Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Groff's Opening Comments to Senate

Here is the text of Senate president Peter Groff's remarks during opening ceremonies today:

"Mr. Majority Leader, Mr. Minority Leader, Senate colleagues, distinguished guests, friends and my family. Let me begin by thanking the Senate for my election as president of the Colorado Senate for the 67th General Assembly.

"It has been an honor to serve as your president and I am humbled that you would elect me again to lead this august body. I again pledge to work with all of you on both sides of the aisle to continue to build a better Colorado -- one we can be proud to leave our children and one we can be proud to present to the nation and the world. Thank you for this tremendous responsibility and honor.

"I want offer my congratulations to Speaker Terrance Carroll on his election just moments ago. It is yet another stitch in the great fabric that is the history of our great state. The historic uniqueness of what is happening in the Senate and House today is not a testament to Speaker Carroll or me but a testimonial to Colorado and her people and members of the 67th General Assembly.

"Let us welcome our new members. Senators, please stand when I call your name:

"Senators Morgan Carroll of Aurora, Joyce Foster of Denver, Rollie Heath of Boulder, Evie Hudak of Arvada, Linda Newell of Littleton, Mark Scheffel of Parker, Keith King of Colorado Springs, Al White of Hayden and Mary Hodge of Brighton.

"Welcome to the Colorado Senate. Strive to never lose the feeling you felt when you entered this historic chamber this morning -- if you can maintain that feeling our state will be better after your service. I also offer congratulations to the families and friends who were the foundation for your victories -- now say good bye for the next 119 days.

"Much has been made of the challenges we will face over those 119 days -- a precarious economy, rising unemployment, crumbling bridges, a broken education system and thousands of Coloradans without health care.

"The mountainous challenges we face today pale in comparison to the struggles faced by the pioneers who came to the foot of our majestic rocky mountains to build a life and a state with a vision that would not be diminished in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

"Driven by a collective yearning to conquer any and all barriers that stood in their way, Colorado’s pioneers faced and vanquished every challenge -- whether it was a rocky and unfamiliar terrain, unrelenting and unpredictable weather, deceptive people and practices or a dismissive government the pioneers soldiered on not to be deterred. Making the decisions that would build this magnificent state.

"Colorado’s foundation is based on this pioneering spirit. When these pioneers first came to this region in search of land and opportunity, they found a rugged terrain but also the best land possible for agriculture. They found a land with endless possibilities, but possibilities dependent on hard work and determination - not unlike the landscape we see before us as we head into this next session. Since even before Colorado was a state, Coloradans have been used to hard work and tough decisions.

"We sit in this grand house built by the children and grandchildren of those pioneers -- some five and a half generations later we are the descendants of their land and decisions facing daunting challenges of our own -- with tough decisions of our own to make.

"The decisions made by the pioneers shaped the future of Colorado. The decisions we will make over the next 119 days will also shape the future -- but this time it is for our children and grandchildren who will be the beneficiaries.

"These decisions will begin a new chapter in Colorado’s history -- one that must be written by all of us: Democrats and Republicans; farmers and businesspeople; urban dwellers and suburbanites; by engineers and teachers. The decisions we make will be difficult ones, but we have made tough and difficult decisions recently and while we have made progress we still have work to do.

"Despite decisions and investments we have made in our efforts to create the new energy economy and assist small businesses which has placed Colorado in a much better economic situation than many states face -- we are not immune from the national financial crisis -- we face a tremendous budget deficit of $604 million, we now have 43,000 people in our unemployment insurance system and saw $48 million paid in unemployment benefits in November - the highest unemployment rate in the history of state. In the first three quarters of 2008 there were almost 30,000 foreclosure filings, and according to the Food Bank of the Rockies, nearly half a million people rely on food banks and the last six months that number has increased by 20% or 91,000 people.

"Despite the decision in the closing hours of our last session to introduce a late bill to repair 122 structurally deficient bridges and handle other transportation needs -- that effort failed and we crossed our fingers and prayed to God that those bridges would hold and we wouldn’t have a Minneapolis tragedy. We didn’t. But we now face 126 structurally deficient bridges that must be repaired at a total cost of $1.3 billion and an overall yearly shortfall of $1.5 billion for all other transportation needs.

"Despite our decisions to expand school choice and create innovation in our K-12 system to the point that we are national leaders in education reform -- Our college readiness rate is only 34%, colleges spend $14.6 million on remedial classes and 52% of parents can’t attend school related events because they aren’t granted sensible leave.

"Despite our decision to establish building blocks in the area of health care and health insurance to create better access, to lower cost and insure more Coloradans -- including covering an additional 50,000 children by next year, we still have nearly 800,000 Coloradans who face the frightening specter of being uninsured.

"Together we have made decisions that have created a better Colorado and put us in a better stead than most, but as you can see we still face monumental and watershed challenges that will require difficult decisions to preserve the land bequeath to us by the pioneers and our maker.

"In Joshua 1:6 it says “be strong and courageous, because you will lead the people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”

"It doesn’t take strength and courage to turn this chamber into a stadium of political gamesmanship where the score is kept when Mr. McGowne calls the roll on some legislation offered to get the other party on “record” and then we announce the winner in November of 2010.

"However, it does take strength and courage to transform this august chamber into an arena of policy concepts and ideas that produces not Democratic answers nor Republican responses, but generates Colorado solutions where the winner in 119 days are the people of Colorado as we lead them in the land we inherited.

"It will take strength and courage to make the difficult decisions that we must over the next 119 days -- but as we muster that strength and courage we must balance it with the overriding role of government which is to stand for the people that live in margins.

"That role is our responsibility and our moral obligation.

"That responsibility and moral obligation accompanies every elected official as we make the difficult decisions that will have to be made -- that responsibility and moral obligation will not let us not forget about the family in Greeley who after years of savings and planning and prayers they were able to purchase they dream home several years ago, but last spring their dream became a nightmare as they now bounces from relative to relative all but homeless with their dream home foreclosed.

"That responsibility and moral obligation will not let us not forget the father from in Colorado Springs who came home shortly before Thanksgiving to tell his wife and young family that he had been laid off from his job and who now worries how he is going to buy diapers for their newborn and food for the rest of the family.

"That responsibility and moral obligation will not let us not forget the young student from Jefferson County who in September during her first week of college sat numb in her dorm room after being told that she would have to take remedial classes because she wasn’t prepared for college.

"That responsibility and moral obligation will not let us forget the couple in Grand Junction who have made a difficult choice of their own and have decided to forgo the potentially life saving and maintenance drugs for the husband so that they make mortgage payment.

"Let us not forget those stories and those individuals and so many others who await our decisions and our leadership. We will have to make some difficult decisions this session, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that these decisions affect real people, with real lives and real dreams and hopes.

"However, Coloradans are resilient it is our pioneering DNA -- and like our forefathers we will be modern day Joshuas. We will be strong and courageous in the decisions we make as we lead our state in the land we’ve inherited.

"A land that remains one of endless possibilities and opportunities, undergirded by a persistent hope, pushed forward by an eagerness for change and steadied by an unwavering dedication to conquering every challenge.

"We are better than we think and we must be better than we’ve been -- our future depends on it.

"God bless you, God bless this honorable body and God bless the great state of Colorado.