Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
State of the State Address
January 12, 1999
Mr. President, Mr. Speakers, Honorable Chief Justice, distinguished Justices of the Supreme Court, statewide elected officials, members of the Washington State Legislature, Congressman Adam Smith and Sarah, other elected officials, members of the Consular Association, and fellow citizens:
What a difference a year makes. I am pleased to welcome many friends back to Olympia, and to greet the new members of this historic 56th Legislature. Each of you has worked very hard to be here, and I share your sense of pride in the opportunity to serve the people of the state of Washington.
Every elected official in this room knows that we didn’t get here by ourselves. We owe so much to our families. That’s why I would like to begin today by introducing and thanking this state’s First Lady, First Mom, and my best friend: Mona Locke. And I’d like to introduce my father Jimmy Locke.
While the many new faces in this room have changed the majority party in the Senate and brought the ultimate in bipartisan balance to the House, the challenges before us remain the same. In fact, as we prepare to enter a new century, our challenges have become more urgent.
The message of the last election was clear: the people of our state want us to focus on issues over politics – plain and simple. Now, all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, must say: we are listening.
So tonight I issue a challenge to this legislature: a challenge to forge a partnership, a partnership to solve real problems.
In the past two years, we’ve made a good start. Unemployment is low. Our children’s test scores are going up as our state’s tough, new academic standards begin to take root. Our truly tenacious and brilliant Attorney General, Christine Gregoire, has slayed the nicotine dragon, and made possible new investments in health care and disease prevention possible. When I took office, there were 96,000 families on welfare in our state. Today, we have reduced welfare dependence by over 33 percent. We have truly begun to change the culture of state government, and to rebuild pride in public service. Our Savings Incentive Plan has ended the "spend it or lose it" mentality of state government, and freed up millions of dollars for school construction and technology. Later this month, we will give out the first-ever tax refund to more than 100,000 businesses, thanks to their efforts to make their workplaces safer, and thanks to the wise management and efficiency of state employees.
We have been blessed with a strong economy and creative entrepreneurs who’ve broken all records for new job creation. There is, to be sure, economic uncertainty and hardship as a result of the Asian economic downturn. But as we close the 20th century, I’m proud to say the state of our state is vibrant, hopeful, and filled with promise.
Clearly, our citizens want us to continue focusing on issues that concern everyday people. And you know what that means in my book: education.
Education is the great equalizer in our society, and knowledge is the price of admission to the 21st century. That’s why my primary goal as governor is to make Washington a state of learning – a state where every citizen, of every age, is involved in education. A state where learning is truly a way of life.
Most of you – Republicans and Democrats alike promised to focus on education. So let us join together to make education the centerpiece of this 56th Legislature, and to make Washington a state of learning.
One hundred years ago, in the final days of the 19th century, Governor John Rogers stood before the legislature and delivered the state of the state address. Governor Rogers was a former state legislator, and the prime sponsor of the "Barefoot Schoolboy Act," which established state funding for public schools. At that time, public schooling meant an 8th grade education for most children.
In his 1899 speech, Governor Rogers called for something very controversial: extending public education from the 8th grade to the 12th grade! He also asked the legislature to fund circulating libraries in horse-drawn wagons, because he believed that if students developed a taste for good reading "a vast and incalculable good (would) be done, and the character of the future men and women of this state (would) be elevated to a higher plane."
Today, as we stand on the cusp of another new century, it is vital that we reflect on what we have gained, and what we have learned in the last hundred years.
At the time of Governor Rogers’ 1899 speech, the population of Washington was 500,000. And when he addressed the legislature, he faced an all-male group. Women in Washington State were still 11 years away from winning the vote.
Today, our state’s population is over five and one-half million, and still growing. And Washington holds the proud distinction of having the highest percentage of female legislators in the United States.
When Governor Rogers held office, industries freely dumped vast amounts of raw waste into our rivers and bays. Children as young as 10 years old worked in factories. And in most industries, people worked long hours, in dangerous conditions, and were without the most basic workers’ rights.
Clearly, we have made progress in this century. But now we must chart our course for the next century.
None of us can predict what our world will be like a hundred years from now. We know that our population will continue to grow and become more diverse, our technology and economy will be transformed, and scientific advances will continue to astonish us. Dramatic progress in medicine and health care will mean that many – perhaps even most – of the children born this year – like Emily’s little brother or sister will actually live to see the beginning of the 22nd century.
But although we can see only the dimmest outline of what lies ahead, three things are imperative:
First, to succeed in the coming century, education must become a larger part of all our lives – and education of our children must become an even higher priority.
Second, we must learn to live in harmony with the natural world that sustains us, and we must protect the wild salmon, the rivers, the forests and the agricultural lands that will sustain the people of the 21st century and beyond.
And third, we must learn to live in harmony with each other. We must learn to be more civil, more respectful of our differences, and more appreciative of our diversity.
If, in the next two years, our actions are guided by these three imperatives, we will do a good job of preparing our state for a new century and achieving Washington’s promise.
The first – education – is the key. Let me tell you a little story that illustrates why. A few years ago, just after Microsoft stock went public, the husband of a former state senator had a chat with a close friend of Bill Gates III. The husband asked the friend if she thought he should buy some Microsoft stock. And she said, "Oh, no, I don’t think so. They really don’t have any capital, or any assets to speak of. All they have is what’s in their brains."
That was spectacularly bad advice. And what made it such bad advice was the failure to recognize that what’s in our brains is the most valuable asset of all. What’s in our brains is the new economy’s most important form of capital. It’s no longer raw materials, or even money that new businesses need most. What they need is smart, well-educated people with new ideas. So what’s in our brains is the critical source of our future prosperity.
That’s why we need to pay much more attention to how young brains develop. We know now that learning begins at birth, and that the first three years of a child’s life are critical to creating a lifelong capacity for learning. That’s why our Commission on Early Learning, chaired by our First Lady and Melinda Gates, is working to ensure that every infant and every toddler gets the consistent affection and stimulation they need so they can love and learn to their fullest potential, throughout their lives. This is what it will take for every child to come to kindergarten ready to succeed.
Our next task, of course, is to make sure that every child, in every public school, does succeed and meets our state’s tough new academic standards. But our schools need help to do this.
They need more teachers, and that’s why I’m proposing to add 1,000 new teachers to our elementary schools. This will provide more individualized attention to more of our youngest students. And we know that this will make a lasting difference.
But as even our youngest students will tell you, all teachers are not the same. We need not just more teachers, but more outstanding teachers. Higher expectations of students and higher expectations of teachers simply must go hand in hand. That’s why I’m proposing scholarships to outstanding teacher candidates in subjects like math and science, where we have shortages. That’s why I’m proposing that teachers must pass competency tests before they set foot in the classroom. And that’s why I want to give significant pay increases to the outstanding teachers who meet the tough standards of state and national certification.
Just as important, we need to fundamentally change the way we finance schools by creating incentives and rewards for helping students meet our tough new academic standards.
Our state Learning Assistance Program provides extra funding and staffing for schools with large numbers of failing students. But when students in those schools begin to improve, we cut that funding. Punishing schools for doing a good job makes no sense, and we should end this practice immediately, and reform this program.
Indeed, schools that do a good job should be honored and rewarded. To do that, I’m proposing cash awards to elementary and middle schools where test scores go up three years in a row.
If our schools are to improve, we need to free them from the control of Olympia and even their local central administration and give them the flexibility and tools to succeed. So, I call on you to create Opportunity School Districts – districts where money goes directly to individual schools with decision-making authority over spending vested in principals, teachers, and parents, and where most state regulations will be waived.
But the most important thing our schools need is us – citizens of our state. Teachers can’t do it all. They need our time, our support, and our consistent involvement. In the past six months, the Washington Reading Corps has begun to make good on the promise of greater parent and citizen involvement in schools all across our state. Today, over 9,000 volunteers have spent time helping 19,788 children master the skill of reading. But many more children who need this help are still not getting it. So I call on all parents and citizens to be more involved in our schools, to help our children learn to read, and to help our schools be the best in the nation.
It is my passionate belief, as it was the belief of Governor Rogers 100 years ago, that a relentless focus on creating avid readers will do a "vast and incalculable good," and that it will help to "raise the character of the future men and women of this state to a higher plane."
But we must recognize that the "higher plane" to which today’s students must rise is far above the elevation imagined by Governor Rogers. Governor Rogers recognized that the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy required the addition of a high school education. At the dawn of a new century, we must recognize that the transition from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy will require education beyond high school.
That’s why I’m proposing the creation of Washington’s Promise scholarships. These two-year college scholarships will be awarded to the top 15 percent of every high school graduating class, starting with this year’s senior class. When our new, 10th grade test is in place, it will be awarded to all high school students who pass that test. And it is my hope that eventually, it will be awarded to every high school graduate, in recognition of the fact that the world of the 21st century simply requires a higher level of education.
These two-year scholarships can be used at any public or private institution in this state. It will be available to students whose families make up to 135 percent of median family income – not poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $69,000; for a family of five, it’s $82,000.
And these scholarships can be used for short-term technical training. A student might, for instance, take a 12-week course, get a job, and use the balance of the scholarship for periodic skill upgrades over a period of several years. This represents a new way of thinking about what it means to get a college education.
A college education is a part of the American Dream. But today, the sad reality is that unless you’re from a high-income family or a low-income family that qualifies for financial aid, paying for college is getting harder every year. Going to college isn’t just a symbol of honor or distinction any more – it’s a necessity. So, it’s about time we help working and middle-class families realize the American dream of a college education.
The timing of this proposal is critical. We know that the baby-boom echo is about to result in a surge of new high school graduates who will want and need higher education. We also know that a record number of older adults are returning to school to change careers, to upgrade their skills, or to enrich their own understanding of the world in which we live. All of this requires us to stretch the capacity of our higher education system.
To do this, I am proposing that we make room for 10,000 more students in the next two years. I am also proposing the creation of the Washington Online College, which will help students of every age, in every corner of the state, enroll in distance education courses with credit over the Internet.
But it isn’t enough to simply expand our colleges and universities. In our state today, our information technology industries have over 7,000 job openings, paying very high wages. Yet our colleges are only graduating some 1,300 students a year with the appropriate degrees to fill those jobs. The result is that Washington companies are hiring workers from other states and other countries. I want Washingtonians trained for Washington jobs. We must therefore insist that our colleges and universities offer the courses that our students are demanding.
A greater willingness to learn is also essential to saving our wild salmon. And we have to own up to the fact that, in the course of this century, we have been very slow learners.
We’ve finally learned that salmon simply cannot live without abundant, clean, cold water in our rivers and streams. We’ve also learned that our natural environment is finite and fragile, and that when we abuse our environment, there are measurable and often irreversible consequences.
But the most important lesson is the one that Chief Seattle tried to teach us long ago. It is that we are a part of the web of life, and not its master or its architect.
Salmon recovery is about much more than fish. It is about respect for the natural world that sustains us. And if we fail to do what’s necessary for salmon, we will fail at something far larger than saving fish. We will fail at saving the very quality of life that makes living in the Pacific Northwest special and distinctive.
In addition to the long-term consequences of a degraded environment, we face a more immediate threat: If we fail to protect our wild salmon, the federal government will do it for us – and to us. We will lose control over our land, our water, and our farms and forests. That will not happen without a fight. And there is no guarantee, of course, that a federally-imposed salmon strategy would even work.
The truth that every Washington resident must know is that salmon recovery will affect all of us – even those of us who don’t fish, don’t live near streams, or don’t even like to eat salmon. Restoring salmon – and protecting our environment – will affect decisions about where and how we build new homes, and expand or start businesses. It will affect how we wash our cars and fertilize our lawns, and how much we pay for water and electricity. And the longer we postpone the tough decisions needed to save our wild salmon, the higher the costs will be.
That’s why I am calling for over $200 million in immediate state and federal investments to help local and tribal governments implement watershed recovery plans; to enforce the environmental laws we already have on the books; to remove barriers to fish in our streams; and to help farmers and timber owners protect salmon habitat.
There’s something else we need to learn, too. Over the past several decades, we’ve passed tough laws that keep criminals behind bars longer. But we need to learn that whether a convicted criminal is released in two years or ten years, they will come back to our communities. We made a mistake when we abolished parole. We need to fix that mistake by passing our offender accountability act and bringing back parole.
And this year, I am also asking you to approve legislation that will help transform every state agency into the kind of nimble, adaptable organization that can change with the times, and provide high quality services. We need the authority to contract out state services to the private sector, and to let state employees compete for those contracts. We need to expand collective bargaining rights for state employees – to the same degree now enjoyed by city and county employees. And we need a simple, streamlined personnel and civil service system.
There is so much more to do. I’ll be sending you proposals to create prosperous rural communities that attract high-tech, high-wage jobs and help existing businesses grow. We must provide real, measurable relief from the traffic congestion that impedes economic growth and drives commuters crazy. We must ensure that our elders are able to live independently for as long as possible. And we simply must invest in decent housing for the farm workers who harvest the food we eat.
This is the mindset of my agenda: instead of standing at the bottom of the cliff with an ambulance and a stretcher, we want state government to be at the top of the cliff, building fences. We want our children to get the education they need to succeed in the 21st century, so they won’t ever have to apply for welfare. We want to help people get jobs and move up a career ladder rather than just paying them to be poor. We want to help people stay healthy, rather than just paying the bills when they get sick. We want to preserve and protect our natural resources rather than waiting until the last wild salmon disappears. And we want to prevent the crime, the child neglect, and the anguish caused by drug abuse, rather than picking up the pieces broken lives and families.
To accomplish all this – to forge successful partnerships, to solve real problems, and to focus on issues over politics – we must keep in mind that third imperative: the imperative of living in harmony with each other. Here in Olympia, that means we must keep our minds open to new ideas, regardless of whether they come from Democrats or Republicans, or from the executive branch or the legislature. We must not demean one another, exaggerate our differences, or impugn the motives of those with whom we differ. We must work harder at respecting our differences, and remembering that even in the heat of debate, we owe each other and the people we serve the highest standard of civility and honesty.
We simply must hold fast to the values embraced by generations of the Locke family and families all across our state: get a good education, work hard, and take care of each other. I’d like to introduce some people who embody those values – people who remind us of the power all of us have to make a positive difference in our state’s future:
Meet Margaret Banks, an outstanding teacher from Vancouver who’s won certification by the prestigious National Board for Professional Teaching Standards at great expense to herself and without any accompanying extra compensation. Thank you, Margaret, for your commitment to education.
Next, please welcome Teddy McDaniel, a fifth grade student at Cedar Valley Elementary in Lynnwood, and Cindy Anderson, his Reading Corps tutor. Teddy wrote me a letter to tell me how much difference a summer reading academy made in his young life. This year he’s been moved to a higher reading group, and the other kids don’t laugh at him any more when he reads out loud. Teddy wrote, "School is better for me this year. And everyone is proud of me and I’m proud of myself." We’re proud of you Teddy!
Next please welcome Angela Grasser, a single mom and WorkFirst participant who is off public assistance after two and a half years and doing well in her new job thanks in part to the help she received from her case manager, Lisa Wheaton, and Kimberly Metcalf, her Employment Security job counselor. Good luck to you Angela and thank you Lisa and Kimberly.
And finally, I’d like to introduce Hazel Wolf, who was born in 1898. Hazel has said that her ambition is to live into the 21st century so that she’ll have the distinction of having been alive in three centuries. She is a lifelong environmental activist who has taught generations of children to be good stewards of the natural world. And she is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of both our best and most enduring values, and the appetite for adventure and learning that the beginning of a new century evokes.
These are the people who show us the way to make Washington a state of learning, and to achieve Washington’s promise. And these are the people who show us that the longer we live, the more we can give – to our families, our communities, and our country.
A hundred years from now, today’s elected officials will be but historical photographs on the walls of this magnificent building. Our chance to make a difference for the people and the future of Washington State is brief and fleeting. We must all make the most of it. Let us commit to preparing the way for a new century, and a new era of hope, opportunity, and lifelong learning.
Thank you very much.