We gather today on the steps of our magnificent and newly renovated State Capitol.
From this hill the land rolls gently down to the James River, the waterway of the Settlers in 1607.
From this place, the sweep of history has moved us forward to today.
This is the cradle of democracy for Virginia and America.
Governor Thomas Jefferson designed this Capitol building.
Governor Patrick Henry came here for the laying of its cornerstone.
I am humbled today to follow in their historic footsteps.
The General Assembly first convened in this new building during the first term of America’s first President, Virginia’s George Washington.
Behind me, in the Rotunda, are the busts of the eight Virginians who became President.
It was here that Robert E. Lee, the son of a Virginia Governor, was commissioned as Commander of the Commonwealth’s military forces as a young nation split into war.
It was here, just four years later, that President Abraham Lincoln came to begin the process of reuniting our war-torn nation, walking the streets of still smoldering Richmond.
And it was here, 125 years after Lincoln’s visit that a grandson of slaves, L. Douglas Wilder, took the Oath of Office as the nation’s first African-American Governor.
And it is here, today, that an average middle class kid from Fairfax County, a grandson of Irish immigrants, is given the enormous honor of becoming the 71st Governor of Virginia.
As it turns out, I succeed another descendent of Irish immigrants, Governor Timothy Kaine.
On behalf of the grateful people of Virginia, I thank Governor Kaine for his leadership and service to our Commonwealth.
Today’s Virginia is a thriving and diverse home of nearly 8 million people, with one in ten born outside the United States.
A state of rich history and strong people, we do face many challenges together.
We do not face the challenges of forming a new government or securing a young nation, as did Washington, Jefferson and Henry.
We do not encounter the devastation and destruction of Civil War, as did Lincoln and Lee.
We do not struggle with the injustice of slavery and its legacy of segregation as did Governor Wilder as a young man.
We do not march into bullets and artillery shells, as did the Greatest Generation on the beaches of Normandy and the islands of the Pacific. Two members of that generation, who served in World War II, my father Jack McDonnell and my father-in-law Frank Gardner, join us here today.
On behalf of a grateful Commonwealth I thank them, and all military members and veterans, for their incredible sacrifice and service to our nation that continues today.
The actions of those patriots that came before us had a common purpose to create and expand freedom and opportunity for the generations that came behind them.
The creation of, and desire for, new opportunity has shaped Virginia from its foundation.
It was in seeking the Opportunity of a New World that Captain John Smith and 104 settlers braved the perilous Atlantic to step onto the sands of Cape Henry in April 1607.
It was in securing the Opportunity of a New Nation that Virginia patriots joined together with their fellow colonists in the first fight for freedom and independence, and thus was born a country of ordered liberty that, 234 years later, is the beacon of hope for the world.
It was in seizing the Opportunity of equality and education that a courageous 16 year-old girl named Barbara Johns, memorialized behind this majestic Capitol at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, stood up and walked out of Moton High School in Farmville 59 years ago this spring.
New opportunity helped them meet the challenges of their time.
Greater opportunity will help us meet the challenges of ours.
Together we must create jobs and economic opportunities.
Provide new educational opportunities for all Virginians.
And enhance family and community opportunities by easing government burdens on free people.
As Virginians, we believe that government must help foster a society in which all our people can use their God-given talents in liberty to pursue the American Dream.
Where opportunity is absent, we must create it. Where opportunity is limited, we must expand it. Where opportunity is unequal, we must make it open to everyone.
Our Administration will be dedicated to building “A Commonwealth of Opportunity” for all Virginians.
It starts with restoring economic opportunity to Virginians in every corner of our Commonwealth.
Tens of thousands of our family members, friends and neighbors have lost their jobs.
Thousands more worry they could be next.
As we confront the worst economy in generations, the creation of new job opportunities for all our citizens is the obligation of our time, so all Virginians who seek a good job can find meaningful work and the dignity that comes with it.
Virginia has received high rankings over the years for being a business-friendly state.
Those rankings speak well of our past. They do not determine our future.
Competition for jobs is intense among the states, and between nations. States are aggressively positioning themselves to best appeal to job creators and entrepreneurs.
We must make this the best state in which to start and grow a small business.
It is why we will reduce burdensome taxation and regulation that impede job-creation.
And, it is why, even in these tough times, we will have the foresight to invest today in ideas and policies that increase economic prosperity tomorrow.
This economic crisis has touched every Virginian.
Declining home values and diminished retirement accounts have wiped away in just a few months the accumulated savings of many years.
As jobs are lost and consumer confidence remains low, state revenues have declined, and an historic budget shortfall has stretched into the billions. Thus, like so many households and businesses across the Commonwealth, state government needs to devise new ways to operate and find savings.
This austerity won’t be easy, but it is necessary. The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper role of government. Without reform the continued growth of government threatens our very prosperity.
We must properly fund the core priorities of government, but — equally important — we must utilize innovation, privatization, and consolidations to deliver government services more effectively.
And as we enact these reforms we must remember this: that government cannot guarantee individual outcomes, but equality of opportunity must be guaranteed for all.
All Virginians must have the same fundamental opportunities to work hard, live free and succeed.
Access to a quality education is the foundation of future opportunity. My Dad stressed to me as a child that to get a good job, you need a good education. It was true then and even more true today.
Virginians are blessed with many great schools with dedicated, professional teachers like my sister Nancy in Amherst, who work tirelessly to mold the minds and character of the next generation.
To compete in this global economy every young Virginian must have the opportunity of a world-class education from pre-school to college.
A child’s future prospects should be as unlimited as his intelligence, integrity and work ethic can take him. No child in Virginia should have her future determined by her place of birth or zip code.
We will work with President Obama to expand high-quality charter schools and institute performance pay to our great teachers.
More money must go to the classroom and less into administration, and new opportunities in science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare must be created through our schools and colleges.
And let us recognize that a high school degree is no longer the finish line in a global economy. We must create affordable new pathways to earning a college degree and make a commitment to confer 100,000 additional degrees over the next 15 years. We must make our community colleges national leaders in workforce development and career training.
These are investments that will pay individual and societal dividends for many years to come.
Barbara Johns was willing to risk everything for the simple opportunity of a good education. Surely, sixty years later, we can work together to provide that opportunity to all Virginia children.
Our Administration will demand excellence, reward performance, provide choices and celebrate achievement.
God has bestowed upon our Commonwealth an amazing wealth of natural resources. Virginians have the intellectual capital to use these resources to create new jobs, reduce our energy bills, and make our nation more energy independent.
We will make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.” By growing the natural gas and coal industries, expanding the use of nuclear power, and promoting new energy technologies like wind, solar and biomass.
And we will champion environmentally-safe offshore energy exploration and production, bringing with it thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and billions in new investment.
We must also seize the opportunity to improve our transportation system by getting long overdue projects under way, and utilizing innovative ideas to build the roads, bridges, rail and ports we need.
A better transportation system will create new opportunities for Virginians across the state.
These are policies focused on addressing the real problems our people face, and delivering results.
I’ve had people tell me they fear that America may no longer be the land of opportunity it has always been, and that Virginia’s history in playing a leading role in the life of our nation may be just thathistory. I say: They are wrong.
Working together — Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — Virginia will continue to blaze the trail of opportunity and prosperity.
And like the mechanic looking to the owner’s manual to troubleshoot the automobile, we should look to the Founders and their writings for wisdom.
The Founders capstone on the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. No federal mandate nor program crafted by either political party should undermine the central principle of federalism, enshrined in the birth certificate of America by those who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
The Founders recognized that the government closest to the people governs best. More often than not, Richmond knows better about the hopes and dreams of the people than Washington. And Galax and Fairfax and Virginia Beach know far better than Richmond.
As we enthusiastically pursue the vision of “A Commonwealth of Opportunity”, I ask all Virginians to continue to seek your own opportunities to get involved in the life of our Commonwealth.
Half a century ago President Kennedy challenged the American people to “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Today, I ask all Virginians to rise up to meet this timeless challenge.
We live in the most generous nation on Earth. So many Virginians give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasure, and rightly so. The Scriptures say, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
Right now, much is required in the nation of Haiti. And I urge all Virginians to donate to the relief efforts under way.
Here in our Commonwealth, I urge business owners to look for opportunities to sponsor a little league team, help a charity, and promote corporate responsibility in the communities in which you live and work.
I urge all the leaders of our faith communities to expand your selfless work of helping the homeless, feeding the poor, and comforting the broken hearted.
I urge the young people of Virginia to use your talents and energy to fully engage in the future of this Commonwealth.
I urge Virginians who came here from other lands to contribute your culture, your history and your traditions to our rich tapestry of life.
I urge every Virginian to take every opportunity to thank a man or woman in a law enforcement or military uniform for the preservation of our freedoms.
There is so much each one of us can do to leave this Commonwealth a better place than we found it.
No government program can substitute for the incredible good done through voluntary actions performed freely by caring individuals every day.
And while government can help provide opportunities, it is every person’s responsibility to take advantage of them.
In recent weeks I’ve seen people exercising that responsibility, and changing lives at:
The Healing Place in Richmond.
The Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria.
Food Banks in Abingdon, Norfolk and Richmond.
The Boys and Girls Club in Virginia Beach.
The USO in Norfolk.
As a Commonwealth, we must do the same … and we will.
Standing here today, on the steps of our State Capitol, in the inspiring shadows of the shared history behind us, we embrace the limitless future opportunities stretching out far before us.
And now it is here, in this place, that we pledge to work together to create “A Commonwealth of Opportunity” … for all Virginians, and to add our steps to Virginia’s journey.
It was George Washington who noted, in his first Inaugural Address, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected to remain on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
It is right to help one another.
It is right to work together to get results and solve problems.
It is right to provide opportunities for all.
Let us heed the words of the Father of our Country, employ these eternal rules of order and right, and get to work for the good of the people of Virginia.
Thank you and God Bless the Commonwealth of Virginia.