Arkansas State of the State Address 2003

Following is the full text of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's State of the State speech, delivered January 14, 2003.

Gov. Rockefeller, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the assembly, friends and special guests from the gallery and across our state: We come together today facing a budget crisis, a state of trouble and trial in the national economy, court decisions that have created an extraordinary challenge for us, even quotes in the newspaper from some of you that maybe would make this the first time in Arkansas history that a governor with the largest number of votes has gone back to the people and asked for a recount.

I realize that as I stand here today, many of you in this room didn't necessarily choose me to be your governor. But the same people who elected you elected me. I'm not asking that you like me or agree with my politics. I just ask that you respect the position to which I've been elected and that you pledge your cooperation. I recognize your position. I respect the voters' choice of you, and I pledge you my absolute cooperation.

Today, I want to urge all of us to resist the urge from within and the encouragement from without to act as if this session is just an extension of the election campaign, because all of us know the elections were over Nov. 5 and the problems that we're responsible for fixing aren't Democrat problems or Republican problems, and the answers aren't going to be found as Democrat answers or Republican answers. If we faced issues that required little more than a few turns with a Phillips screwdriver, then we perhaps could afford the luxury of political gamesmanship and the personal pleasures of some old-fashioned partisan political towel popping. But such is not the case in this gathering of this General Assembly.

Just as we would be offended and appalled by someone passing out campaign literature at a funeral service or putting up a yard sign in the lawn of a home that was ripped from its foundation by a tornado, we need to engage in these duties with the statesmanship and with honor the likes of which perhaps never have been observed by our citizens before.

You've heard the old expression "no pain, no gain." Several years ago, after an automobile accident in which my knee was injured, I was prescribed to several weeks of physical therapy. And I was used to the term that the therapist would remind me was the mantra of the clinic: "No pain, no gain." I can honestly tell you I hate that expression. I hated that therapist who put my body through those gyrations. I told her once, when she was lifting my leg to a position it would not go, she said this is where you need to get it. I said, "Lady, if I could get it there, I wouldn't be here today."

Well, that phrase perhaps typifies what we're going to have to experience as the 84th General Assembly. Great things are rarely easy things. They are most often risky things, with just as great a chance for failure as for success. Most all of us remember those things which have been tremendously successful or those things which have been tragically a failure. We all remember on that summer day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong put his foot down to the surface of the moon, the first man to ever do so, and uttered those immortal words: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But we also remember that tragic day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. We remember the Persian Gulf War -- Desert Storm -- and how proud it made us feel as Americans that our forces so swiftly and so effectively won that battle. But we also remember the horribly tragic, failed hostage rescue in Iran a decade before. We all remember Sarah Hughes' flawless figure skating from the Winter Olympics of a year ago, but we also remember Greg Louganis' head-cracking dive in the Olympics that not only almost cost him his career but also almost cost him his life.

But we couldn't remember the typical, ordinary moments in history or in government. The difference is not in mere opportunity, although circumstances often create the moment for the miracle. It's when ordinary people rise above the expectations and seize the opportunity that milestones truly are reached. Now, the rewards for such efforts aren't always immediate. President Lincoln was assassinated before he ever saw this nation reunited from his efforts. Dr. Martin Luther King died before he saw the dream fulfilled. Ronald Reagan was back at the ranch in California when the Berlin Wall finally fell.

We face some extraordinary challenges, and we ordinary Arkansans are going to be called upon for some extraordinary opportunities, making extraordinary decisions to make an extraordinary difference for the lives of our people.

There will be many details that I'll hope to share with you, and I'll share them in a booklet that will be provided at the end of this session this morning. But there are five basic things that I hope we can at least accomplish while we're here during these next few weeks. The first one of which is that today I challenge you to join me in a reorganization of state government. Let me explain. We're going to be asking our citizens to accept some rather unpleasant changes due to a combination of budget constraints, court orders and an economy that is helping us to have more obligations in health care and in prisons that simply outpace the revenue to support them. If we're going to ask our citizens to accept the restructuring of our school system so that it will be more efficient, then we need to first put our own house in order by reorganizing and reinventing the executive branch of government.

I will not ask you today for the permission to tinker with the legislative branch, the judicial branch, the other constitutional offices. But I will ask you and I do ask you to give us the tools in the executive branch to be simpler, less costly, more efficient and more citizen friendly. Sen. Bob Johnson and Rep. Marvin Childers will co-sponsor a bill that, if enacted, will reduce the number of state-level agencies from over 50 to 10 basic departments -- not only to rename them but to realign, to reorganize and to reform the executive branch. In so doing, we'll reduce duplication, save money for far more important things than the machinery of government and make our system uniform and understandable not only to newly elected, term-limited legislators but even more importantly to our bosses, the taxpayers of Arkansas.

This is not a federal model, though it will use much of the nomenclature of the federal system. It's not a corporate model, though like every corporation in the world that is successful, we'll experience downsizing and streamlining. It's really a citizen model because it will make state government easier for the owners, the citizens, to understand and to pay for and to access.

Quite honestly, our current form of government is the result of significant government growth that was carried out piecemeal, without any particular planning or consideration as to how it worked in concert with other agencies or functions of agencies. Even the naming of our agencies varied so as to make a department, commission, board or other term mean nothing specific in describing the position or function. The Johnson-Childers bill is described in detail in the book that we will be distributing today. But let me mention the 10 departments that we would consolidate all of the executive branch into. It would be the departments of Education; Health and Human Services; Commerce; Labor, Employment and Workforce; Corrections; Natural Resources; Finance and Administration; Interior; Homeland Security and Agriculture. Each would be considered a department, headed by a secretary of that department. Under each department, functions will be carried out by bureaus, led by a director. And under each bureau, an office for specific functions would be headed by a deputy director.

By reorganization, we would consolidate and centralize many of the clerical functions that are related to payroll and procurement and record keeping. More focus would be placed on the purpose and the programs of those agencies and less on the duplicative structure simply created to operate them.

This streamlining will result not only in dollar savings but frustration savings. As I watch newly elected representatives try to grasp the complexity of this system, it becomes clear that nothing is clear about how we're organized because we're not organized. And under the Johnson-Childers bill, new legislators will be able to get elected and get familiar with 10 agencies rather than over 50. We will logically be able to downsize. But before state employees panic about job losses, let me remind you of two things. The employee turnover in the past 18 months in state government was over 25 percent. Plus we have upward of 4,000 employees in state government rapidly approaching retirement age. Acting now means that by attrition, we can continue employment for valued state employees as we fill positions with experienced state employees first.

Now, the obvious question: Can I guarantee job security for every single employee? No. Not any more than your constituents can guarantee you job security in the next election. But the purpose of government is to serve its citizens first, not merely to preserve the structure of its institutions.

This day I will also issue an executive order asking our executive branch agencies to begin further looking into, irregardless of the legislation that I hope you will pass, ways to consolidate the physical presence of our state facilities in various locations. It may surprise you to learn that there is over 4.1 million square feet of space that we lease in this state at a cost to the taxpayers of over $43 million a year. One of the things we hope to do by consolidating the physical presence of various agencies to one location in the community or county where they are now distributed all over is to make it simpler so that our citizens can go to one location, one parking lot, meet one receptionist, be referred in one building to the various services the state of Arkansas offers. And to end the duplicative problems of copy machines and fax machines and equipment that are very costly to us. What has happened over many years is we have simply not thought about how many different ways we're spending taxpayers' money. But in this time of fiscal restraint, the tight economy and the challenges we face, we cannot do less than look for those efficiencies. And I ask you not only to join in your enthusiastic support of this bill, the Johnson-Childers bill, but I hope that we can do it quickly so that we can understand that before we can really deal with the issues of the budget of the state, the form has to be put in place before the finances can follow.

Now, let me mention a second important issue that faces us here. I think you expect it -- the restructuring of education. Just a few days after the elections, the Supreme Court handed down a sweeping decision in the Lake View case. It's not good enough for us to try and improve education. We must triumph in this effort. The courts have ordered it.

The business community demands it. Teachers want it. Parents expect it. But more importantly than anything else, our kids deserve it.

Every Legislature fancies itself reforming education. This one will actually have to do it or we will face the consequences of two things that we should not accept. One would be a permanent place in the courtroom that ultimately would take those decisions from us that really are constitutionally ours to make. And, two, and most important, we should not, and I pledge to you we will not, accept a second-class education for our children that will doom them to permanent poverty in this state. We will not accept it.

Every Legislature comes with the hopes of doing great things in education. I read through some of the inaugural addresses of governors over the past decades. Interesting what I discovered. Let me give you a few excerpts: Gov. Thomas McRae, 1923: He said, "Many of the school districts have inadequate equipment and unsuitable buildings and no funds with which to provide them. Many of those that have good buildings are so involved in debt for them that when they pay the interest, there is no money left to pay the teachers. Never before in the history of our state have the people been so interested in education as now." Ten years later, 1933, Governor J.M. Futrell: "The state's constitutional duty to each child is the same. It is just as important to the state that the child in the rural community shall be educated as it is that the one in the city shall be. When one child through the state's educational system has greater opportunities than another, the state has breached its constitutional duty. Our present system of raising and distributing public school revenues is contrary to the constitutional mandate. Local taxation is illogical in a state school system."

1941, Gov. Homer Adkins: "We should recognize the urgent need for better salaries for teachers. Our schools will never be stronger than our teachers. Teachers' salaries in Arkansas are deplorably low. It is our belief that the state should assume the responsibility of setting up a salary level whereby teachers of a certain training and experience will be guaranteed certain salaries."

Gov. Francis Cherry, 1953: "The most expensive government function in Arkansas, the biggest problem and the most persistent headache is that of public education. It's the most challenging single problem we have. Here again, in establishing a sound property tax structure and adequate public school system, we must abandon stopgap methods."

In the 1960s, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. I think you knew him, didn't you, lieutenant governor? Gov. Rockefeller said, "Until we can provide quality education for all, whatever else we build cannot be fully meaningful. There is virtually universal agreement on this. It is agreed, too, that the quality of any education system is determined by the quality of its teachers. To keep our good teachers, we must compensate them more in keeping with their contributions."

In the 1970s, Gov. Dale Bumpers said, "Very few of the problems of our state can be separated from the kind of education we offer. Education is our best investment in the future, in ourselves and our children. If we do less than we know we should, then we knowingly jeopardize our future."

And in the 1980s, 20 years ago this month, Gov. Bill Clinton said, "Over the long run, education is the key to our economic revival and our perennial quest for prosperity. We must dedicate more of our limited resources to paying teachers better, expanding educational opportunities in poor and small school districts, improving and diversifying vocational high-technology programs and, perhaps most important, strengthening basic education."

You probably have now understood what I have understood. Every legislative session, every decade, every governor, every General Assembly gathers just as we have, and they talk about their constitutional responsibility to provide the kind of education that our Constitution says we must provide. And minor changes are made. And people go home having congratulated themselves for minor adjustments to a system that for 100 years at least every single governor and legislator has said is broken. Ladies and gentlemen of this 84th General Assembly, I ask you to join me in not being another footnote in the pages of Arkansas history, where we merely come and give lip service to how much we have improved something that will only land us right back in the courts. And we'll continue to lose until we finally stand up, step up and do what we must in this session do for our children. And that is fulfill the constitutional mandate for an adequate, efficient, suitable, equitable education for every single boy and girl in this state. I ask you to join me in the courage for that task.

We will focus on what government can and must do, we will focus on what the courts have ordered. But I want to make clear that government cannot create and the courts cannot order what would singularly do more to improve education than any other thing, and that is to get parents to act like parents instead of the bigger kids than the ones they are sending to school. We need moms and dads who will mold little minds and hearts toward right and wrong and teach them simple manners. We need them to model education by reading to them when they are little and making sure that they get their homework before they are parked in front of the television set. We need parents to stand behind the teachers in a disciplined classroom instead of hiding behind lawyers and blaming teachers for the improper behavior of their children.

We need parents who will show up for conferences with the teacher and get involved with every aspect of their child's education. And no matter how much money we spend and what kind of teacher pay we set and what kind of buildings we build and how strenuous an academic curriculum we establish, nothing will replace the most important component of education, and that's still mom and dad. But government can't make parents be parents. I don't think I can do justice to the magnitude of the court's decision or the decisions that we have to make. As for the moms' and dads' decisions, we'll encourage and urge and do everything we can to help them understand their role.

But let it not be an excuse for ignoring our role. This is not a fight I led us into, but it's one that I'm willing and prepared to lead us through, with your help and with God's. Let's be clear in understanding we cannot always do what we like or even what we agree with. But the real test of leadership is being able to lead not only in the battles that we choose but also in the battles that choose us. To do what we're required to do to meet the needs of our students and the demands of the court order, we have to be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice our political lives for the sake of our children's future in order that we would fulfill our obligation that we swore under oath that we would fulfill.

It seems the big question in the papers and in the hallways, as well as in all Arkansas communities, has been this question: Will my school structure change? That's the wrong question. The important question is this: Will the education system give our children the ability to excel and to change the world? And that's the question we must focus on.

The courts have made it clear that we have gone from a system of compulsory attendance to one of compulsory learning. I, for one, have been a strong advocate of local control. Let me be blunt. With the Lake View ruling, that really does not exist as we have known it or as we have practiced it. We no longer can justify, we no longer can even tolerate a school having 10 football coaches but no one to competently teach chemistry.

We no longer can look the other way when a school has a nice gym but no computer lab. What we have to do is to no longer assume that no one really wants to take advanced calculus or have access to the study of a foreign language. We can't continue to allow schools to pay some teachers wages more suitable for the custodial staff than those with a professional degree and the critical task of educating our children.

The simple fact is that we cannot continue to duplicate the functions of administration when the courts have made it clear that the focus must be on the students, not the system. We cannot simply pour more fuel into the existing vehicle and say we have done our job. We must make the vehicle more efficient and less costly.

Many studies have shown that the most efficient schools operationally are those with between 1,000 and 1,500 students in K-12, and that the most efficient academically are those that have between 2,000 and 2,500 students in K-12. We'll propose a new structure for our system that will start by reducing the number of districts to achieve efficiency as well as affordability.

This structure will begin with the most basic unit, the community school. Virtually all existing schools through the eighth grade will be able to continue operating as community schools. Those districts with 1,500 or more total students would be able to continue operating as unified school districts. To put that in perspective, that represents approximately 76 districts in this state and will cover about two-thirds of the 450,000 public school students in this state. The remaining districts will become part of 25 to 30 regional districts. And those schools serving grades K-8 as of Jan. 1 of this year can continue as community school units. Grades 9-12 would have the option of merging with an existing unified district, forming a secondary community school in cooperation with other schools inthat region.

But all high schools would be expected to offer each year a rich curriculum as defined by the state Board of Education, similar to that as suggested in the report of the Blue Ribbon Commission, the Next Step plan and other endeavors, including the most recently released plan by the Chamber of Commerce.

Existing school districts with special circumstances, evidenced by geographical isolation or sparse population density, would be designated as isolated unified school districts. It's anticipated there are about six to 10 of these, which then would make a total of 116 districts in this state.

In the structure, the basic community school unit will be led by a principal who will have the ability to hire and fire the faculty. We'll empower those people at the building level because we'll seek to ensure that educational quality happens at that most basic level of education.

In each school unit, a parent-business advisory board will exist for the schools. A superintendent would have the ability to hire and fire the principals with input from the parent-business advisory board. Each district would have its own board whose duties would be defined by state law and the state Board of Education under its rules and regulations. The superintendent would be hired and fired by the director of the state Department of Education with input from the board.

Schools already meeting the indicators of academic success, regardless of their size, would hopefully be able to apply for the granting of a charter so long as it meets not only the academic but the efficiency standards as required by the court decision, the Legislature and the state board. And because all schools are state schools, parents and children should have and we should guarantee their freedom of school choice to attend any school, K-12, under the conditions set by the law and the state Board of Education.

The 15 existing education service cooperatives would be disbanded and reconstituted as between 25 and 30 education service centers functioning as units of the Arkansas Department of Education. Teacher salaries and benefits would be established by the state for each district, including minimum and maximum salaries, allowing for consideration for duties performed, geographical region, etc.

The Department of Education will be realigned -- with all positions in the department redesigned to fit the needs of the new system -- and reconstituted to function in its new capacity. Emphasis would be placed on consistent standards, measuring and accountability. Critical to this is a common accounting system that will give patrons of any or all schools an opportunity to know by percentage the amount of money spent in every category, be it administration, teacher salaries, athletics, facility operation or transportation, as well as a thorough reporting system of the academic performance of each school.

Now, let me answer that question that you're going to be asked: Will some possibly, probably lose their jobs? Yes. But some may have to lose their positions so that our kids can secure their places in a well-educated workforce.

I'm painfully aware that this necessary restructuring will result in the loss of traditions, mascots, identities. A little more than 30 years ago, I was just entering the ninth grade in my hometown of Hope. That's when we consolidated a former all-black high school with our almost all-white high school. The courts had ordered that we could no longer tolerate a second-rate education for African-American students. The reality is that white students like me didn't have to experience nearly as much change or the pain of it as did the black students, who often were the ones who were called upon to abandon the schools of their community. They lost more than their traditions. They lost their mascots. They gave up their campuses. For many, it was starting all over again. I'm not sure that many of us appreciated the extraordinary pain and the incredible sacrifice that was made in those days by many African-American families who wanted to taste the quality and opportunity.

But those who wanted to taste the quality and opportunity were often the very ones who had to experience the most pain of change in order to get there. But they did. And we need to be mindful and understanding that we'll perhaps be implementing what the court has ordered, and it will be painful for many in our state right now. It's not enough to put forth a plan and just expect it to be embraced. We have to be prepared for reactions that will neither be pleasant or always positive. But we must have courage, the courage to lead and the courage to say that we will follow the law. And that we will make it work not because it will help us in the next election but because it will save us in the next generation. And that must be our commitment. I call upon every one of you not to agree with everything I presented today, and that will be presented in much more detail as you receive your books, but let us not allow ourselves to simply believe that minor modifications are going to satisfy what we are under court order to fix. Let's fix it.

The expectations out there in the public aren't that high of us. I hear talk of partisanship, not here but out there. I hear talk of, "Well, this is such an inexperienced Legislature, term limits have brought so many new people who don't know the game." If knowing the game is what we have seen for the past 170 years, maybe we need a whole group of people who don't know the game but who know the job and the responsibility that we have before us.

I'm going to briefly mention three other things, and I mean very briefly. Let me mention that while we have to reorganize government and restructure education, we must not neglect the creating of opportunity for prosperity through enterprise and entrepreneurship. Education and economic development are often challenged as to which is most important. They are like the wings of an airplane. When I get on a plane, I never say which wing is most important, the one on the left or the one on the right. I like both of them to be there. The two are inseparable. An education system that does not lead toward economic development is an education system that is only preparing students to leave the state and get a job somewhere else.

That's not enough. By the same token, pouring money into economic development that ignores the needs to raise the skills of our workforce is simply creating jobs that will lead us to increased and permanent poverty. It's a balance. We have to have both. And I urge you to give us the tools to attract the mega projects that will bring thousands of jobs and raise the per capita income in our state, as well as preserve the expansion and launching of our businesses which create the hope of prosperity. A fourth thing I would say is to join me in revising the criminal justice system. In this session, you'll be asked to do more than simply pour more money into a prison system that cannot build fast enough to keep up with the demands. We must provide an alternative sentencing path for non-violent offenders whose real crime is the addiction of drugs or alcohol, and for whom incarceration solves nothing.

Expansion of our drug courts, community-based sentencing and common sense must be applied or we'll be doing, as Larry Norris, our Department of Correction director, says, and that's simply incarcerating the people we're mad at instead of the ones that we're actually afraid of. A fifth thing is to reduce health care costs with reform of medical malpractice.

Legislation is being introduced to bring some control and boundaries to the risks faced by businesses, doctors, hospitals and employers, as well as just private citizens. The purpose is not to protect big corporations or insurance companies, but it is to protect all of us from a system of health care that we'll simply not be able to afford or access without some reform. I personally will resist any attempts to make the courts available only to the rich and to the powerful. But I'll work with the Legislature to ensure that the risks faced by our citizens when taken to court are reasonable and responsible.

Now, during this session I'm going to do something else that I don't want to do. I'm going to ask that you recognize that even with downsizing in government, restructuring education and taking a serious approach to holding down health care costs, we'll be forced to find additional revenues to meet the obligations of Medicaid, education and prisons, those three things that comprise 91 percent of our general revenue budget. A slow national economy, combined with a Congress that seems unwilling and unable to help us address the crises that we face in our states, often because of their federal mandates, has left us no alternative except to start eliminating any hope of scholarships, teacher pay increases and covering nursing home costs for our elderly.

Six years ago, I led and signed the first ever broad-based tax cut in our state's history. Many of you were here. You were very much a part of helping to eliminate the marriage penalty, raise the threshold at which poor people had to pay income tax, raise the index so that it was actually a more equitable way of helping those at the low end of the income scale. Our tax breaks six years ago were not tax breaks for the rich. They were tax breaks for the working class, and you very responsibly as a Legislature passed those tax cuts, the first ever.

I heard many say that the proposal I offered last fall regarding the sales tax was dead on arrival. Well, it doesn't have to be that method, although it's one that we might be able to get done. But I do understand that without you joining me and finding new revenue, we simply will not meet the court-ordered mandates in education or Medicaid. I wish I had different news for you, but I don't. And if you deem that all new revenue sources, your proposals or mine, are indeed dead on arrival, then you'll be saying that teacher pay increases are dead, scholarships are dead, medicine for the elderly is dead, that long sentences are dead and that we'll have to have a massive early release of thousands of inmates from the system.

All State of the State Addresses for Arkansas :