadway, railway, or runway. There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican job rebuilding our roadways, railways, and runways, as President Reagan understood so well.
Some of you know that, when I served in Congress, I represented a district that includes Eureka College, from which President Reagan graduated in 1932. To remind myself of his legacy, I keep a small plaque on my desk with a quote from the Gipper. It’s a replica of something he kept on his own desk in the Oval Office. It says, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”
I hope that this week these words ring true. We owe it to the families, friends, and neighbors of people all across this country to put them back to work on job sites in all 50 states. And that’s what the transportation portion of the American Jobs Act will do.
As President Reagan understood in his time, we have hundreds of thousands of people looking for their jobs back. We have transportation systems that need rebuilding. And now is the moment to connect these people who need work with the work that needs to be done – without concern for who gets the credit.
So, to me, when I see this beautiful monument, the message to all of us is clear. The way we best honor President Reagan’s legacy is not just with memorials, but by following his example.
And if our Washington can accomplish what his did – if our Washington can enact a transportation jobs bill that puts people back to work rebuilding our country – then we will carry forward a cause that President Reagan cared for deeply and we will affirm, once again, that America’s best days are still to come. Thank you all very much.