Governor Vilsack, Governor Ray, Lt. Governor Coming, Chief Justice Lavorato, members of the Court, distinguished elected officials, family, friends, and Iowans everywhere, it is an honor to be here.
Four years ago, when I first had the privilege of taking the oath of office of lieutenant governor, I thought I knew Iowa. After all, I was born here, went to school here, and lived here all my life.
Boy, was I wrong.
During the past four years, I have had the privilege to work with Governor Vilsack on issues ranging from workforce development to mental health to ending domestic violence and child abuse. Governor, I have appreciated your commitment to making me a full partner in all the decisions of this administration, in word and in deed.
This job of lieutenant governor also has given me an opportunity to learn about Iowa and Iowans in ways I never could have imagined. One of the most surprising experiences in this learning process was my weeklong discover Iowa tour in the spring of 2001.
In an effort to promote more tourism by Iowans within Iowa, I visited the arts, cultural, and historical attractions of 36 communities in every comer of our state. I discovered a vibrant arts and cultural scene of which I was only vaguely aware, despite all my years of living here.
Our ethnic heritage is celebrated with the foods and customs and arts of the Native American, English, German, Italian, Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, Czech, French, Danish, African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Mexican, Bosnian, and Sudanese.
All have been newcomers in their time. Each has added richness and texture to our communities and to our state. On this wonderful tour of the world within Iowa, I relearned the power of the arts to teach and inspire us in ways that nothing else can.
And I rediscovered that, despite all the differences in our backgrounds and traditions, there are common values that unite us. One of those Iowa values is our spirit of community; of neighbor helping neighbor; of reaching out to those in need.
Four years ago, in my inaugural address, I pledged to honor that spirit by volunteering once a week somewhere in Iowa. And week after week, whether for an hour or an afternoon, this has been one of my most rewarding, inspiring, and encouraging experiences.
I have had the opportunity to work side by side with hundreds of Iowans, young and old, in communities large and small, as we have tried to make a difference and make Iowa a better place to work and live.
Of the hundreds of projects on which I worked, some stand out, like the Saturday spent clearing brush in the loess hills near Council Bluffs, or the afternoon leading a sing-a-long at the nursing home in Ames, or helping blind students with the band saw in the industrial arts class at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving school, or serving a meal at a domestic violence shelter in rural Iowa, or interviewing a young student looking for a match at the "Big Brother Big Sister" program in Sioux City.
But perhaps the experience that stands out most in my mind is the day that I helped with a craft project at the day center for dependent adults in Cedar Falls.
In one of those mysterious incidents that touch us in a special way, I found myself face to face with a woman in her late thirties or early forties whom I had known when she was a child. She was the daughter of my high school principal, and she had a mental disability. As a teenager growing up in Vinton, I was her babysitter.
Life is a circle, and somehow, in that moment, I understood how everything about my life had prepared me in some small way for my current responsibilities.
Governor Vilsack said in his inaugural address four years ago: "Iowa is great because Iowa is good." I have seen that goodness in citizens and in our shared experience of helping others.
It has confirmed my belief in the importance of honoring volunteerism and in fostering public/private partnerships to make our communities better and stronger. There is so much to do. While we know that government can do a lot, government cannot do it alone. And here in Iowa, it doesn't have to, because all across our state, there are good people making a difference in the world by making a difference in their own communities and neighborhoods.
I have met hundreds of people who have moved to Iowa from other states and countries or who have left Iowa at one time and have now returned. And when I ask them why they want to live in Iowa, they all say something that can be boiled down to the words "quality of life." it is our great schools, our safe streets and communities, our caring neighbors, our good hospitals, and our beautiful land.
It is the 15-minute rush hour or the ease with which you can get tickets to a ball game or the symphony or can participate in a community chorus or little theatre. These are the things native Iowans often take for granted, but that others envy.
One recent transplant from the Big Apple told me, "I love Iowa. I've seen more Broadway shows since I moved here than I saw in all the years I lived in New York."
As we seek to strengthen Iowa in the years ahead, we must place a renewed focus on economic development, because a good job with a future is what will draw and keep people here.
But economic development is about a lot more than just economics. If we are to grow, and grow we must, we need to create an environment attractive to the next generation of dreamers, inventors, and doers. Study after study has shown that good schools, good housing, safe neighborhoods, and amenities from parks and libraries to cultural attractions are even more important than economic factors in a company's choice of where to locate and a family's choice of where to live.
We have that special quality of life here in Iowa. It is a unique ingredient that can help us attract new businesses and new residents to our state. And we must strive to ensure that our special Iowa quality of life is available to all our citizens, no matter their backgrounds or the obstacles they face in life. Among the family of Iowans are racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, gays and lesbians, people with mental illness, the poor, the abused and neglected, and the physically or mentally challenged.
We must call upon the very best of our Iowa values, our sense of community, to remove the barriers that keep us from tapping our full pool of talents as we seek to realize the economic and human potential of our state. .
In the next four years, let us work to create an environment that allows people to step out of the shadow of poverty and abuse and out of the closet of shame and fear; an environment that closes the achievement gap in schools and the workplace; that supports people with disabilities to live and work in the mainstream of community life; that respects the spiritual practices of every faith; that showcases the best of who we are to the rest of the nation and the world.
This is what will inspire young Iowans to build their futures here, and this is what will attract new residents to our state. This is the path to a brighter future, offering hope and opportunity to all our citizens. This is the good Iowa we are -- this is the good Iowa we are and the even greater Iowa we can be. Thank you.