Christine Gregoire

Inaugural Speech - Jan. 12, 2005

Christine Gregoire
January 12, 2005— Olympia, Washington
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Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished justices of the court, honored officials, members of the Washington state legislature, members of the Consular Corps, and fellow citizens:

I am honored and humbled to be your new governor, and to have the opportunity to lead the people of this great state.

As I stand here today, I am mindful that this opportunity – like all the opportunities in this state – are the legacy of those who came before us.

And speaking of legacy – I am especially honored to have former governors Rosellini, Gardner, Lowry and Governor Locke and First Lady Mona Locke here today.

These are our state’s foremost experts on the subject of legacy, and every person in this state owes them a debt of gratitude.

I certainly have many people to thank personally for the legacy I was given.

I have my mom to thank.

As you may know, she was a short order cook and I am very proud of her.

I have her to thank for solid values – forgiveness, compassion, respect and caring -- for my work ethic, and the love she provided me.

She taught me to laugh and enjoy life.

She also taught me one thing over and over again: the importance of education.

I know her proudest moments came when I graduated from college and from law school.

I have Mr. Reis, my sixth grade English teacher, to thank.

Vernon Reis opened the world to me through books.

He taught me that while I was physically firmly planted in blue-collar Auburn, Washington in the 50s and early 60s, intellectually I could go anywhere, explore anything, and sample exciting new ideas simply by opening a book.

Mr. Reis, will you please stand?

I have Fred Faber, a Moses Lake businessman, to thank.

He was like a father to me, and made me a part of his family.

Fred taught me to pursue my dreams – he even paid my tuition to attend law school – and generously and wisely taught me never to let barriers get in the way of your dreams.

While he has passed away, his legacy lives warmly on in my memory and his family is my family.

Allow me to introduce the Faber family.

I have Dr. Chris Griffith, an Olympia surgeon, to thank.

In those dark days after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was truly blessed to have him for support, along with my family and church.

This talented, compassionate, caring surgeon really gets it when it comes to bedside manner, and I can’t imagine going through that terrible ordeal without him.

When I called Dr. Griffith to ask him to come today and thank him again for his support, he wisely noted, “we are all patients at some time in our lives.”

Dr. Griffith could not be with us today; he is in surgery, quite likely saving another life.

I have Father Michael Ryan, who gave today’s invocation, to thank.

Father Mike baptized our daughter Michelle, and to this day, he likes to whisper to me, in a voice loud enough so she can always hear, that if the baptism didn’t take, we can do it again.

Like many of you, my spiritual life guides me, and Father Mike helped me transform my religion into a living faith.

And Father Mike connected our family to one of the anchors in our lives – our church group.

Father Mike, and our church group, will you please stand?

And, of course, I have my family to thank.

I want to thank my wonderful husband and daughters, who, in the last year, have seen me through a bout with cancer, a long campaign, and two recounts.

I would like you to meet the first First Gentleman of this state, Mike Gregoire.

He is the best husband I could have asked for – an outstanding father to our two daughters, and proud veteran who served this country in Vietnam.

He is retired now, and plans to invest his time in working to improve the lives of his fellow veterans.

Our two daughters are Courtney, who is in her last semester at law school, and Michelle, a college sophomore. Mike and I like to say we are getting poorer by degrees.

For all you parents of teenagers, I have some good news for you. If you are as fortunate as Mike and I, you can look forward to seeing your relationship change from a test of wills with a teen, to becoming the best of friends.

And finally, I’d like you to meet some members of my extended family. Some have come from as far away as Florida and North Dakota.

I mention these vital people in my life because we all have a chance to have a positive influence in the lives of others.

We all leave personal legacies for the people we know and love.

And as elected officials, we have a special obligation to leave an even larger legacy of opportunity, prosperity, and optimism.

As we gather here today, it seems fitting to ask, what will our legacy be?

Will we leave a legacy of holding government accountable, cutting through the red tape and breaking down the barriers that hinder business development?

Will we leave a legacy of strong democratic institutions and faith in government?

Will we work to provide health care for every child in this state?

Will we dramatically lower our high school dropout rate, and help every young person fulfill his or her full potential?

That’s exactly what I’m here to do – not alone, but together with all of you, Republican and Democrat alike.

Think about the legacy we have inherited:

Our agricultural products are among the finest in the world.

We have Pacific Rim ports that are major economic engines for our state’s thriving international trade.

We are a global leader in aviation, high-tech, biotech, and health care.

Our state is a magnet for smart, creative people, and we have well-trained workers, and well-educated scientists and entrepreneurs.

We have fine universities, some on the leading edge of research and innovation, and one of the nation’s best systems of community and technical colleges.

In the last decade, our public schools and teachers have done heroic work to raise the academic achievement levels of our children.

We have a rich and diverse cultural heritage, vibrant arts, and a spirit of openness and inclusion.

We are also blessed with a unique legacy of natural resources and landscapes so beautiful they attract tourists from around the world.

We have so much to be thankful for.

It’s our responsibility to pass on what we inherited, not to squander it, but to build on it.

And frankly, I worry about the legacy we may leave.

When citizens don’t have confidence their tax dollars are being used efficiently and effectively, we have work to do.

When we lose 20 percent of our manufacturing jobs in five years, we have work to do.

When half a million people have no health insurance, we have work to do.

When children start kindergarten already behind because they didn’t get early education, we have work to do.

When a third of our high school students don’t finish high school on time, we have work to do.

And when Hood Canal, Puget Sound, Lake Roosevelt, and the Spokane River are polluted, we have work to do.

This is not an easy time to lead.

Much has been written about red states and blue states and the great political divide – not to mention the razor thin governor’s race here.

Many have asked how I can govern without a clear mandate from the voters.

I believe the voters have given all of us a mandate – a mandate to overcome our differences, and to solve problems.

Truly, the challenges we face are not Democratic challenges or Republican challenges.

In fact, they are not political challenges at all; they are fiscal challenges, and educational challenges, and the challenges of figuring out how to take care of each other and create a future worthy of our children.

It is healthy to have differences of opinion about how to rise to these challenges.

It is unhealthy to let those differences paralyze us.

We can leave our legacy only if we are willing to change – to go beyond partisan labels, and to solve the problems facing Washingtonians.

We can build the strength of the center of our political spectrum – that ground where left and right converge and move forward.

This is the imperative of our election.

Our divisions are not nearly as deep as others may think.

All of us basically want the same things: opportunity for our children, and prosperity for our families and communities.

We want state government agencies that are accountable, efficient and effective.

We want affordable health care and college tuition, and successful businesses that provide good jobs.

We want a wholesome culture that makes the most of our diverse heritage.

And we want a clean and sustainable environment that contributes to our quality of life.

Clearly the election recount ordeal of the last two months has challenged us, and among our challenges this session is election reform.

We want every vote to count – and to be counted right the first time.

I will, therefore, create a task force, chaired by Secretary of State Sam Reed, and former State Senator Betti Sheldon, to review our election process and report back to me and to the legislature with recommended reforms by March 1st.

This task force will travel the state and listen carefully to suggestions from citizens on how we can move forward with improvements in our election system.

Speaking of what government must do better, I believe we all agree there is a need for change in Olympia.

Change is here and more is coming.

Let me give you an example of where we are headed.

Today, businesses are regulated by, and pay taxes to multiple government agencies.

They face a blizzard of paperwork, threats of penalties, different due dates, and different definitions of who has to pay what and do what.

And if they have multiple locations or branches, government will multiply the number of forms and regulations they have to cope with.

So I want to make my views about this perfectly clear: No business in Washington should have to put up with all of that.

I believe that the vast majority of regulated businesses want to do the right thing, and we should make that easier instead of harder.

I will propose legislation to establish a new government management accountability and performance approach in state government -- GMAP for short.

We must hold state agencies accountable. We will require agencies to be more effective and efficient in achieving results, and ensuring that public tax dollars are being spent wisely.

This is a significant challenge. And change involves measured risk.

As Governor Booth Gardner once told me, if you are succeeding 10 times out of 10, you’re not taking enough risk.

So I want to say that I am willing to take risks, and willing to tolerate failure as long as we admit it, can learn from it and keep moving forward.

I will challenge agency directors to take good risks, and to pursue innovative changes that make life better for business and for our citizens.

There will be some failures, but we will learn from them and move on.

I will ask a lot of state employees because I intend to pay them fairly, and because I respect and admire them.

In the Attorney General’s office, I was proud that our employees contributed over $5,000 to tsunami relief efforts in 24 hours after that disaster struck.

They didn’t wait for the national appeals. They acted quickly, decisively and generously. They knew they couldn’t single-handedly overcome the tragedy of the tsunami – but they united to do what they could, and they made a positive difference.

We must do the same to address another overwhelming challenge -- political gridlock and escalating prices in our health care system.

There is just no reason why the richest nation in the world can’t provide health care to all its people.

This is a national problem that begs for a national solution.

We can’t truly solve this problem at the state level.

But we can make a difference.

We can expand access to affordable health insurance by providing a pooled state health plan to business, so they can afford to offer insurance to their employees. Every employee should have access to doctors like Chris Griffith.

We can make prescription drugs more affordable by pooling our purchases.

We can make importation of drugs from Canada legal.

And we can set a goal of all our children having health care coverage by 2010.

We all are united in the knowledge that we need to get Washingtonians back to work.

Since 2001, this state has lost nearly 100,000 jobs.

Toward that end, I am proposing the creation of a Life Sciences Discovery Fund to finance new research in two areas: debilitating diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer – and improving the quality and yield of our agricultural crops.

Our state has earned a special bonus because of our leadership in the national tobacco lawsuit.

I want to combine those bonus dollars with private sector and foundation funding to create a $1 billion fund that has the potential to leave a huge legacy of better health, more and better crops, and new jobs and economic opportunity on both sides of the Cascades.

It’s been said that government doesn’t create jobs, business does.

For the most part, this is true.

But government creates the environment in which businesses can excel and expand.

Small businesses, like the one Fred Faber owned, are the backbone of our economy. I will propose tax relief for small and start-up enterprises.

I will make state government a more aggressive and savvy player in economic development, and I will work to bring new jobs to the communities in this state that need them most.

We must be ready to compete in a global economy.

So I will challenge our Competitiveness Council to think globally so we can succeed locally, in every community and every corner of our state.

A strong transportation system is essential to a thriving economy and we have important challenges throughout the state – be it freight mobility concerns in Eastern Washington or the viaduct and Lake Washington bridge issues in Seattle.

I am honored to have Oregon Governor Ted Kulongowski here today. We already have talked about working together to address our interstate bridge issues, and we plan to work together on many other issues in the years ahead.

Like our neighbors in Oregon, we are all challenged by our commitment to high academic standards that prepare every student for good jobs in the 21st century.

In 1993, we passed a sweeping education reform measure that has led to rigorous standards and real school improvement.

The education reform act made our schools accountable for results.

Now we need to make sure we have necessary funding to ensure we will get the results we’re after.

Because this need is urgent, I intend to name a broad-based bipartisan commission to find and propose efficiencies and long-term funding solutions – for early education, K – 12, and our colleges and universities.

This is a very tall order. But education is the foundation on which our future must be built.

We must provide early childhood education and coordinate our early learning programs so that every child starts kindergarten ready to learn.

A mountain of research shows us that when kids start school already behind, many never catch up.

That’s why we must make sure that every child gets the early learning that is the foundation for a successful life.

We know the positive power of teachers like Mr. Reis to help every child thrive.

We also know the consequences when children lack that vital connection with a caring teacher.

We cannot keep the faith with our children if we betray our commitments to their teachers.

That’s why we need to fund cost-of-living pay increases to teachers – something voters overwhelmingly supported.

We also need to address an educational emergency. Today, nearly a third of our high school students do not graduate on time, with their peers.

High school dropouts earn half as much as graduates.

They often are chronically unemployed and dependent on government help, and they are at higher risk to end up in our jails and prisons.

That’s why we will design our middle and high schools so no student gets lost in the crowd and disconnected from his or her own potential.

And we can’t stop with high school graduation. Today, our two- and four-year colleges are all bursting at the seams.

We need to take down the no-vacancy signs that kept 1,500 students out of college last year.

And we need to give families some certainty about the cost of college education so they can plan for the future.

Surely no issue unites us more than our appreciation for our military personnel who are bringing aid to devastated countries, defending us against terrorism, and fighting to make a free election possible in Iraq.

When those soldiers come home – and we pray daily for their safe return – we must thank them and welcome them.

Our state has a special relationship with our military services.

Our military bases are an important part of our economy, and military retirees are a growing part of our population.

We are all proud of that.

But we can also do a better job of making sure that our veterans and their families get what they need and deserve from us.

My administration will make that a very high priority, and I can assure you that Mike will remind me, probably often, of that commitment.

I know that all I’ve talked about today adds up to a very ambitious agenda.

But we live in a time when anything less would be insufficient.

We need to set an ambitious agenda, but at the same time, we need to be honest.

We cannot achieve all our goals overnight.

We will need enormous patience and persistence, not just for a single legislative session, but for the long term.

We must not promise more than we can deliver.

Governing involves tough choices between important programs – especially now, when we face a $1.8 billion budget shortfall.

We will not be able to do all we want to do this year.

But we can make progress – on job creation and business growth, on improving our education system from early learning to graduate education, on health care, environmental protection and veterans’ issues.

These are all enormous challenges.

And whether we are Democrat or Republican, old or young, rich or poor, these are our challenges.

This will require change – change in the way we think about partisan politics, and change in the way we reach out to each other and reconcile our differences.

As Gandhi so famously said, we must all “be the change we want to see in the world.”

If we want unity, we must all be unifiers.

If we want accountability, each of us must be accountable for all we do.

It is up to us to live up to the legacy that was left for us, and to leave a legacy that is worthy of our children and of future generations.

We can do this. And we can start today.

Thank you very, very much.

God bless all of you, and God bless our wonderful state.