President’s Address: Advancing Ideas Whose Time Have Come

“As we celebrate these first recipients of our Speaker Franklin Awards, I’m reminded of the great British Statesman Edmund Burke who once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Thank you, Don, Michael, and Allan for refusing to stand by and do nothing. People like you give us hope that we can indeed triumph over evil.

I would also like to thank the many people in this room who are also engaged in this battle to preserve Life, Liberty, and Property.

First, the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Foundation who provide both the financial support and oversight for our important work. Thank you for your commitments to our Cause.

Thanks to the staff of the Commonwealth Foundation and the volunteers who helped make this evening possible.

Finally, thanks to the legislators who are here with us this evening. These men and women represent what is good and decent in our General Assembly. They are in the trenches fighting to limit government, advance economic freedom, and promote individual responsibility in our Commonwealth. So thank you for taking your oath of public office so seriously.

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I know the night is late, so I will keep my remarks short.

It was the 19th-century author, poet and playwright Victor Hugo who said: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, that is an idea whose time has come.”

John Maynard Keynes – born the same year Karl Marx died, and someone you won’t find me quoting very often – said that “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.”

In other words, everything – I mean everything – begins with an idea. That’s not profound, of course. But every idea that has ever come to fruition needed a champion – someone who would carry its banner.

IDEAS. That is what the Commonwealth Foundation is all about.

Indeed, it was an idea in 1776, to declare “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

This idea, however, turned the world upside down.

So for 17 years, the Commonwealth Foundation has been the champion of ideas. Ideas grounded in the founding principles of limited constitutional government, economic and political freedom, and personal responsibility for one’s actions.

We have been the ones reminding citizens and policymakers that “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.”

Today, of course, we are suffering the consequences of the idea of Big Government.

So we should not be surprised that when government spending in Pennsylvania increased at a faster pace than in any other state except Mississippi during the 1990s, that we also rank amongst the worst in the nation in job growth, income growth, and population growth.

Pennsylvania has become Exhibit A proving the axiom that “You can have government growth or you can have economic growth, but you can’t have both!”

For years, the Commonwealth Foundation has been championing the idea of putting limits on the growth in state government spending.

Our idea is simple: Government can’t grow any faster than the growth of our economy in general.

This may very well be an idea whose time has finally come. Winding their way through the General Assembly are statutory and constitutional proposals that would slow the growth rate of state government spending.

And if Gov. Rendell would keep his promise to “make government live within its means,” he will embrace these common-sense spending limits.

Regardless, we will continue to champion the ideas of fiscal discipline and spending restraint.

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This war of ideas is being waged on other policy fronts in Harrisburg.

Whether it is the battle to give parents more choices in how and where their children are educated, or challenging laws that force employees to pay hundreds of dollars every year to labor unions as a condition of employment, the Commonwealth Foundation will continue to champion the ideas that will make us a freer, more prosperous and more civilizedpeople.

When I think of the Commonwealth Foundation’s role in Harrisburg, I’m reminded of Ben Franklin’s view of Democracy. He said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. But Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

Our goal at the Commonwealth Foundation is to make sure that lamb has plenty of ammunition. So with your help, we can continue to advance ideas that will not sacrifice freedom for security or principle for power.

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As I noted earlier, the Commonwealth Foundation has been around forawhile. In fact – and I don’t mean to date anyone in the room – but a number of people here helped launch this little think tank in 1988, and they are still laboring in the fields today.

Nearly two decades ago, a few Pennsylvanians had the Big Idea that Pennsylvania needed a free-market think tank to help defend and advance those Ideas that made our Commonwealth great.

One of those people was Alex McKenna – the founding Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation. He understood that ideas matter.

Although I never had the honor of meeting Mr. McKenna, I’m told I would have loved this soft-spoken, but deeply passionate man. As you can see from his brief biography in your program, he believed whole-heartedly in our free-enterprise system and committed both time and resources to defending and expanding it.

Mr. McKenna served as the Commonwealth Foundation Chairman of the Board from 1988 until his passing in 1995.

But his legacy and commitment to advancing freedom in Pennsylvania and across the nation continues through the work of the Philip M. McKenna and Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundations, located in Latrobe.

So it my pleasure to honor the memory of Mr. Alex G. McKenna with the President’s Award for his vision and passion to establish and lead the Commonwealth Foundation in 1988.

Accepting our token of appreciation for Mr. McKenna is Mr. T. William Boxx, son-in-law of Alex, and current president of the Philip M. McKenna Foundation. However, Bill is also receiving our President’s Award tonight because tomorrow, at our board meeting, Bill will conclude his tenure as our Chairman, having served in that capacity since 1995.

Bill’s passion for advancing the ideas of freedom is evident by his numerous activities beyond the Commonwealth Foundation. But it has been his guidance and leadership of the Commonwealth Foundation that has positioned us well organizationally to see more and more of our ideas come to fruition.

So please join me in honoring both Alex McKenna and Bill Boxx for their steadfast leadership and commitment to the cause of freedom in Pennsylvania.

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Thank you again for joining us for tonight’s celebration.”