Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
YMCA Youth Legislature Opening Joint Session
May 5, 2004

Thank you, Governor Tayla Crane. Good evening, members of the 2004 YMCA Youth Legislature.

It is always an honor to address the YMCA Youth Legislature at this opening joint session. It’s something I look forward to every year.

Four months ago, I spoke in similar circumstances. I delivered my State of the State Address to a joint session of the state Legislature.

We faced challenges just as you do now. We had opportunities just as you do now. Like you, we could not predict how all the issues would play out and exactly what we would accomplish. Legislative sessions are always exciting—and typically unpredictable.

But I am prepared to make one prediction tonight: I am confident that you will all enjoy this experience and leave with a much better understanding of our legislative process.

It is often said that what we do today, we do for future generations. As a father, I know that’s true. I always think of Emily and Dylan when I act on legislation. I can’t help but look beyond the immediate issues and current concerns. I think about my own children, and all the people who will come after my generation—people like you.

When I was your age it never occurred to me that I would serve in state government. When I first came here to Olympia to work on the staff of the Legislature, I suddenly realized that legislators were just ordinary people like me. I looked around and saw teachers, fire fighters, business owners, homemakers, nurses, farmers and community activists.

That was empowering. It made me see that I too could actually come here to work to improve the lives of the citizens of Washington State if I cared about our state. There was no magic or mystique to it. Just a lot of hard work, determination, and a commitment to service. That was empowering because I’m not very magical or mystical. But I do know how to work hard, and the idea of serving was very inspiring to me. It still is.

It’s clear that you are all a little quicker than I was. Tayla Crane rose to the office of Governor a few decades ahead of me! And all of you are younger than I was when I started in the Legislature.

This will be a great experience for you. Many people don’t have a very clear idea about how our government works. It’s sometimes confusing even for those of us who work in government every day!

All of you know quite a bit about our government already. And now you’re about to experience it firsthand. This will make you better citizens—and better voters. And hopefully a little more understanding and sympathetic of elected officials and the complexity of their decisions.

But probably the most important things you will take home are simple truths. We live in the greatest nation that ever was. And you can make a difference. Dare to dream big dreams. Be pioneers, be the first. Because this is a state and a nation of great opportunities. And these opportunities are within your grasp.

I know about these truths firsthand. My family has lived these opportunities. My grandfather came to America from China when he was a teenager more than a hundred years ago. He settled in Olympia where he worked as a houseboy for a family in exchange for English lessons.

Now I live in the Governor's mansion just one mile from where my grandfather lived — the first Chinese-American governor in the history of the United States. The first Asian-American governor on the continental U.S. Our family jokes that it took one hundred years to travel one mile! But what a journey it has been! And it is a journey experienced by most Americans because we are a land of immigrants – whether it’s first generation or 10th generation, whether ancestors came voluntarily or involuntarily.

Over two thousand years ago, a humble idea called Democracy rose out of the Greek Islands. Ever since then, we’ve worked to make democracy better and government fairer for the next generation. And it’s worked so far. But each generation bears this responsibility anew. Perhaps that is why the motto of the Youth Legislature is “Democracy must be learned by each generation.”

Our democracy has evolved over time because of young people like you. People who have sought to learn how the system works. People who have sought to make it work better.

We are fortunate to live in a country where anyone can participate in government.
There are people your age around the world, desperate for a chance to make a difference to change their government to end oppression. There are even people younger than you fighting in armies and dying to change their society.

You have that chance to make a difference, and your participation in this program shows that you take that opportunity seriously. I am proud of you for that.

I commend all of you for participating in the YMCA Youth Legislature. I hope your experiences here give you some insight into how government works. And some ideas on how you might like to improve our state and nation.

I also hope that some of you pursue the path of public service further. We need people like you to advance our great democracy, one step and one law at a time. I encourage you to get out in the world, and make the difference that you can surely make.

I would like to close by sharing with you what I shared with our state Legislature in my State of the State address this year.

I told our Legislature:

“An even better Washington is within our grasp. A Washington that is defined by certain fundamental rights. Fundamental rights that have been the basis of our efforts the last seven years and our proposals this year. We must continue to work for a future that ensures these rights for successive generations.

“What are these fundamental rights?

“The right to a quality education and opportunities for lifelong learning.

“The right to opportunities for family-wage jobs in a vibrant and expanding economy.

“The right to comprehensive health care that is affordable and available.

“The right to a clean, healthy environment.

“The right to live in a respectful, fair and safe society.”

This is the vision I shared with the Legislature at the start of the year and the session. And now I ask of you what I asked of our Legislature: Let’s make this happen. If we work hard, if we work together, if we make the tough choices, we will accomplish great things for our state.

I’d like to ask one more thing: Take a look around you. In this group here tonight, you are seeing the future of Washington State.

And who knows? One of you may someday stand where I am standing, telling a group of bright young people how you became Governor by starting your dream early—during the opening session of the Youth Legislature!

Thank you for participating in this program, and good luck in your future endeavors.

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