New Hampshire Inaugural Address 2001

Speaker, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Justice, honorable members of the House, Senate and Executive Council, my fellow citizens:

I want to thank the people of New Hampshire for once again entrusting me with this office. It is a special privilege, and I promise to work for you every day to be worthy of it. Speaker Chandler and Senate President Klemm, congratulations. We have much to do, and I look forward to working with you.

We meet today for the first inauguration of the 21st century. More than ever, we see ourselves at the dawning of new times -- new challenges and new opportunities. More than ever, we look to the future -- with optimism, to be sure, but also marveling that the world seems to be changing at a faster and faster pace.

One hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, after taking the same solemn oath of office I have just taken, Governor Chester Jordan stood in this room and said New Hampshire was on the "threshold of a century that promises beyond what we can think or ask."

In 1901, nearly as many New Hampshire workers were employed in agriculture as in manufacturing. Virtually every road in the state was unpaved; most people still traveled by horse and buggy. There were more harness makers than electricians. And in that much-different world, women could not vote.

The greatest challenge facing New Hampshire's future, Governor Jordan said, was excessive and unrestrained timber cutting. In his words, "our forests are fast becoming despoiled, their scenic beauties marred and destroyed, the public health endangered," and the state's agriculture, tourism, and even lumber industry threatened with ruin. Without action, he warned, New Hampshire's forests were headed toward extinction.

The efforts begun in 1901 to preserve our forests, efforts continuing to this day, have been a remarkable success. Despite the dramatic population increases of the last century, New Hampshire's forests have re-grown to cover eighty-five percent of our land, almost as much as when the first settlers arrived here more than 300 years ago.

In many ways, the New Hampshire of 1901 seems unrecognizable to us today. But consider it from another perspective. Sitting in this hall today is Elizabeth McLaughlin of Concord. She is 101 years old. She was alive in 1901 -- back when women couldn't vote, when automobiles were a curiosity, and when the prospect of a New Hampshire barren of trees seemed a real possibility. All the changes between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 21st century have taken place within her one, single lifetime. New Hampshire at the dawn of the 21st century has certainly changed from the New Hampshire of 100 years ago or even five years ago.

When the kindergartners from Rochester were born, New Hampshire had never elected a woman Governor. No woman had ever served on the State Supreme Court or as Speaker of the House. There was no state law honoring Martin Luther King. New Hampshire ranked 50th in state aid to education. And in their hometown of Rochester there was no public school kindergarten.

New Hampshire's economy has also changed. Today, we are one of the leading "New Economy" states. We rank second in the nation in the percentage of our workforce employed in high-technology jobs. With one of the highest rates of growth in international trade, New Hampshire businesses are competing -- and winning -- all around the world.

New Hampshire companies are leading the way in innovation. In Portsmouth, Wastech International is developing a sophisticated new technology that will safely treat the wastewater produced by ships, preserving our precious oceans. In Wilton, Advanced Energy is designing innovative electronics that will allow us to better harness the power of the sun to meet our future energy needs. And in West Lebanon, Mii Technologies has developed a new way of making machine parts -- an invention that TIME magazine says could revolutionize 21st century manufacturing the way the cotton gin revolutionized 19th century farming.

Once again, we stand on the "threshold of a century that promises beyond what we can think or ask." But one thing is certain: New Hampshire must keep adapting to a fast-changing and increasingly global economy, or we will fall behind.

The new economy of the 21st century is run on brainpower, not horsepower. In this economy, success is built on ideas, innovation and information -- and the foundation for this new economy is education.

In the last few years, by almost every measure, the growth of the New Hampshire economy has been breathtaking. Today, the major limit to our continued growth is a shortage of skilled workers. We will not be able to meet the needs of New Hampshire business in the 21st century by importing workers. Instead, we must focus our efforts on improving the skills of our students and our existing workforce. We must ensurethat our children, no matter where they live, have the skills and education to allow them to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by this high-tech, global economy. And that means we must make the commitment and the investment necessary to improve our schools. If New Hampshire's economy is to prosper; if New Hampshire's children are to succeed; if New Hampshire's future is to be bright and secure -- then we must recognize that improving education is the single most important issue we face. Nothing else that we do here will have a greater impact on New Hampshire's success or failure in this new century.

The equation is really quite simple: how well we educate our students will determine New Hampshire's future -- our quality of life, the economic security of our families, the success of our businesses, and the opportunities available to our children.

But while that equation is simple, meeting its challenge is not.

In four years, we have come a long way -- dramatically increasing state aid to education, cutting in half the number of communities without public kindergarten, wiring ninety-eight percent of our schools to the Internet -- but our greatest challenge -- a permanent school funding law -- is still before us; and we must meet that challenge this year.

This will not be easy. No one appreciates that more than I do. Resolving school funding will require each of us to be honest with ourselves and the people of New Hampshire about what is required by the Claremont II decision. The State must pay for the cost of an adequate education for every child in New Hampshire. It's that simple and that difficult. We must face up to this obligation and we must acknowledge that we cannot meet it without change.

Throughout my four years as Governor, I have been heartened by the support for improving schools voiced by members of the state's business community. Long before Claremont II, the Business and Industry Association in 1991 published a report on education that stated, "We recognize that business has needs only education can meet. We depend on education to provide us with involved citizens, knowledgeable consumers, intelligent workers and competent family members.... We see an investment in education as the best investment in our future." We see an investment in education as the best investment in our future. That's as true today in 2001 as it was in 1991. Indeed, it's even more true.

Now is the time we must make that investment in education a reality, not merely a promise. And we must choose how we are going to pay for that investment. We need to recognize that there is no easy choice, and that "none of the above" is not an option.

Putting off the hard choices until next year or a future legislature will not make this challenge go away or make it any easier to resolve. It will only make it more difficult. Make no mistake: enacting a permanent solution must be our overriding priority this year in this session of this legislature. Without a permanent solution this year, the state's bond ratings and strong fiscal position will be jeopardized. But even more important, without a permanent solution, New Hampshire's public schools -- and therefore our prosperity -- will be threatened.

As you know, for the last eight months, a blue ribbon commission of economists and financial experts has been analyzing different revenue options. I asked for this independent, non-partisan study because we need to move forward and make decisions with hard facts and objective analysis.

This blue ribbon commission has only recently completed its work and its report will be released next week. I want to thank former Dartmouth College President David McLaughlin and all the men and women who, in true New Hampshire tradition, volunteered so much time and effort for this important study. I will be relying on their work when I make my proposal in the next few weeks charting a new, secure coursefor funding education. I am ready to meet this challenge. I will propose a solution, but it will require all of us -- in the Senate, in the House, and in the Executive -- in the business community and education community -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents working together and putting aside partisanship to get this job done.

The people of New Hampshire expect no less from us. In the past election, they made a clear -- some would say historic -- choice. They want this issue solved. They are tired of the old debates driven by slogans and unyielding ideology. They want results, and they expect all of us to keep an open mind as we seek to do what's best for our state. The people of New Hampshire made clear they will not go back to a system of unequal schools, based on a 19th century system of funding. They want to move forward into the 21st century with 21st century schools.

The people of New Hampshire also understand that funding alone will not give us excellent schools. We must set high standards for our schools and hold them accountable for meeting those standards. We have debated school accountability for three years. This year we must act.

We must also improve educational opportunities for our youngest children. Four years ago, we took a giant step forward when we gave communities an incentive to start public kindergartens. Now we must extend our kindergarten construction program and make sure that every five-year-old in New Hampshire has the opportunity to attend public kindergarten.

But we must move beyond kindergarten. Recent brain research shows us that the first few years of a child's life are crucial. The learning environment children experience in their earliest years has a decisive and long-term impact on their development. Yet those early years receive the least attention from policymakers and the least amount of public investment. That must change. That is why in the coming weeks I will propose an early learning initiative to help ensure the best start possible for our children.

The skilled jobs of the new economy require higher education. If we are going to meet the demands of business for skilled workers, we must strengthen our public institutions of higher education. Fifty percent of New Hampshire's college-bound high school graduates leave the state, and many of them never come back. We must reverse this brain drain. We must continue investing in our university system and community technical colleges.

Let us pledge today that we will not let the people of New Hampshire down. Let us agree that in the coming months we will turn our greatest challenge -- our greatest responsibility -- into our greatest opportunity. Let us set New Hampshire on a secure course that will provide every child with the best possible education. That is our overriding obligation.

But there are other issues we must face in the 21st century.

We must make sure we give every child in New Hampshire a healthy start. It is the right thing to do, because parents should never have to hesitate about whether they can afford to take a sick child to the doctor. But it is also the smart thing to do. Children's health care is a great investment. The simple truth is healthy children do better in school. And it costs the state and our health care system less to provide preventive health care than to hospitalize children or treat them in emergency rooms. We have already established an innovative Children's Health Insurance Program, which in two years has provided almost 12,000 previously uninsured children with health coverage. But as successful as the program is, we should not be satisfied until virtually every eligible child in the state is enrolled and receiving quality health care. We can achieve this goal in the next two years, and we should.

Just as we owe our children a healthy start, we owe our seniors a healthy and dignified retirement. Many of our seniors live on the financial edge. They struggle to pay for the medications they need to stay healthy. We must do everything we can as a State both to lower the cost of prescription drugs and to help seniors to stay in their homes for as long as possible.

After the events of the past year, those of us in the Executive and Legislative branches of government will be remiss if we do not work together this session to make the changes necessary to restore public confidence in our judiciary. We will only succeed if our purpose is to strengthen the judiciary. We will fail if we act from a desire to punish. We must be wise enough to distinguish between making the judiciary more accountable to the public, as it should be, and making it more vulnerable to political passions, which it should never be.

All of us who hold elected positions must remember the full responsibility that comes with those offices. Every day, the men and women in our police and fire departments put their lives at risk for the people of New Hampshire. In the last few years -- even in the last few weeks -- we have been reminded of the sacrifices that the police and firefighters stand ready to make on our behalf. In return, here's what we owe them: As elected officials, we owe them not just the passage of good laws. We owe them our respect. In everything we say and do, let that message be clear. In this Statehouse, we honor our citizens in uniform -- and we will not condone those who do not.

Finally, we must continue to make sure that New Hampshire's quality of life and natural and historic resources are protected for the new century. The beauty of our forests and rivers and lakes, the richness of our culture and history -- that is our legacy from previous generations, and we must do all we can to preserve them for future generations. Last year, with the passage of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, we took an important step in this direction. This year we must continue and strengthen that investment.

And we also must act to better manage the growth that has come with our economic prosperity. We must protect the character and diversity of New Hampshire's landscape from the creeping threat of sprawl. If we do not, we put at risk the very quality of place that is the foundation of our economic success and the very reason so many of us call New Hampshire our home.

We enter this new century facing what sometimes may seem to be overwhelming challenges and immovable obstacles to progress. But in the days to come, if you get discouraged or tempted to give up on the hard work of seeking new solutions to difficult problems -- then just remember the bright, expectant faces of the kindergartners from Rochester and the way their hopeful voices lifted us all on this day. They are living, breathing proof that what we do in this historic building profoundly affects the lives of real people.

One hundred years from now, when a new governor and a new legislature begin the 22nd century, perhaps some of today's kindergartners will be sitting in this chamber, just as Elizabeth McLaughlin is today. Let us remember that the 21st century is their century, a century sure to be filled with astounding changes -- changes we cannot even imagine; changes far more profound and breathtaking than the changes of the last 100 years. It will be their century, but it is up to us, in the decisions we will soon be called upon to make, to prepare them -- and New Hampshire -- for the future they deserve.

Let us proceed with the work we have been elected to do inspired by that vision.

Thank you.
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