Lt. Governor Denn
Auditor Wagner, Insurance Commissioner Weldin Stewart, Treasurer Jones-Potter, Acting Attorney General Gebelein
Senate President Pro Tem Adams, Speaker of the House Gilligan and Members of the General Assembly
Justice Steele and members of the Judiciary
former Governors Wolf, Buckson and Peterson
former Lt. Governors Carney, Woo and Bookhammer
Wing Commander Colonel Manson Morris
Bishop Malooly and Rabbi Grumbacher
Carla, Molly, Michael, David and Judy, Mom and Dad
Nearly a half-century ago, President John F. Kennedy declared: “Let the word go forth from this time and place that the torch has been passed to a new generation.”
That torch has been passed again, in a ritual that marks the constant renewal, reinvention, and revival of the spirit that has made America – and Delaware – great. It is a torch that continues to light our way, even in the darkest times.
From the beginning, progress for America has originated in Delaware. The ratification of the Constitution, establishing the greatest democracy the world has ever known, was led by our state. And today, our nation is led by President Barack Obama and by our new Vice President, Delaware’s own Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Yesterday’s historic Inaugural marked the realization of change we truly can believe in. It reinforces our faith that America can still meet any challenge and that our best days do indeed lie ahead. This is the American creed… and Delaware has lit the way.
We lit the way in the dim aftermath of the Revolutionary War, with our new nation’s economy laid low by staggering war debts. The passing of Delaware’s own independence hero, Caesar Rodney, underscored a sense that we were losing a richer past. Yet in those uncertain times, a torch was passed. The very next year, in 1785, Oliver Evans of Newport invented automatic flour milling machinery that revolutionized the industry. Not long after, a French refugee, E.I. duPont, began manufacturing gunpowder along the Brandywine River, and Delaware emerged as an engine of economic prosperity. Two centuries later, in the wake of the Great Depression, Dr. Wallace Carothers invented the first synthetic fiber, again revolutionizing the American way of life – and Delaware’s economy.
We have risen from challenge to create new opportunity time after time. With the War of 1812 raging around us, Delaware’s Peter Spencer founded the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, the first independent African American denomination in the United States. It was the beginning of a new struggle for freedom and equality that stretched through the establishment, on the ashes of the Civil War, of Howard High School, Delaware’s first for African Americans. One Howard student, Louis Redding, became our state’s first African American lawyer and a champion of civil rights. Redding’s advocacy led to the 1952 ruling by Judge Collins Seitz that “separate but equal” is un-American and unconstitutional – the first such court decision in the United States.
On the backs of these Delaware giants, President Barack Obama stood yesterday as he took the oath of office.
Today is a celebration of the knowledge that the audacity of hope makes all things possible in our time.
But these times are also marked by an abiding belief that America needs new leadership to tackle the challenges we face as a nation. Increased global competition for our workers. The collapse of the capital markets that businesses need to grow. The vanishing of retirement savings. And our recognition so late in the game that climate change represents real peril to our earth.
These are the defining challenges of the moment. It is not, however, these challenges but how we meet them that will define us as a people. I believe that we will overcome – and that our best days do indeed lie ahead.
It is not that the challenges we face are insubstantial. Here in Delaware, in fact, it is not too much to say that they are historic.
Historic unemployment. Historic budget deficits. Historic and hard decisions to make.
Already, too many Delawareans are out of work. That number will climb as people laid off at the end of last year move into the unemployment lines.
These are the factory workers from Seaford who stitched together the fabric of our nation for decades, but whose industries have unraveled.
They are contractors, electricians, painters, and realtors whose jobs collapsed with the national housing market.
They are the proud workers on Chrysler assembly lines that made the tanks that won World War II – but now make nothing at all.
They are our neighbors, our friends, our families – and there are more than at any point in Delaware history. And the smallest shudder from the national economy could add thousands more to those rolls.
Sadly, the nation’s financial crises have engulfed our state government just when people most need its help.
We face the largest budget shortfall in state history. Dramatically larger than anything we have ever faced in our lifetimes.
And unlike the federal government, Delaware, by law, must balance its budget every year. So, from today to the end of this fiscal year, in June, we must find a way to cut our spending by 100 million dollars. Simultaneously, we must create and pass a budget for the next fiscal year that eliminates another 600 million dollars – nearly 20 percent of our entire state budget.
We all know this is an enormous budgetary shock for a small state to absorb.
The state is in the position of millions of American families today whose bills continue to climb but whose income has fallen. How do families cope? They start, of course, by eliminating unneeded expenses – turning the thermostat down, postponing big purchases, cancelling vacations.
We will do what families do: trim every ounce of fat from our budget. Beginning this very afternoon, we will launch a statewide performance audit to uncover and eliminate unnecessary expenditures throughout this government.
I believe there are millions of dollars of waste and inefficiency to eliminate from government. We will find it.
However, given the magnitude of our financial crisis, cutting waste will not be enough. Like the struggling American families who have cut and cut and still come up short, we will have to make further, painful sacrifices.
That means cutting back on many government functions and services – even some that we all agree are needed. This will not be easy. It will not be painless. But we will do it. And we will prevail.
We are not here today merely to steady the ship in a storm, but to embark upon high seas and to sail into stiff headwinds in the hope – indeed, the faith – that we can and we will, as always, bring our children and our families home to a brighter future. We will trim our sails as we must to make it through the current gales. But we will not simply lie down as the waves crash over us. This storm will pass – a new day will arrive, and we must be prepared to seize that day, too, when it comes. We will not wait: We will start building today.
I see beyond the gray clouds, to a brighter Delaware.
A Delaware where every child can grow to his or her full potential. Where every worker has the opportunity to earn as much as possible. Where every family has the health care, housing, and heat they need to live a decent life.
A Delaware that is the best place in the world to go to school, to raise a family, and to start a business.
We will get there only if – in fact, because – we dare to be bold in the face of adversity.
We want to start by using the anticipated federal stimulus money not just to build short-term jobs but to create future growth in energy infrastructure and a greener economy.
We will not wait to set in motion longer-term reforms that will place Delaware at the forefront of the 21st century economy. The basis for that economy is education, and we must make Delaware’s education system the best in the world. We currently rank near the top in the nation for education spending per student. It’s time we rank in the top for education results for students.
We will spend smarter. We will demand accountability from top to bottom. We will retain, recruit, and train the best teachers in America – and we will reward them for carrying out the most valuable job in Delaware. We will demand the performance, promote the innovation, and provide the flexibility to make every school in this state great.
And when our schools produce those top-flight scholars, and engineers, and nurses, we will send the message to employers around the world that they can find the workers they want here in Delaware. By creating a 21st-century workforce development system that trains workers for the jobs employers need, we will make the term “Delaware workforce” a high-quality credential that employers trust.
With that world-class workforce, we will attract the industries of the future. Building on all of our intellectual and natural resources, we will create a first-in-the-nation statewide Climate Prosperity initiative.
We will expand our efforts to promote entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and asset-building. The ultimate goal of all these innovations will be to promote people-centered, community-based development that makes virtually every individual an economic resource rather than a financial responsibility.
Our commitment to supporting Delaware families will not waver. We will work with the federal government to finally bring affordable health care to every Delawarean.
We will develop a Public Safety Plan to keep every street in Delaware safe.
And we will start by opening up state government itself: I pledge that my administration will be more transparent and accountable than any that have come before.
Some might call this agenda ambitious. Some might even call it “audacious.” But audacity is exactly what this day demands. To brave the raging storm, to dare upon the roiling sea, and still to reach for the further shore: My fellow Delawareans, that is our challenge. That is our charge. That is our task. And this is our time.
Lifetimes from now, if an inquiring descendant of one of us here today should come across these words in the deep recesses of Delaware’s beautiful public archives building next door, may they bring to mind a time when a determined people overcame one of the greatest economic challenges of their history and – as they had time and again before – embraced the challenge and pulled themselves back up to the pinnacle of success. When they joined hands in common cause rather than falling to division and dissension. When a people understood that just because you cannot predict the future, it does not mean you cannot create it. When the torch was passed to a new generation – and, against great odds, like those before them they carried it higher. Let us be that people. Let us be remembered as that generation. Let us seize these times.
As John Kennedy told us as he took up that torch 48 years ago, “All this will not be done in the first one hundred days, or the first one thousand days, or in the life of this Administration, or even perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet.”
“But let us begin.”