Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's advice for legislators

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan presided over the Missouri House of Representatives Wednesday on the first day of regular session of the 95th General Assembly. According to law, the secretary of state presides over the House as the representatives take their oath of office and elect a temporary speaker. Here are Carnahan's prepared remarks:

Good afternoon. Today marks the opening of the 95th regular session of the Missouri General Assembly.

Welcome to all of you: those who return to this chamber to continue serving our state as well as to the 45 newly elected members joining us for the first time.

For any who might be thinking back to your high school civics class and wondering why I, as a member of the executive branch, stand before you today, let me explain.

By law, the secretary of state presides over the opening of each legislative session until a temporary speaker is chosen.

That vote will take place shortly.

But in the meantime, tradition has it that the presiding officer should speak, albeit briefly, and I'll attempt to do just that.

Like most of you, I'm just catching my breath after a busy election year. And I am grateful that Missourians have entrusted me to continue serving as secretary of state. I am eager to get on with providing the best service possible to all who need help from our office.

And though we may serve in different branches of government, and have different titles and job descriptions, and we may even be from different political parties, our obligation to Missourians, the people we serve, is the same.

It is our job to make government work.

Hear those words: make government work. And we're expected to do that in real, responsible and common-sense ways, ways that improve people's lives.

That sounds like a worthy and reasonable goal, doesn't it?

But it depends on who you talk to.

There are folks who say that the problems facing our state and our communities are just too big and too complex, that nothing government does can make much difference.

And besides, they say, how can anyone expect things to get done when we've got divided government, with one party controlling the legislature and another controlling the governor's office?

If you listen to these cynics, you might think that doing nothing is really the best option. After all, the challenges are great and odds of success are long, so maybe you'd be tempted to just keep your head down and hope your political opponents get blamed during the next election.

But I don't think that's why any of you are here.

I'm convinced that each of you in this chamber genuinely wants to make government work, to make it more efficient and more effective and truly improve the lives of the people you serve.

You have chosen to take time out from your families and jobs, not to mention the countless hours spent listening to constituents, drafting laws and attending hearings.

You are here because down deep in your hearts you believe you can make a difference.

But the question raised by the cynics remains: Can we make government work at this time in our history when the problems are so big and our politics so divided?

History says we can. We've done it before.

Time and again, at critical points in our state and nations development, public officials have set aside political differences to do the people's business.

How did they do it? They did it by looking not for the areas of conflict, but instead for areas of common ground, the common purpose that binds us together.

A good example of that kind of cooperation occurred in 1919, when Missourians were transitioning from the horse and buggy to automobiles. The Democratic governor and the Republicans who controlled the House didn't agree on everything, but both knew something had to be done to fix the dismal state of our roads. And they came together to literally "get Missouri out of the mud" by establishing the State Highway Department and creating a network of farm-to-market roads. It was that effort that laid the groundwork for a new era of economic growth and job creation in our state.

So today, what are the areas of common purpose that bind us together? There are many:

* Helping small businesses and laid-off workers suffering from a reeling economy.

* Helping families stay in their homes and afford the costs of utility bills and decent health care.

* Helping Missouri seniors live with the dignity and retirement security they deserve.

* Helping young people build a strong foundation for their future by having access to world-class schools and affordable college education right here in Missouri.

That is our common purpose today.

Missourians have bestowed upon you and me a profound honor by electing us to serve our state. Now it's our duty to make government work for them.

So I believe I can speak for all Missourians when I make this simple request:

During the next five months, I'm asking that each of you, Republicans and Democrats alike:

* Look for opportunities to rise above your political differences.

* Search for the common ground.

* Do all you can to make government work for our people.

Years ago, Barbara Jordan, who was one of the first African-American women to serve in Congress, laid out what we should expect from our public servants. She said:

* If we promise, we must deliver.

* If we propose, we must produce.

* If we call for sacrifice, we must be the first to give.

* If we make mistakes, we should admit them. We have to do that.

We have to strike a balance between the belief that government should do everything and the idea that government ought to do nothing. Strike a balance. That is your challenge: striking that balance in a way that makes government work.

May God bless you and our state as you carry out this important duty.

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