Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Governor Gary Locke's Inaugural Address
January 15, 1997
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Madam Chief Justice, distinguished justices of the Supreme Court, statewide elected officials, members of the Washington State Legislature, other elected officials, members of the Consular Corps, fellow citizens, and friends of Washington state across America and around the world.
I am humbled by the honor of serving as your governor. And I am deeply grateful to all those who have made our American tradition of freedom and democracy possible.
I also want to express my gratitude to members of my family, and to introduce them to you. First I'd like you to meet my father, Jimmy Locke, who fought in World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion. I'd like you to meet my mother, Julie, who raised five children, learned English along with me when I started kindergarten, and who returned to school at Seattle Community College when she was nearly 60. And I'd like to introduce my brothers and sisters Marian Monwai, Jannie Chow, Jeffrey Locke and Rita Yoshihara. And finally, it is my greatest pleasure to introduce Washington's new First Lady, Mona Lee Locke. This truly is a wonderful day for the Locke family.
One of my ancestors - a distant cousin, actually - was a merchant who immigrated to Olympia in 1874 and became a leader of the Chinese-American community just a few blocks from this state capitol. He acted as a bridge between the Chinese and white communities, and became friends with the other downtown merchants, and with the sheriff, William Billings.
In 1886, an anti-immigrant, anti-Chinese mob threatened to burn down the Chinese settlement here. But what happened next is a story that every Washington resident ought to know: Sheriff Billings deputized scores of Olympia's merchants and civic leaders. And those citizen deputies stood between the angry mob and the Chinese neighborhood at Fifth and Water streets. Faced by the sheriff and the leading citizens of Olympia, the mob gradually dispersed. Not a single shot was fired, nor a single Chinese house burned.
For the Locke family, that incident helped establish a deep faith in the essential goodness of mainstream American values:
- The values that reject extremism and division, and embrace fairness and moral progress;
- The value of working together as a community; and
- The values of hard work, hope, enterprise and opportunity.
Just a few years after that Olympia show of courage, my grandfather came to America to work as a "house boy" for the Yeager family, who lived in a house that's still standing, less than a mile from here.
His purpose was to get an education, and so the Yeager family agreed to teach him English in return for his work. Like everyone else in our family, my grandfather studied and worked hard, and he eventually became the head chef at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.
So although I may be standing less than a mile from where our family started its life in America, we've come a long way. Our journey was possible because of the courage of Sheriff Billings and the heroes of Olympia history. And our journey was successful because the Locke family embraces three values: Get a good education, work hard and take care of each other.
Our family history is more the norm than the exception. There is Governor Rosellini, this state's first Italian-American governor, whose parents migrated to America at the beginning of this century.
There is Representative Paul Zellinsky, whose grandfather was a Russian sea captain.
There is Senator Dan McDonald, whose ancestors were among the pioneer families of this state.
And there is Senator Rosa Franklin, whose family rose from slavery in South Carolina to civic leadership in Tacoma.
There are millions of families like mine, and millions of people like me - people whose ancestors dreamed the American Dream and worked hard to make it come true. And today, on Martin Luther King's birthday, we are taking another step toward that dream.
In the 108 years since Washington became a state, we have gone from riding horses to flying in jets; from sending telegrams to sending e-mail; and from woodstoves to microwave ovens.
Can anyone even guess what the next hundred years will bring? We already know that computers will think, that telephones and television will merge, and that biotechnology will reveal the secrets of our genetic code. Many of our children will produce goods and services that haven't even been invented yet.
For us, the challenge is to embrace change rather than to fear it. We have no time to waste.
To keep the American Dream alive in a high-tech and unpredictable future, we have to raise our sights, and our standards. We must raise our sights above the partisanship, the prejudice, and the arrogance that keep us from acknowledging our common humanity and our common future. And we must raise our standards of academic achievement, of government productivity and customer service, of the careful preservation of the natural environment we cherish, and of our determination to protect the well-being of Washington's working families.
The principles that will guide me in this quest for higher standards - and the principles that will guide my response to legislative proposals - are clear and simple.
- My first principle is that education is the great equalizer that makes hope and opportunity possible. That's why I am passionately committed to developing a world-class system of education.
In the last century, the drafters of our Constitution made the education of children the "paramount duty" of the state. But learning is not just for kids anymore. For the next century, the paramount duty of this state will be to create an education system for lifelong learning - a system that every person regardless of age can plug into for basic skills, professional advancement or personal enrichment.
- My second principle is to promote civility, mutual respect and unity, and to oppose measures that divide, disrespect, or diminish our humanity. I want our state to build on the mainstream values of equal protection and equal opportunity, and to reject hate, violence and bigotry. And I want our state to be known as a place where elected officials lead by example.
- My third principle is to judge every public policy by whether it helps or hurts Washington's working families. Everyone who works hard and lives responsibly ought to be rewarded with economic security, the opportunity to learn and to advance in their chosen field of work, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the essential services their families need - like health care insurance and child care - will be affordable and accessible. And every senior citizen who has spent a lifetime contributing to the freedom and prosperity we enjoy deserves dignity and security.
- My fourth principle is to protect our environment, so that future generations enjoy the same natural beauty and abundance we cherish today.
These principles require self-discipline, and a commitment not to settle for quick fixes, Band-Aids, or political expediency. To help us live up to these principles, I intend to set clear, challenging goals, and to measure our progress toward achieving those goals. Everyone in state government will be held accountable for achieving results - not for convening meetings, creating commissions, or following reams of clumsy regulations.
I want to liberate the creativity and expertise of every state employee, and to make working for government as prestigious as building airplanes, designing software, or inventing new medical technologies.
I call on every state employee to search for new and better ways of doing our work, to strive toward a higher level of customer service to citizens, and to show greater respect for every hard-earned tax dollar that we collect.
In fact, let's take a moment to thank both state and local government employees for the truly heroic work they've done during the storms of the past few weeks.
They made visible something too many of us often don't see: that we truly can't live without basic government services, and that these services are provided by people - our dedicated public employees. In the storm and its aftermath, those public employees focused on helping citizens and solving problems and they achieved results.
Now it's time to harness that same energy and sense of urgency to solve problems and achieve results in our education system. We have to do a better job of making our schools safe, and ensuring that students respect their teachers, and each other.
We must hold both schools and students accountable for learning, not just for following all the rules or sitting through the required number of classes. We will not break our promise to raise academic standards. Every third grader must read at the third grade level, and every high school graduate must master basic academic skills and knowledge.
To meet these ambitious goals, our schools need a stable base of funding, including the ability to pass school levies with the same simple majority that it takes to pass bond measures to build other public facilities.
But money alone is not the whole solution. Greater accountability - coupled with more local control and more flexibility are also essential to school improvement. To meet the growing demand for education in our colleges and universities, my administration will present a proposal to increase enrollments, to improve quality, and to provide more management flexibility while insisting on greater productivity and accountability.
To do all this, we will make education the first priority in every budget we write. That will not be easy. Developing a quality education system depends on the soundness of our fiscal and tax policies.
That's why it's so important to write budgets that are sustainable beyond the current biennium. And that's why we ought to maintain a prudent reserve, so we'll have funds to see us through a recession without cutting schools or vital services.
This year, a balanced approach to budgeting will also include tax relief. In the last biennium, we gave almost a billion dollars in tax breaks to business. Isn't it time to help working families? To me, that means property tax relief for middle-class homeowners.
Of course, I also support rolling back the business and occupation tax to pre-1993 levels. We raised that tax in a time of fiscal emergency. That emergency has passed, and it's important that we keep faith with the business community by repealing the increase.
We also have a host of other problems that urgently need our attention. We need to agree on a bipartisan, comprehensive plan to invest in our transportation system, on which all our jobs and our economic growth depend.
Our farmers need good highways and rail systems to get their crops to market. Our commuters must have transit and carpool lanes, so they can spend more time with their children and less time stuck in traffic. Our ports need a transportation system that supports the growth of our international trade, which generates so many of our new jobs. There is a great deal the state can and must do to secure our competitive position in the world economy. We have an opportunity to improve Washington's international trade climate. I'm committed to establishing strong personal relationships with overseas government and business leaders to help Washington companies expand existing export markets and establish new ones.
It's also time to stop procrastinating and make some tough decisions about how to use and protect our water resources, which have been tangled in a web of conflicts and controversies year after year. And it's time to fine-tune our commitments to manage growth, to protect fish and wildlife, and to preserve the vitality of our farms and our forest products industry.
As a result of last year's federal welfare reform legislation, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to redesign our social safety net, so that it reflects our mainstream values of hard work, hope and opportunity. If we do this right, we can reduce poverty and protect children - and that ought to be our purpose.
So I will propose a system that puts work first - a system designed to help people in need build on their strengths rather than be paralyzed by their problems. To make welfare reform succeed, we need to become partners with the business community to find jobs and to improve training programs, so that every entry-level job in Washington is the first step on a career ladder rather than a treadmill that keeps the poor stuck in place. And to make work the solution to poverty, we will make sure that work pays better than public assistance.
At the same time, we have a duty to ensure that the ill, elderly and disabled live with dignity, and that legal immigrants are accorded equal treatment and equal protection.
And finally, we have already waited too long to fix our juvenile justice system - a system that lets kids get away with too much; that misses too many opportunities to turn kids around; and a system that leaves too many of us vulnerable to violent and dangerous young criminals.
To procrastinate on any one of these issues - from education to water to juvenile justice - is to court disaster. The clock is ticking. A new century is coming at us like a bullet train. And it's up to us to either rise to these challenges, or to watch as that train passes by.
If we cultivate the habit of genuine partnership - partnership entered with a commitment to solving problems and achieving results - we can accomplish all our goals.
Students, parents and teachers can create the best schools in the world. Community leaders, local and state governments can shape a transportation system second to none. And farmers, city-dwellers, tribal governments and developers can, if they work as real partners, untangle the web of water disputes and find ways to protect this precious resource.
We must all come together, work together, and stay together until our work is complete. Let's work as hard as our parents and grandparents did. Let's match their record of accomplishment, and their level of responsibility to the next generation.
As most of you already know, Mona and I are expecting our first child in March. So in very rapid succession, I will be blessed with two titles that carry immense responsibility and immense honor: Governor and Dad.
As the advent of fatherhood gets closer, I am more and more conscious that everything I do as governor - and everything we do together - we do for our children.
Our child will be a child of the 21st Century. He or she will come of age in a world that we can scarcely imagine. But it is his or her world that we must now work together to create. For our children and yours, I want to foster a new century of personal responsibility, of community, and of hope and optimism.
Please help me carry on the Locke family tradition of focusing on those three crucial values: get a good education, work hard, and take care of each other.
With your hand in partnership, and with an abiding faith in the essential goodness of the people of our great state, I want to devote the next four years to making the American Dream come true for children whose faces we have yet to see.