Blunt promises swift change

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Ushering in the first Republican-dominated Missouri government in 84 years, Gov. Matt Blunt vowed immediate change after his inauguration Monday as the state's 54th governor.

In ending 12 years of Democratic control of the governor's office and bolstering the Republican majorities in the legislature, Blunt said Missourians mandated a new direction and tone for state government.

"Change begins today, at this hour, in this place," Blunt said.

An estimated 5,000 people endured the cold to witness Blunt take the oath of office from Missouri Supreme Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. of Cape Girardeau in front of the Capitol. At 34, Blunt becomes the second-youngest governor in state history.

In sharp contrast to the gray and gloomy sky that yielded light rain as the inauguration ceremony neared conclusion, Blunt sounded tones of optimism.

"Over the next four years, we will be bold. We will be willing to experiment. We will not fear failure," Blunt said. "We will bear setbacks with resolve and press forward with determined innovation. We will attack problems with the deliberation that accompanies this great responsibility and with the energy necessary to build a better Missouri."

Blunt declared improving Missouri's education system as his administration's top priority, spoke of the need to improve the state's business climate to spark economic growth and advocated for a more streamlined government.

"Missourians deserve a government that promises no more than it can deliver and delivers everything it promises," Blunt said. "Taxpayers deserve a government that harnesses technology to better serve the people. It is within our capacity to provide a smaller and more responsible government."

Blunt didn't delve into specific ideas for achieving his policy goals but will do so later this month in his first State of the State address.

With his wife, Melanie, by his side, Blunt recited the oath of office with his hand on two Bibles. One was his personal Bible while the other will be given to the Blunts' unborn son, who is expected in March. It will be the couple's first child.

"It will remind me that what we do today, tomorrow and across the next four years will help define the future opportunities of every Missouri child," Blunt said of the second Bible's significance.

The oath was followed by a 19-gun salute from a Missouri National Guard artillery unit. Church bells throughout Jefferson City then rang for two minutes. Because of the poor weather, a planned flyover by four National Guard F-15 fighter planes was scrapped.

The four other state executive branch officials who won office in the Nov. 2 elections were also sworn in -- Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, both Republicans, and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Attorney General Jay Nixon, both Democrats.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat midway through her term, was also on hand. Blunt narrowly defeated McCaskill in the gubernatorial election.

Missouri's previous two Republican governors were among the numerous dignitaries attending the ceremony. U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, who was 33 when he became governor in 1973, is the only man who was younger than Blunt to hold the office.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a former two-term governor, was the lone honored guest to receive a standing ovation when he was introduced. Ashcroft will leave the administration of President George W. Bush once the U.S. Senate confirms his successor.

Blunt replaces Gov. Bob Holden, whose bid for re-election ended when McCaskill defeated him in the August Democratic primary.

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