[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 6, 1998]
[Pages 1996-1998]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Dedication Ceremony 
in Highfill, Arkansas
November 6, 1998

    Thank you so much, Secretary Slater, for your support of this 
project and your terrific work. Thank you, Administrator Garvey, Senator 
Hutchinson, Congressman Hutchinson, Senator-elect Blanche Lambert 
Lincoln. Now, up here in northwest Arkansas, from my point of view, 
she's got the best of all worlds; she's a Democrat with a Republican 
last name. [Laughter] I want you to get to know her; you'll like her a 
    Congressman Dickey, Congressman Hammerschmidt, Mr. Green, thank you 
for your marvelous work here. Mr. Bowler, thank you for bringing 
American Eagle here. I want to thank the Springdale Band and the 
Fayetteville Choir. I thought they both did a superb job.
    You know--I've got all these notes, but I don't really want to use 
them today. I was flying home today, and I have to begin by bringing you 
greetings from two people who were with me this morning who, for 
different reasons, wanted to come and couldn't. One is the First Lady, 
Hillary, who wanted me to tell her friends in northwest Arkansas hello 
and to say she wished she could be here. And the other is Senator 
Bumpers, who has a sinus condition and was told by his doctor not to get 
on the airplane, although I told him I thought it was a pretty nice 
plane I was trying to bring him down here in--[laughter]--and that we 
were trying to demonstrate that northwest Arkansas had a world-class 
airport. But he asked to be remembered to you.
    I want to thank my good friend, former Chief of Staff, and our Envoy 
to Latin America, Mack McLarty, for being here. And all of you all out 
here--I've been looking out in this crowd at so many people I've known 
for 25 years, many more--I've been sort of reliving the last 25 years. I 
think I should begin by saying that in every project like this, there 
are always a lot of people who work on it. Rodney mentioned that many 
years ago, Senator Fulbright, who was my mentor, had the idea of there 
ought to be an airport here. I know how long Congressman Hammerschmidt 
has worked on this. This project started in the planning stage under the 
Bush administration, and we completed it. We had bipartisan support, and 
as Senator Hutchinson said, invoking our friend Senator McCain, we had 
bipartisan opposition to it as well. [Laughter]
    And I have found that there is in any project like this a certain 
squeaky wheel factor; there are people that just bother you so much that 
even if you didn't want to do it, you'd go on and do it anyway. And I 
would like to pay a certain special tribute to the people who were 
particular squeaky wheels to me, starting with Alice Walton, who wore me 
out--[laughter]--Uvalde and Carol Lindsey, who guilt-peddled me about 
every campaign they'd ever worked for me in; and Dale Bumpers, who made 
me relive every favor he'd ever done for me for 20 years. [Laughter] 
Now, there were others as well, but I want to especially thank them.
    I want to say to all of you, I'm delighted to see Helen Walton here 
and members of the Walton family. I, too, wish Sam were here to see this 
day. I thank J.B. Hunt, who talked to me about this airport. George 
Billingsly once said, ``You remember, I gave you the first contribution 
you ever got in Benton County; now build that airport.'' [Laughter] I 
have a lot of stories about this airport. I want you to understand how 
high public policy is made in Washington. [Laughter] And we're all 
laughing about this, but the truth is, this is a good thing, and it 
needed to be done.
    You know, when I was a boy growing up in Arkansas--Tim talked about 
how we were all raised to believe you could build a wall around 
Arkansas--we thought in the beginning, for a long time, that roads would 
be our salvation. Forty-two years ago President Eisenhower signed the 
Federal Aid Highway Act into law, a bill sponsored by the Vice 
President's father,

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Albert Gore, Sr., in the United States Senate. And it did a lot of good 
for America and a lot of good for Arkansas. And a lot of trucking 
companies in this State did a lot of good with it, and a lot of poultry 
companies, like Tyson's and others, made the most of those roads. And 
then we began to see that air traffic was important as well. And 
Secretary Slater talked a lot about that. And I got tickled when Senator 
Hutchinson was talking about transporting apples from Hiwassee by 
railroad in the twenties. I thought to myself, I wonder if I'm the first 
President who has ever known how to get to Hiwassee? [Laughter]
    But I got to thinking about that and how now we move from 
interstates to highways, and the people--all these people I've mentioned 
today, Senator Hutchinson, Senator Bumpers, Senator Pryor, certainly 
Congressman Hammerschmidt, and Congressman Hutchinson now, and Secretary 
Slater, and before him, Secretary Pena, and all the people in Northwest 
Arkansas and their supporters--understand today if you can't fly, you 
can't compete. But if you can fly, you can soar to new heights. Today in 
a sentence, at long last, northwest Arkansas can fly.
    And this means a lot to me. When I was landing here, I called all my 
Secret Service detail leaders together and I said, ``I want you guys to 
look out the window. This is where I started my political career. I've 
been on every one of these roads.'' And we were sitting here, 
Congressman Hammerschmidt reached over and he said, ``You know, your 
career, the career that led you to the Presidency, really started 24 
years ago last Tuesday.'' What he didn't say was, comma, ``when I beat 
you like a drum up here for Congress.'' [Laughter] But I learned a lot 
in that race. And ever since, driving into all the little towns and 
hamlets in this area, then as Governor, flying in and out of northwest 
Arkansas and all the airports that were up here, I have known for a long 
time that this could bring opportunity and empowerment, access to 
markets, a boom to tourism--all of this will happen.
    And what I'd like to ask all of you to think about is to think of 
this airport--and it's not just going from here to Chicago but from here 
to tomorrow. I am glad to tell you that the FAA will release today a $5 
million letter of intent for continued development of this airport.
    I'm glad to say that we have not abandoned our bipartisan 
commitment, we Arkansans, to other kinds of transportation. When the 
Congress passed, with the vote of every Member of Congress here present, 
and I signed the Transportation Equity Act this year, it will mean $100 
million more a year over the next 6 years to the State of Arkansas 
alone. And it, too, will do a lot of good to take us to the future.
    We are committed also to modernizing the air traffic system. Our air 
traffic control system, with the new investments we're making in 
aviation service and infrastructure, will now be able to better handle 
the--listen to this--the 50 percent increase in global air travel we 
expect in just the next 7 years.
    Our policy has helped our airlines and aerospace industries return 
to profitability. Now we're finalizing new means to promote more 
competition and lower fares at home. We've signed more than 60 
agreements to expand air service with other nations, opening skies above 
as we open markets below.
    We're also trying to do more to make sure those skies are safe and 
secure. Under the Vice President's leadership, with the joint efforts of 
the FAA and NASA and the airline industry, we're working to convert our 
air traffic control system to satellite technology, to change the way we 
inspect older aircraft, and most important over the long run, to combat 
terrorism with new equipment, new agents, new methods.
    In the world of the future, we'll need great airports; we'll need 
wonderful airplanes; we'll need well-trained--well-trained pilots and 
people to maintain those airplanes. Our prosperity, more and more, will 
depend upon keeping the world's skies safe, secure, and open.
    I've got to mention one other personal thing. I saw Lieutenant 
Governor Rockefeller here, and he probably has to hide it around 
election time, but when we were younger men we studied in Oxford, 
England, together--when people typically took a boat. Now, people our 
age then look at me when I tell them I took 6 days to get from here to 
England and they think I need my head examined. We are moving around 
very fast now.
    And the last thing I'd like to ask you to think about is where we 
are going and how we're going to get there. We'll have better roads; 
we'll have better airports; we'll have safer air travel. But to me, as I 
have seen all the people before me speak, the people that really did the 

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all I had to do as President was to make sure my budget office didn't 
kill these requests and to make sure everybody I knew knew that I was 
personally supportive of this. But the Members of Congress and the 
others here present, the citizens, they did all the work. And all of you 
who worked on this--I saw the leaders stand up when their names were 
called--to me, this symbolizes America at its best: people working on a 
common objective, across party lines, putting people first, thinking 
about the future. It's a symbol of what I have tried to do in the 6 
years I have been in Washington. And I learned most of what I know 
driving around on these backroads.

    And I just want to tell all of you that I thank you for the role 
that you have played in helping to bring this country to the point where 
we not only have a surplus for the first time in 29 years but the lowest 
percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, the lowest unemployment in 
28 years, the lowest crime rate in 25 years, the highest homeownership 
in history, with the smallest Government in Washington since the last 
time John Glenn orbited the Earth. And I am proud of that.

    And what I ask you to think about is that we are--all of us--living 
in a smaller and smaller world, where our interdependence and our own 
power depends upon our constructive interdependence with our friends and 
neighbors beyond our borders, the borders of our region, our State, our 
Nation. If we're going to build a pathway to the future, we have to 
build it with air travel; we have to build it with the Internet; we have 
to build it with modern medical and scientific research; and we have to 
build it by giving every child--without regard to income, race, region, 
or background--a world-class education. We have to build it by 
recognizing that all the differences that exist in this increasingly 
diverse country--I know there are churches here in northwest Arkansas 
that now have service in Spanish on Sunday, which would have been 
unthinkable 24 years ago when I first started traipsing around on these 
roads. All of that is a great blessing, if we decide, when we soar into 
the future, we're all going to take the flight together.

    You built this airport together. Take it into the future together. 
Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 3:05 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to 
former Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt; Stan Green, chairman, and 
George Billingsly, member, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport 
Authority; Peter Bowler, president, American Eagle Airlines; Alice 
Walton, chair emeritus, Northwest Arkansas Council, and her mother, 
Helen, widow of Sam Walton, founder, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Uvalde 
Lindsey, secretary-treasurer, and his wife, Carol, president, Ozark 
International Consultants; J.B. Hunt, founder and senior chairman, J.B. 
Hunt Transport, Inc.; former Senator David H. Pryor; and Lt. Gov. 
Winthrop P. Rockefeller of Arkansas.