Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Well, it's begun! A new session, a new speaker, and new hope. Just like January 1st for everyone else, the new session is a time for resolutions for lawmakers as well. A partisan vote helped put Orange County Democrat Joe Hackney (68 to 52 vote over Wake County Republican Paul Stam) in the Speaker's chair with the gavel. Immediately, Hackney promised open and fair debate. As soon as he did that, Stam and fellow Republican, Guilford County Representative John Blust, stood up and complained about the temporary rules put in place. To be fair, they are just trying to set the tone and let Democrats know they want changes and they want a fair shake. Hackney set the tone himself in his speech. Unlike many prior speakers who use the speech to outline policy priorities, Hackney spent most of his time setting the tone for a fair, ethical, open government. As the first day ended, most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle felt the tone was right and will begin the healing process the House needs after a year of controversy surrounding now former speaker Jim Black. Other say proof is in the pudding and will wait to see it for themselves.

Part of this blog I hope to provide is more "stuff" than we can show you in a minute and a half television story. In the spirit of this blog, I turn it over to Speaker Hackney. Below is a copy of his entire speech Wednesday and you can judge for yourself.

"I am truly grateful and honored that you the members of this House have elected me to be your Speaker.
I have many, many "Thank you's"
To Betsy, for her love and support during my legislative service and always;
To Dan and Will, who never have experienced their father not serving in this House;
To the citizens and voters of Chatham, Orange, and now more recently Moore County, for allowing me to serve them;
To the folks at Epting & Hackney, and especially my law partner of 33 years, Robert Epting, for making it possible for me to serve here;
To my seat mates over the years, Patricia Love, Anne Barnes, and Verla Insko, for their support and collegial working relationships;
To many mentors over the years, including Ike Andrews, Edward Holmes, Liston Ramsey, George Miller, Allen Adams, and Jack Hunt;
And to my staff over many years, especially Lucille Thompson, Emily Reynolds Freeman, and Laura DeVivo.
I do not come to this position as a neophyte. It took a while. In contrast, Sam Rayburn became Speaker in Texas in his third term. The current Speaker in California was elected in his second. I am no flash in the pan. I know a thing or two about this institution and its customs and procedures.
Nonetheless, I am acutely aware that I will need the support and cooperation and advice of all of you if we are to have a successful two years for the citizens of North Carolina. I most humbly ask for that support, cooperation, and especially your advice.
The position of Speaker of the House dates from the beginning of our General Assembly, more than three centuries ago. The speakership is not a command position. The Speaker is the elected leader of the House, whose powers are formally defined in the Rules of the House, and whose effectiveness depends upon the support and cooperation of this body.
The Speaker's main task is to help House members identify, address, and decide upon the issues that come before us in an orderly, thorough, and responsible manner.
Having served here for 26 years, more than half my adult life, during the tenure of a variety of Speakers, I am aware of the limitations of this office.
Perhaps the good will I feel in this room today will ease the way for a constructive legislative session. It is my modest hope that we might find it easier to reach common understandings of problems and issues, and to design mutually acceptable solutions to them.
I come here today with the greatest respect for this North Carolina House of Representatives, and the people who come here to serve in it:
There is no place in this State where public servants are more in tune with the citizens of North Carolina, than in this chamber.
There is no place in this State where the issues of government and politics are better or more fully debated, than in this chamber.
There is no place in this State where the interests of the less fortunate of our citizens are better represented, than in this chamber.
There is no place in this State where those who debate and decide civic issues have more good will, altruism, or intent to serve all for the common good.
And there is great collective wisdom in this body.
Wisdom is the specific Quality of the Legislature. Benjamin Franklin said that in 1789. He was the elder statesman of the new republic, the conscience of the experiment in self government and liberty that was to become the United States of America.
That wisdom, he said, grows out of the Number of the Body,120 of us in this House,and is made up of the Portions of Sense and Knowledge which each Member brings to it.
The knowledge is easy to identify. We are farmers who hold within our hearts the cycle of the seasons and the needs of the land; we are businessmen who have learned to make useful goods and deliver quality services to customers at a fair price; we are teachers who have mastered difficult subjects and excited the next generation; we are lawyers who understand the letter of the law, and practice to honor it and spread its cloak of justice and fairness over all our citizens; we are skilled physicians, experienced craftsmen, accountants, realtors, managers, administrators; we are parents who have struggled with teenagers and we are children who have tended to our own aging parents; some of us have, through the course of our lives, marked achievement upon achievement; most of us have failed and picked ourselves up and tried again. The knowledge that we as individuals bring is, therefore, easy to identify.
But Franklin also spoke of the "Portions of Sense and Knowledge which each member brings."
The people of North Carolina look to us, above all, to exercise, as my mother would have said it, good sense. The folks in your district believe you have it. They would not have elected you otherwise. But they are afraid, ladies and gentlemen, that the rest of us up here do not.
Well, we do. The task for us, in this session of this honorable body, is to arrange our work, to structure our relationships, to focus our minds, and to open our ears in ways that will let good sense prevail.
How do we do that?
First, we do it by humbling ourselves to the task. We are the representatives of more than eight million people. We are the inheritors of a great historic tradition. We are not here for ourselves.
Second, we carefully think about the mechanics of our tasks how shall our committees work, how shall candid and full debate be preserved, how are the rights of the minority to be protected? On these questions I pledge to you my fullest attention and effort. Specifically, I pledge that I will work to allow ample time for the study of legislation before we vote. I will try to keep substantive unrelated legislation out of the appropriations bill, as Speaker Black did last time. I will try to assure orderly and sensible movement of bills to the floor. And I will try to assure fair debate.
Third, and most importantly, we must each of us pledge ourselves to civility. I am reminded of the advice that Rep. Lucas' pastor gave those of us assembled at a recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day address at a small church in Chatham County. He said: "My mother told me, Good manners will take you where education won." My mother would have agreed as well. And so I renew my commitment to civil discourse. It is how we will get the business of the people of this State done. Our Majority Leader and our Minority Leader, I am confident, will be two of the best examples to follow in this regard.
Franklin, in his same writing, said that each legislature must prepare for itself a "Barrier against the Impulses of Passion, the Combinations of Interest, the Intrigues of Faction, [and] the Haste of Folly."
We can, we have the wisdom, and we will, with humility, with effort and thought, and with civility.
We shall do so because the citizens of North Carolina deserve no less than the power of the combination of all of our ideas and opinions, because democracy demands the opportunity for competition among ideas, and thrives only when what we produce has been tested and digested by survival in free and open debate.
Yet it is sure, even as we act with civility and accumulated wisdom, that sometimes our intentions will be called into question. Last session, this House led our State- in fact, led the nation- in raising the standards of legislative and executive ethics.
The people of North Carolina want us to continue to focus on our ethical obligations, to enforce the new standards, and to strive to improve them, and we will do so.
Our 2006 ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance reforms are recognized as among the nation's most far-reaching. Other States will now use them as models. Recent congressional reforms do not match their vigor.
We are making great progress in implementing these new standards.
Over the next several weeks, our legislative ethics staff, in conjunction with the State Ethics Commission and the Secretary of State's office, will provide training to all legislators and legislative staff. Perhaps eight hundred people in all will participate. About 150 already have done so. I have requested that our staff have such opportunities available every legislative day for the first part of our session.
Likewise, we have made sure that campaign treasurers will receive training, in order to improve compliance with campaign finance laws and for more accurate reporting.
We all - members of this House and our staff - want to abide by these new laws and standards, and to show to the people of North Carolina that we are doing so, and I am dedicated to making sure that all have the information needed.
In one of his most successful and familiar speeches, Abraham Lincoln began as follows: "The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them." So it is here today.
What is new is also old and familiar: the challenge to keep our State's finances and economy strong, the demands of education, jobs and health care, and hundreds of other vital concerns that make up our session's work. It has been such since I first came here.
You who have served in this House can take pride in the financial integrity of our State. North Carolina, as we recently heard, is one of only seven states that have earned the Triple A bond rating from all three rating agencies. To you who are new, I say: We must preserve that integrity. For the next two years, we are the stewards of a tradition of responsibility.
We must look hard for efficiencies and redundancies in our budget. Some programs have outlived their usefulness. And, we will cut them.
All North Carolinians are proud of our beautiful beaches, our majestic mountains, our countryside, our vibrant cities. Here is one more point of pride: Unlike many States, we have not borrowed heavily to finance current expenses. We balance our budget every year. Our State Constitution requires it. We have more than $600 million in savings. We have a robust retirement fund. This state is in sound financial condition. And, we will keep it that way.
Education has been, and will continue to be, our first focus. We are obliged to provide to our children an excellent education in a safe environment. We have made great progress in raising teacher pay, but we must do more. Our teachers must be paid what they are worth. Our graduates must not only compete but excel in the global marketplace.
North Carolina's community colleges are the envy of the nation. We must invest in them to ensure that training, and, yes, retraining---are easily accessible to those citizens and businesses who need it.
Our public universities are world class. Our investment in them will help to prepare the thinkers and researchers of tomorrow. We must continue to be sure that all our citizens have the resources to go to college and graduate.
The people of our state must have good jobs, jobs which make possible strong, healthy, and prosperous families.
Good health care should not be a privilege for the privileged. Everyone must have access to quality health care. Let us dedicate ourselves to insuring children, to making health insurance affordable for families and businesses, and to establishing a high risk health insurance pool.
Let us not forget the natural wonder that is the Old North State. It is part of the reason that we are one of the fastest growing States. We should assure that the precious air and water resources we use in our time are protected for the vastly greater number who will depend upon them in future generations.
We must set about protecting the parkland and open space that our children will need while we can buy it today. We must prepare for the challenges and opportunities of a warming climate. North Carolina can be a leader in environmental innovation and the business opportunities it will bring.
We must become more efficient in our use of energy, both in government and in the private sector. Efficiency improvements save money for our taxpayers, save money for our businesses, save money for our utilities, and save money for our homeowners.
We must give our public safety agencies and courts the resources needed to protect our citizens from gangs and protect our children from predators. And we must assure fairness and justice in our courts, especially to those who may pay the ultimate price.
We will tackle tough issues like the cost of Medicaid to our counties, mental health reform, funding for school construction and other infrastructure, and providing for our pressing transportation needs.
And so there is much to do, and I am ready to get started.
Our Constitution declares the House of Representatives, this House, to be an equal partner in the law-making branch, equal in its legislative authority, and in its responsibility to the people of the State. We will work cooperatively with the Senate in addressing the issues that come before us, and we will consider carefully all matters brought to us by the Governor and other State officers. But then we will make our mark as law makers and appropriators of funds.
I will go back to Lincoln as I end. He said, "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
May our two years here together reflect our dedication to that principle---for North Carolina.
Thank you."
Speaker Joe Hackney's first speech to the House of Representatives on 01/24/07

No comments: