Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Senior Citizen Foundation
November 20, 1998

I want to begin today by paying tribute to Evan Iverson. He was president of the Senior Citizens’ Lobby when I was in the legislature, and he’s a wonderful advocate for seniors, for health care, and for a better future for all of us.

Evan, will you please come stand with me? I would like to present to you a Governor’s award in recognition of your leadership in promoting access to affordable, quality health care for senior citizens in the state of Washington. You didn’t win this award, you earned this award.

There’s something else endearing about Evan. Just recently, in a meeting with a group of human service advocates, Evan said "Governor, we care a lot about specific issues for seniors, but we’re also grandparents. So will you please tell us what you’re doing for public schools?"

As you all know anyone who cares about kids and schools gets a gold star in my book. But there was something else about that question that bears notice: It’s a clear indication that seniors are much more than a special interest group. Seniors are just plain good citizens. You care – not just abut your own welfare – but about your children and grandchildren, about democracy, and about the communities you’ve invested so many years helping to build.

Today, your good citizenship is more important than ever before. That’s because you are the leading edge in a society where over 10,000 people a day are turning 50. You are the role models for that enormous population of baby boomers who, to their absolute amazement, are starting to get mailings from the AARP.

The generation that started out vowing never to trust anyone over 30 is now looking to those over 60 with new eyes. And what they see is something vastly different than the stereotypes of senior citizens they grew up with. They are seeing vital, engaged elders living both longer and better. They are seeing retired people heading back to college, communicating by e-mail, going trekking in Nepal, and volunteering in schools and communities. They are seeing John Glenn redefine what it means to be 77 years old.

Slowly, it’s becoming plain to more and more middle-aged people that getting older really does mean getting better. It means becoming more fully ourselves, more confident about what we have to offer the world, and more focused on making the best use of the time we’re given.

Science is reinforcing this trend towards a more positive view of our elders. New studies of older adults show that we can still learn new skills – and even new languages – long after we turn 60. And science is reinforcing the common-sense idea that the people who live the longest and healthiest lives are those who are most engaged in their communities.

There’s another, more subtle shift in public attitudes about aging, too. As all those boomers face 50, they suddenly have a vested interest in creating a society in which elders are respected. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that when my generation hits our 70s and 80s, the idea of ancestor worship will start becoming more appealing, too.

I think I’ve been very lucky to grow up in a family where we always respect our elders, and where the family credo was to get a good education, work hard, and take care of each other. After all, you raised us and took care of us. You fought for our freedoms. So we felt a real reverence for you, and a deep respect for your dignity and for all the wisdom you’ve gained from your many years of experience.

My grandma lived to be 101, and for all but the last year and half of her life, she lived independently. We all helped to make that work for her. And she was one big reason why the idea of not trusting people over 30 just never made any sense to me.

Now it’s become an accepted principle in Olympia that the best thing we can do for seniors is to help them remain independent as long as possible. We’ve been making progress on this in the last few years, and I want to make more progress in the 1999 legislative session. That’s why, in the budget I will present this year, I’m proposing funding for non-profit organizations that screen home care workers. When you hire someone to cook or clean or help with personal care, you have a right to make sure you’re not hiring someone with a criminal background. That’s why having community organizations screen potential home care workers is so important.

We are also expanding the whole array of services that help people live independently, and to stay in their own communities. We’re adding more case managers to monitor the quality of care people receive in their homes. We’re going to add funding for better training of in-home caregivers and community residential providers. And we’re going make sure that all boarding homes install fire sprinklers.

I look forward to working with all of you to pass these measures in the 1999 legislative session. But I also need your help on the issues of education, economic vitality, and saving our salmon. This is going to be a tough year to write a state budget, and we will need to stand together to do what’s right for our schools, our teachers and state employees, and our community colleges and universities. Doing the best for our children will require tough choices and genuine sacrifices in other areas. And finding the funding that’s needed to help our distressed rural counties and restore the streams our salmon depend on won’t be easy, either.

The era of big government – and the era of big government budgets – is clearly behind us. And that’s why I need even more of your help. Government alone cannot save our salmon. Government alone can’t make our communities safe and healthy. And public school teachers alone can’t raise our children’s academic achievement levels.

The plain fact is that if people want government to do less, citizens simply must do more. And this is another area in which senior citizens are the leading edge. Many of you have life-long habits of contributing to your communities, volunteering in schools, and being good stewards of our environment. I’d like to ask you to be less modest about these achievements. And I’d like to ask you to be more assertive about teaching these good habits to the people around you.

Many of you have already done this by participating in the Reading Corps and helping struggling children learn to read. As you know very well, to help a child learn to read is to give a gift that will last a lifetime. And what children need most to master this skill is someone who will listen to them sound out words, and praise them when they do it right.

All across the state, senior citizens and Retired Senior Volunteer Programs have helped to make the Reading Corps a success. How many of you here today are Reading Corps volunteers? Please stand up. You deserve a round of applause.

And how many of you would be interested in becoming Reading Corps volunteers? We just happen to have someone here who will help you sign up.

I always know I can count on seniors to help with the Reading Corps because people who are old enough to remember World War II remember the power of victory gardens, and collecting tin and aluminum, and making first aid kits. You know what it is to live in a time when everyone pulled together and shared a common purpose. That’s what our society needs right now. And you are the experts. You have the power to make an enormous and positive difference in the lives of our children – and in the values, the habits, and the contributions of everyone around you.

And you’ve already done so much for my generation and our children and grandchildren. Your collective wisdom and experience is one of the great blessings of the state of Washington. You are a vital resource as we work together to prepare for a new century and a new era of rapid change. You can help all of us stay grounded in the enduring values that have made Washington a great place to live, work and raise a family.

So on behalf of all the people of the state of Washington, thank you for all you’ve done to preserve democracy and to create the communities we treasure today. And also on behalf of the people of our great state, thank you for all you will do to extend and deepen that legacy in the years to come.

Thank you very much.
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