My fellow Rhode Islanders, Speaker Mattiello, President Ruggerio, elected leaders, distinguished guests, my supportive and loving family: I am humbled that you've again placed your trust in me. Together we'll continue bringing the change that will set us on a path for enduring success.
Four years ago, I stood here before you and we faced a very different Rhode Island than we do today. The foundation of our economy had eroded. Our unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation. Our roads, bridges and schools were crumbling, and we didn't even have a plan to fix them. We felt vulnerable as we saw the people we love lose their jobs and homes and struggle to make ends meet.
It was like my dad always used to say, our leaders didn't act and Rhode Islanders got left behind. In my first few months as Governor, I can't tell you how many times somebody asked me: "Do you really think we can turn this economy around?"
I asked all of you then to join me in committing yourselves to Rhode Island, and to think about what you could do to support our state's comeback. And so, today, I begin with a thank you. Thanks to so many of you-from every corner of our state. We rolled up our sleeves and faced our challenges.
Together, we believed that we could ignite an economic comeback. Together, we believed it was possible to change the way we did things. Together, we believed that with dedication and perseverance Rhode Island could once again stand tall, stand proud, and stand strong.
Over four short years, we have made the choices that spurred our economy to grow by leaps and bounds. We've changed the way we do economic development, infrastructure investing, and job training. As a result, we've been able to put tens of thousands of people back to work and ensure that they can provide for their families and take pride in the work they do. We've created job training opportunities for the young adult at the start of her career and the middle-aged dad looking for a way out of his low-paying job. We've launched a once-in-a-generation investment to make sure that all children will go to schools that are warm, safe, and dry-schools that any parent would be proud to send their kids to. And we've made a promise to all of our young adults that they can attend community college tuition-free.
There is no question we have stopped our decline and this new approach is working.
Now, let's commit ourselves to sustaining the comeback until every Rhode Islander is included, and to making choices that will position our state for success for the long haul.
Our work is not done until we lift up those who are struggling the most. Our work is not done until we end the opioid crisis and ensure that those in recovery are included in our economic comeback. Our work's not done until we make sure every Rhode Islander willing to work hard can get a good job. Our work's not done until women and men have the same economic opportunities and can thrive in workplaces free from harassment.
And, let's take a moment to recognize the record numbers of women who have run for office and are taking on positions of leadership in all walks of life here in Rhode Island and around the country. We're all counting on you to stay at the table long enough to make real change.
For four years we've fought hard to make Rhode Island a place where people have confidence that they can make a good life for themselves and their families. As we continue our journey to ensure that our economic comeback touches every Rhode Islander, let's be mindful and realistic about the challenges that lie before us.
Our country is more divided than ever. This is true partly because economic inequality is greater than at any other time in the last century. Too many people face a reality that no matter how hard they work, they just can't get ahead. Many seek to divide us further with hateful words and actions often borne out of fear and resentment. Too often, we don't even take time to talk to each other and understand points of view that are different from our own.
This division has left many of us scared for the future of our country, for the world our kids will grow up in, for the "us-versus-them" mentality that sadly thrives in today's political climate.
With the stakes so high, it's time for us to adhere to Rhode Island's founding principles of inclusion, equality and tolerance. We believe that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity no matter your race, religion, gender, ethnicity, who you love or where you come from. Let's find the courage to bring to the table perspectives that have been missing. Often the best and brightest minds have been overlooked or ignored. We need their voices at the highest levels-in the judiciary, in board rooms, in government and in public safety. Their contributions will make our decisions better.
Our other great challenge is to accelerate our economic progress at a time of unprecedented, rapid changes in our global economy. And, to do it in a way that includes everyone. Expanding opportunity for all can only make our economy more resilient in the years to come.
To every Rhode Islander out there who is still struggling and doesn't feel included in our recovery, I want you to know that we won't stop until we've reached you.
We won't stop until our students are set up to achieve their dreams from pre-K through high school and beyond. A high school diploma can no longer be the endpoint of our education system. Kindergarten can no longer be the starting point. We have to prioritize investing in our children during their formative years. From Pre-K to high school and whatever comes next, it's our obligation to set them up on a path for success.
We won't stop until every Rhode Islander has a shot at a good paying job. Our world is changing so quickly. This change requires all of us to be lifelong learners. No matter who you are, where you come from or what point you're at in your career, you deserve access to job training, an apprenticeship, and education that will help you get ahead in whatever field you choose.
We won't stop until higher education is affordable and accessible to all Rhode Islanders. If you are willing to work hard, a college education should be within reach: It should be within reach for a teenager from Central Falls, a single mom from Warwick who wants to return to school, and anyone else in our state. Working together, we've already set our state on a strong path. But now it's time to make the dream a reality for every Rhode Islander. I cannot think of any priority more urgent to ensuring our economic resiliency in the years ahead.
We won't stop until we double down on lasting commitments to protect our environment. Let's be proud that we are the Ocean State. Let's remain committed to securing renewable energy and protecting our green spaces to ensure our state's natural beauty can be enjoyed for generations to come.
We won't stop until every Rhode Islander has the peace of mind to know that their healthcare will be there when they need it most. No one should ever have to choose between paying for health care and paying the rent. Health care is under attack all across this country. But here in Rhode Island we know the Affordable Care Act is saving lives, and we know it's the reason thousands of Rhode Islanders finally have the peace of mind they deserve. Today, let's resolve in the face of these attacks to protect health care in Rhode Island.
And we won't stop until we have common sense gun laws. It is not enough to send our thoughts and prayers each time another act of gun violence takes away a life full of promise. Since I've been Governor, I have lowered the flags at the State House 13 times in four years for 223 lives lost in mass shootings. It is time to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Our children's future and their lives depend on it.
No matter the rhetoric in Washington, or the divisiveness we see on TV, no matter the attempts to use fear to breed anger, Rhode Islanders of all races, faiths, and backgrounds can unite and rise above our differences so that our progress will endure.
After all, this is Rhode Island. Let's let our size be our strength.
Here, we're connected to our neighbors. We really do know our children's teachers and coaches. Our lives are linked from generation to generation. We know how to come together to make Rhode Island a state we're proud to call home.
And here we're delivering results that keep the American Dream alive and well. We're making the promise of economic opportunity a reality through our actions. We may disagree. But in the end, we get things done.
The cure to divisiveness is action. So, let's show everyone what Rhode Island can do. Above all, we anchor ourselves to hope. Hope makes us resilient. Hope cannot be easily taken away. And hope guides us toward lasting progress.
As I stand here looking out on our Capital City I'm filled with optimism because I've seen what we can accomplish together in just four short years, and I know that even more is possible. I look out at you today, and I see so many Rhode Islanders who are eager to keep pushing our state forward, who are excited for our progress but know we have so much more to do.
So, let's commit to showing our family, our friends, our neighbors, and our children that when we work together we are at our very best.
Ask yourself now: How will you root for Rhode Island? How will you help build a bright and enduring future for our children? How will you help put aside the things that separate us and make our state better?
When we recognize that our futures are connected... When we commit to leaving no one behind... When we deliver on the promise of economic opportunity for all, that's success. Together, we will overcome fear and make Rhode Island a beacon of hope for America.
Thank you. God Bless You, and God Bless Rhode Island.