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Governor Lincoln Chafee Inaugural Address

January 4, 2011

With deep humility, aware of the adversity we face but confident that, together, we will meet the challenge of our times, I am honored to stand before you as our state’s 58th Governor.

I ask you to join with me in thanking Governor Carcieri for his service to Rhode Island over the past eight years.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there are no second acts in America. Fortunately, he was not a political sage.

I believe a second chance begins at this very moment...not just for me, but for our wonderful state of Rhode Island and for each and every one of her citizens. Today, I humbly ask each Rhode Islander to join me in embarking on a new era of opportunity for Rhode Island.

I pledge to devote every ounce of energy I have to this task. Indeed, I will not rest until we reclaim the promise that lay in the heart of our founder Roger Williams some 375 years ago.

This magnificent building behind me is replete with symbols of that promise, from the great charter of 1663 that gave a king’s blessing to our “lively experiment,” to the flags that Rhode Islanders carried into battle against another king, in defense of our basic rights.

We were the first colony to stand up to the crown by signing the Declaration of Independence. And we were the last to ratify the Constitution as we prudently waited to be persuaded that America’s standard of freedom was as high as our own.

Today, I ask all Rhode Islanders to join me in boldly reaffirming Roger Williams’ vision of a “civil state” ... a vibrant, diverse community that is free of political, cultural and ethnic division. For if we rekindle the vision that created our heritage, there is nothing this state and her people cannot achieve.

Last November, we showed the nation what a civil state can mean. Angel Tavares was elected mayor of Providence. David Cicilline was elected to Congress, and Jim Langevin was re-elected. Each of these men have been bold pioneers in their own way, and are testimony to the open minds and hearts of Rhode Islanders.

Thank you for this vote of confidence; and most importantly thank you for your vote to embrace tolerance and individual freedom.

Our independence is written onto every page of Rhode Island history. When Roger Williams came to these beautiful shores in 1636, he instantly made this the most democratic place in America, simply by welcoming other dissenters, and by creating a new form of government that valued tolerance and consensus over orthodoxy and compulsion.

More than any settler of his time, he drew inspiration from the native peoples he found here...the original Rhode Islanders...whom he admired for their self-government, their sense of justice, and their commitment to care for all members of their community.

A century earlier, the Italian explorer Verrazano had called attention to this place and its inhabitants, calling them “the most beautiful ... that have found on this voyage”. He named this region “Refugio”....an uncanny presaging of Rhode Island’s destiny to become a refuge for those who think for themselves.

And over Roger Williams long life, he set a lasting precedent for mutual respect... the very foundation of any civil society.

In his words, Rhode Island was like a ship of state, with many different types of passengers, free to worship and think as they pleased, but obligated to work to defend the ship from danger, and to follow a correct course to the right destination.

Today, I ask all Rhode Islanders...are we willing to re-embrace these principles as our guide in this second decade of the 21st century? I urge your answer to be a resounding “yes!” as we continue in an economy that forces many Rhode Islanders to face extraordinary adversity every day.

More than most states, we have known hard times these past few years. We have suffered for reasons that are all too familiar to all of us.

Let me be very clear. Our present condition has not developed overnight. It has been decades in the making and it is the shared legacy of Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, liberals and conservatives. Finger pointing and blame will do nothing to alleviate our situation.

In every segment of our society, we have tolerated something that Roger Williams did not - a refusal to do the work necessary to correct our course, and an acceptance of a fractious society that emphasizes division over common purpose.

In short, our politics have not lived up to our ideals. That must change. The time of irresponsibility has ended.

Let us begin an era of political collaboration, of cultural and ethnic acceptance, of shared sacrifice and, most importantly, of faith and trust in each other. If we do, Rhode Island will most certainly prosper once more.

And so I say today to every Rhode Islander...the only way we can move forward is to move forward together.

Tomorrow I will rescind the so-called E-verify Executive Order. However well intentioned it may have been, it has caused needless anxiety within our Latino community without demonstrating any progress on illegal immigration....an issue I strongly believe must be solved at the Federal level.

And I would hope that Rhode Island will catch up to her New England neighbors and pass a bill to establish marriage equality. I urge our general Assembly to quickly consider and adopt this legislation. When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality.

Rhode Island today must be as welcoming to all as Roger Williams intended it to be. Mark my words, these two actions will do more for economic growth in our state that any economic development loan.

Because good business is about treating people right, just as good government is.

Each part of our agenda is important unto itself. But our ultimate goal is to reclaim the vision of our founder...It is written in marble behind me: “To hold forth a lively experiment...that a most flourishing civil state may stand”

Rhode Island has often led in reaching out to America’s future, as defined by a sense of personal rights, or the economic opportunity represented by the new technology that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Today, we can lead again, reminding America what a civil state means:

  • A civil state means that personal freedoms are protected, different orientations are respected, and the dignity of all citizens is enshrined in both the law and in everyday practice.
  • A civil state means a fair safety net to provide for basic human needs, swift and fair judicial proceedings, humane prisons, well-run police and fire departments, good roads and bridges, and customer service versus customer suffering at our state agencies and departments.
  • A civil state means clean parks and athletic facilities, clean water and air, and proper stewardship of our amazing natural resources.
  • A civil state means a public education system that challenges our students in the right way — with inspiring teachers, clean and safe classrooms, up to date textbooks, and the chance to lead better lives than their parents did. The Rhode Island we all want starts there, in those classrooms - and while we all want improvement in education, we must not dismiss what has worked as we strive for progress.
  • A civil state gives each able citizen an opportunity to work, build a career or launch a business. We must get Rhode Island working again and together we will.
  • And, a civil state means that responsibility flows in both directions. As citizens, Rhode Islanders deserve honest, reliable government - but as users of services taxpayers must give government the resources to do its job well.

Some may think these are unattainable goals, but I say again that a spirit of collaboration for the greater good, fueled by confidence in our abilities, will mean there is nothing we cannot achieve.

We know who we are and the great tradition that has shaped us ...the leap of faith that drove the settlers who came from around the world in search of a better life. They were people who were willing to take on any job to build a decent life for their families. All of their stories live on inside us. And the power of their example must sustain us for the task ahead.

Our state may be small, but our ambitions have never been. Our challenges are great, and our obstacles are many, but I promise you today that our great state will lead again.

Rhode Island’s best days are still ahead of us. Let us today begin that journey to a better future.

Let’s get this right. Because even if Fitzgerald was wrong about second chances, he was right that we only get one chance to live the life we are given. Our time here is so short. And Rhode Island is so extraordinary. The founders of this lively experiment believed so much in optimism and human potential that they gave the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations a very short motto: hope.

But mindful of the Book of Hebrews, they also connected this hope to the more grounded symbol of the anchor, reflecting an essential strength and realism that has always guided us, even as our ship of state has sailed for daring new horizons.

I might imagine Roger Williams reading his bible as he conceived his lively experiment and coming across this passage from the Book of Hebrews: “...we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul...” With inspiration from our past, and confidence in our future, let us all walk together, with sure and steadfast steps, toward the promise of tomorrow.

Thank you.