Inaugural Address

January 6, 2015

My fellow Rhode Islanders, it is a great honor to address you today. I am humbled by the challenges before us, mindful of the many Rhode Island families struggling with some of the toughest economic conditions that we've ever faced, and deeply grateful that you've put your trust in me.

Let me begin by expressing our shared heartfelt appreciation to Governor Chafee for his more than 25 years of dedicated public service to our state.

Let us also acknowledge the brave men and women serving in uniform: our troops, first responders and correctional officers. Thank you for your service.

And let me thank my wonderful family for supporting me at every step. I love you.

The challenges that any governor inherits define the possibilities before them. And how we solve intractable problems is limited only by our creativity and by our courage to tackle the most difficult challenges.

Over the past 30 years we've watched the foundation of our economy - our manufacturing base - erode. Our manufacturing sector used to provide good, middle-class jobs for Rhode Island families. And as it has withered, nothing has taken its place.

In just the last year, we've had the highest unemployment rate in the country for nine straight months. We've been 49th among states where companies want to do business ... and dead last for helping entrepreneurs.

At the same time, our government has become larger ... but less effective. We face an unsustainable budget deficit ... yet our roads, bridges, and school buildings are crumbling.

As a result, workers are insecure, families are vulnerable, and too many cities are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. And, far too many young people are leaving to seek opportunities elsewhere.

But just as troubling, is a growing belief held by too many Rhode Islanders that our problems are just too big to solve ... that there's nothing we can do ... and that our leaders don't get it, don't care, or are rendered ineffective by a broken system which caters to the few, the connected.

We've witnessed a growing acceptance that "this is Rhode Island" ... it's just the way things are. So we've lowered our expectations, deferred our dreams, and allowed corruption to take root.

Today we begin to change this attitude.

It is time to stop our decline, and to ignite a Rhode Island comeback.

It's not something that will happen on its own or that we can wait for someone else to do. Every person within the sound of my voice and far beyond has a role to play. I need you, Rhode Island needs you, and generations to come need you to get involved and be part of the solution.

Most important, we must believe it is possible to have this comeback that our families deserve, and commit ourselves to a new way of doing things.

At times, these changes will be uncomfortable. So often we've resisted new ideas because people say, "We've never done it that way." But, doing it the way we've always done it has landed us here.

We need new politics, and new ideas. Too many interest groups have crowded into this building for too long, putting their short-term self-interests before the long-term interests of all Rhode Islanders.

Today, I ask Rhode Islanders to think differently.

Ask yourself: what role can I play in the comeback of Rhode Island? How can we, as elected leaders, represent all of the concerns of a diverse people? How can business leaders develop new strategies to meet payroll and expand jobs here in Rhode Island? How can our educators create cutting-edge laboratories of learning, where we teach the next generation of innovators and leaders?

To get there, we may have to give up a little of our narrow self-interest, and give something back to our community. That's how America works, and that's how we will get Rhode Island back to work.

We need that eternal optimism shown by our founders ... who believed in divine intervention, good fortune and, yes, providence - the idea that through God's grace, all things are possible. Because they are.

The truth is - our only path out of this mess, is to create middle-class, family-supporting jobs. And so we must foster an environment where businesses want to add jobs and where we support our workers.

If we do that, if we rebuild this economy, everything is possible. And if we don't, nothing else will matter.

Let's create a place where people know that you can "make it in Rhode Island." Whether it's the young man preparing to graduate from high school, the new mom who sees nothing but promise for her children, or the little girl who knows she can be anything she wants with hard work. I want Rhode Island to be a place of boundless opportunity for everyone.

Middle class jobs are how we keep young people in Rhode Island ... how we move people off of public assistance ... how we rejuvenate neighborhoods, and secure the resources to invest in education and infrastructure, and save for a rainy day.

But more important than all of that, a steady job is the lifeblood of a healthy and thriving family.

I learned this growing up, watching my father who worked for nearly three decades at the Bulova watch factory. As a kid, I saw that there was a job for everyone in his car pool. But I also remember him struggling to start all over again when the company moved his job overseas. Too many Rhode Islanders today face similar job uncertainty and challenges.

Every decision we make must pass the test of whether or not it will create opportunity for Rhode Island families. In everything we do, we must ask ourselves "how will this create good middle-class jobs?" and then have the fortitude to act accordingly.

To spark Rhode Island's comeback, we have to do three things:

First, BUILD THE SKILLS our students and workers need to compete in the 21st century;

Second, ATTRACT entrepreneurs and investment in industries of our strengths, to stimulate our economy and create jobs;

And third, INNOVATE, including in our state government, to enhance accountability and deliver value to taxpayers.

We all know the economy is changing rapidly. The question is whether we are preparing Rhode Islanders to be winners in this new environment.

Education is a ladder of opportunity, so we need to modernize our school buildings, support dedicated educators, and make college accessible for more families.

We need to ensure effective training opportunities for workers of all ages that align with the jobs that are in demand.

To create stable jobs, we also have to cultivate conditions that will make businesses want to invest here. Before adding jobs, they want to know that there will be a steady supply of well-trained workers and a 21st century infrastructure.

They look for clear and streamlined regulations and a predictable tax structure. And, perhaps most importantly, a level playing field, where everyone can get ahead based upon "what you know," not "who you know."

We need a growth strategy, focused on our strengths in the marine science, health care, tourism and food industries, which we implement every day.

And we must revive our manufacturing sector: if we make things here, families can make it in Rhode Island.

We also have to innovate in everything we do, including the way government works in Rhode Island. Let's operate a government that is customer-friendly and creatively finds ways to help families succeed.

It is time to redesign government, modernize hiring practices and instill accountability for results.

Let's improve Medicaid by cracking down on fraud, delivering better care, and improving efficiency.

Let's provide more digital services to citizens, and facilitate online permitting for businesses.

And let's help our cities and towns share services to reduce operating costs.

Instead of simply throwing money at problems, we must be outcome-oriented and insist on citizens getting their money's worth from their tax dollars.

We must do all of this with urgency because our budget shortfall is severe this year, and there are even darker clouds on the horizon. We cannot continue doing what we've been doing ... annually scraping together enough cuts and revenues to make it through the next year.

Let's commit ourselves to eliminating our structural deficit over the next several years to put our state on sound footing, and to making the tough choices so that we will also be able to invest in job-creating priorities.

My fellow Rhode Islanders, at this moment we face a choice. We can continue on our current path ... avoiding the difficult decisions because we are afraid of special interests or political ramifications, or simply of changing the way we've always done it.

If we stay on the course we're on, our children will be left behind, more cities and towns will go bankrupt, and other states will continue to pass us by.

But there's another choice ... a better path.

I want everyone to have the opportunity to make it in Rhode Island, so I am asking you to join me in reaching for something better.

The job won't be done in two, five, or ten years. The problems we face weren't created overnight. And they won't be solved overnight either.

At each step of our journey, we will measure our work in lives changed, opportunities created and families saved.

This is my pledge to you: I will wake up every morning focused on expanding opportunity for families in Rhode Island ... no matter how long it takes, or how many obstacles are thrown in our way.

I don't have all the answers - just ask my kids. They will tell you that.

But I will go anywhere and work with anyone who wants to do what's right for Rhode Island. I am committed to collaborating with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed, who I know share my focus on getting Rhode Islanders back to work.

The challenges before us are real; I get that. But hear this Rhode Island, together we will meet those challenges.

As I prepared for this day, I spoke with a friend of mine ... someone who many of us know and are praying for ... Sister Ann Keefe.

Sister Ann's work has been teaching non-violence. And, like most things in life, it's a work in progress. But she never loses faith.

At a time when all you have to do is hear the word Ferguson ... you realize that the challenge of our time is to simply get along a little better and to respect one another ... to be a better example for our children ... to teach them that solving a problem shouldn't mean caving in to those with the loudest voices. It often means listening to those who are the quietest.

I would ask that if you remember only one thing from this day, that it be this: we're all in this together.

Governor Mario Cuomo, who sadly passed away last week, reminded us that "we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter, we are bound one to another."

Our collective future is tied to rebuilding our economy in a way that expands opportunity for all families and leaves no one behind.

I believe this is why we are all here today. We are tying our fates together, and with God's guidance, we will find a way.

Thank you, God bless all of you and God bless the State of Rhode Island.