Lieutenant Governor Denn, Auditor Wagner, Attorney General Biden, Insurance Commissioner Weldin Stewart, Treasurer Flowers, President Pro Tem Blevins, Speaker Schwartzkopf, Members of the General Assembly, Chief Justice Steele, Judge Jurden, members of the judiciary, former Governor Castle, Former First Lady Jean Tribbitt, our guests from embassies and consulates who have joined us for this occasion, Bishop Malooly, Rabbi Grumbacher, Carla, Molly, Michael, my brother David, my sister Judy, Mom, and my fellow Delawareans.
Four years ago, I took the oath of this office with a solemn sense of obligation. We faced soaring unemployment and record budget shortfalls. We had, as I said at the time, “historic and hard decisions to make.”
Two weeks ago, I was reminded that the obligations of this office remain solemn and serious. As Commander in Chief of the Delaware National Guard, I was present as loved ones said goodbye to 127 soldiers from our 153rd Military Police Company, who were leaving for one year to serve our nation in Afghanistan. This year, more members of our National Guard will be deployed to hostile theaters than at any time since 9/11. For some, it will be their third deployment. Their willingness to serve – to give years of their lives, to forgo the comforts of home, to place themselves in harm’s way – is truly humbling.
The bravery and sacrifice of these young Delawareans rightfully evokes comparisons to the Greatest Generation, a generation that is leaving us far too quickly. Of the 16 million veterans who served in the Second World War, fewer than 1 in 10 remain. My own father, a veteran of the European theater in World War II, sat in the front row of my inaugural four years ago. He died two months later.
The passing of the Greatest Generation brings to mind the question of the measure of a generation’s greatness. The Founding generation risked their lives and legacy to give us a system of government that has, over the course of centuries, made us the freest, most flourishing people in the history of humanity. The Civil War generation fought our nation’s bloodiest war, so that the horizons of liberty and equality might be expanded for future generations. The Greatest Generation endured depression and global war and responded by building institutions that laid the groundwork for decades of peace and prosperity. And the Civil Rights generation braved billy clubs and firebombs to make real the promise of dignity and equality for all Americans.
That these are the generations we celebrate as Delawareans and Americans reflects our deep and abiding belief, shared by so many for so long, that if we work hard and build for the future, we can make it possible for our children to live a better life. We are believers in the possibility of improvement and of progress. We are parties to an unspoken compact. As our ancestors have done for us, so we must do for posterity: enjoy the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, but multiply them in turn for those whose time is yet to come.
Keeping faith with that compact is the most sacred obligation of this office, of every office of public trust, and of citizenship itself. It is an obligation that Delawareans have met time and time again. Delaware led the way in enshrining the ideals of the Revolution in a constitution that has stood the test of time. P.S. and T. Coleman du Pont led the creation of the schools and highways that helped build America’s middle class. Louis Redding and Collins Seitz laid the premise for the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. The Milford Eleven endured indignities to make real for others that decision’s promise of dignity for all.
Fifty years from now and one-hundred years from now, new generations of Delawareans will likely gather as we do today. They may not know our names and they certainly won’t know our faces. But they will know what we have done, whether we made Delaware better or worse in our time, because it is they who will live with the results. They will know whether we responded to global economic pressures by laying a new groundwork for future prosperity or whether we allowed the American dream to fade on our watch. They will know whether we protected our state from the threats posed to it by a warming planet or whether we left our state exposed to the future ravages of storm and sea. They will know whether we expanded the circle of freedom, equality, and dignity in our time or whether we stood in the way of progress.
Let it be said of us that we understood the times we lived in; that we appreciated the strength of the foundation that was created for our benefit by others; and that we did as the Great Law of the Iroquois so wisely commands – that in every deliberation, we considered the impact of our decision on the seventh generation in the future, even if the decision required “having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
I know that we have the vision and the fortitude required. I have seen it in the historic and hard decisions of the past four years.
We closed the largest budget shortfall in our state’s history by together choosing a course of shared sacrifice. We made difficult cuts, but we protected the most vulnerable among us. We continued to invest in our children and their future.
Knowing that education was critical to that future, we came together and created an ambitious plan to strengthen our schools – a plan to Race to the Top. We will win that race because our plan is forward-looking and bold and because every district, union, charter, and school board in the state are putting aside their differences to support it.
We responded to crushing job losses by working to rebuild our economy. We encouraged existing employers to grow, attracted new employers to our state, and made credit available to help our small businesses both survive in the present and build for the future.
Faced with rising health and pension costs that threatened our children with a crushing burden of inherited obligations, we resisted the temptation to kick the can down the road. We brought everyone to the table and reached an agreement that will save future taxpayers billions of dollars.
Rather than putting the questions of our environment and our children’s quality of life on the backburner while we coped with the pressing demands of the present, we put them on the frontburner by modernizing our energy infrastructure. In four years, Delaware has moved from one of the dirtiest fuel mixes in the country to one of the cleanest.
Unwilling to ignore, even in hard economic times, the old and true maxim that justice delayed is justice denied, Delaware has also moved in four short years to put an end to legal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and to extend the protections of the law for all committed couples.
The work we have done together these past four years is just the beginning. That work continues, starting today.
We will create a Delaware even better poised for prosperity in the new world we live in. Rather than ask how we might consume more today, we will ask how we might invest more effectively in the foundation for tomorrow’s growth – our schools, our workforce, and our quality of life.
We will continue our efforts to make Delaware’s public schools the envy of the world. We must make it our goal that, when our work is done, there is no place the best and brightest teachers would rather teach – and there is no place families would rather send their children – than Delaware’s public schools.
We will make it possible for every child in Delaware to achieve his or her full potential. All children will enter kindergarten ready to learn. They will be taught to high standards and offered opportunities to acquire unique skills – such as world language fluency – that will make them stand out against their peers in Maryland and Mumbai. All will graduate our schools prepared for the college or career of their choice. They will have the best shot we can give them to realize their dreams, and they will continue building a strong Delaware for generations to come.
We will build on the legacy of past leadership, like the Coastal Zone Act and the Financial Center Development Act, to ensure that Delaware remains among the best places in the world to live, to work, and to do business. The Delaware we will pass on to our children will continue to have beautiful beaches and abundant open space, and it will have cleaner air, more outdoor recreation and safer, more vibrant communities. The Delaware our children will inherit will also be an outsized exporter and a hub for entrepreneurial activity.
We will power our businesses with cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy. The First State will be second to none in global stewardship and global competitiveness.
We will advance the cause of liberty, equality, and dignity in our time. Our state will be a welcoming place to live, to love, and to raise families for all who choose to call Delaware home.
These ambitions may be out of step with the doubt that has crept into our national mood – the doubt whether we can do big things, whether we can act in the present for the sake of the future. But in Delaware we don’t share these doubts. In tough times, generation after generation of Delawareans have come together and made the tough decisions. And every generation has left behind a greater and more prosperous Delaware as a result.
Now it’s our generation’s turn. This is our time. Let’s continue to come together as the neighbors we are. Let’s continue to put our common aspirations for our children first. When we do these things, not only will we keep faith with the solemn and sacred compact that has kept Delaware and America moving forward throughout our history; by our actions, we in the First State will show our country the way and give it reason to believe once again in its unique, historic, and hopeful promise.