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Inaugural Speech to the Arkansas General Assembly


Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Members of the House and the Senate, our constitutional officers, members of the court, and fellow Arkansans:

Thank you.

I am glad they didn't recount those votes.

It is an honor to stand before you today as the 46th elected governor of Arkansas. I want to acknowledge my wife Susan, who has stood with me every step of the way. I want to acknowledge my family: my children, Asa, John, Sarah; Seth is not here with me. Dave, thank you for all your leadership. Holly, thank you. My grandsons and my granddaughters, thank you all for being here and being a part of this victory.

And I wanted to acknowledge also my Aunt Norma, who is watching this by videotape in the Governor's Conference Room. Aunt Norma is the representative of my mom and dad's generation. My mom and dad are not here. Aunt Norma is the oldest member of that generation, and she's here today to enjoy this moment for herself, for her family and for my mom and dad.

I want to recognize what I call the "White County boys" — Senator Dismang and Speaker Gillam. I appreciate your leadership and your partnership. And chief justice, I know that you hail from White County as well, but I don't dare call the chief justice a boy.

This is exciting for me. This is a new chapter in my life. I've been blessed in my life. But this is a new and exciting chapter that I've never been able to experience before — the legislative session, working with you and being governor of this great state.

It's a new day for the state of Arkansas. And guess what? A new day leads to change and sometimes the unexpected in life. And it's natural because we live in a time of consistent change — the one thing that you can count on.

Political change. Demographic change. New technologies that we experience every day. And change, we know, is often resisted because we are uncertain as to whether the change has taken us in the right direction. That's when we wrestle with convictions in our heart and with what is right. And that is understandable.

But sometimes change is resisted because we are content, comfortable in the status quo. And let me tell you, friends and colleagues, that the status quo for Arkansas is not acceptable. Because we know that if we do not adapt to new technologies, to the global marketplace, to the new issues of security that our world faces, and to the spirit of competition and the creation of jobs, then the next generation of Arkansans will be calling places like Austin and Charlotte and Dallas and New York home. That is unacceptable.

I challenge myself, the citizens of this state, and my colleagues in this room to embrace the energy of change and growth.

I was in south Arkansas recently, after the election, and a friend came up to me and said, 'You've had a great victory. You had a margin that you might not have expected. Be bold in your leadership.' It was a great admonition for this time. It is a new day in Arkansas, and many of my newly elected fellow Republicans are reflections of that new day. Well, let me assure you, every one in this room reflects that new day in Arkansas and is a part of our leadership team.

And while much is changing, what has not changed is why we are all here. We are here because of the people of Arkansas. We are here for the people of Arkansas. On that, I know we agree. And it binds us together.

Governing is not about which political party is in the majority. Governing is about setting aside differences and searching for common ground. And as we search for the common ground, we realize quickly that our differences are smaller than we thought and our hearts are larger than we imagined.

We realize that we all care about the state we love, and that we can work together to accomplish even more to enhance freedom and the spirit that is uniquely American and, yes, uniquely Arkansas.

As you know, I've had five barbecues in the last week. I will not be having barbecue tonight. Why did we bring our inauguration festivals to Rogers and Fort Smith and Jonesboro and El Dorado? It is because this new day of opportunity in Arkansas is for everyone.

We won't allow anyone to be left on the side of the road. Opportunity is for all. We are unified, searching for new opportunities, excited about the future.

I want to address very briefly today the upcoming legislative session, and I want to talk about a number of things that are important to me, that I know will be important to you, and that we will be working on together.

In my judgment, the first order of business for the state of Arkansas is economic growth and job creation. We all have different priorities. We all want to improve education. We all want to build more highways. We all want to improve our criminal justice system. We all want to increase pre-K opportunities. But to do all that we need to do in this state, we have to grow our economy. And as we grow our economy, we will be able to do more in every category. That is our top priority.

The first order of business is the tax cut that will allow our state to be more competitive, that will make our income tax rate more competitive, and the first priority of that income-tax reduction is the middle class.

My plan that will be presented later this week will provide a tax benefit for half-a-million Arkansans. It will allow us to be more competitive. Arkansas has the highest income-tax rate in our region. We need to reduce it. We need to flatten it. We need to be competitive. And that is the starting point.

Now, some will say you have too high of an income-tax reduction; we can't afford that. Others will say your income-tax reduction is too modest; we should do more. I think what I will be proposing is about right for Arkansas and where we are today. I welcome the debate and the discussion. It is my top priority. We'll be working with you to accomplish that.

It is also important that I present, along with the proposed income-tax reduction, a balanced budget. And we will present our balanced budget by the end of the month. As good, conservative legislators, you want to see the whole picture. And we will present that whole picture with a balanced budget to include areas of savings and efficiencies in the budget. It will fully fund education, as is required, and it will reflect the priorities that I hope you will concur with.

It is important that we look at education. One of the top proposals that I will present is an initiative to have computer science offered in every high school in Arkansas.

I ask for your help, your assistance, and your enthusiasm in accomplishing this goal, which will allow every small high school, every large high school, every rural high school, every urban high school, to provide the young people with the same technology education as anywhere in the state. It will give us the opportunity not to lag behind the nation but to lead the nation.

If you can envision just 20 percent of our high school students taking computer coding, we will send 6,000 graduates into our economy each year with the ability to carry on a career in computer science. This drives our economy. It lays the foundation. I'm enthusiastic about it, and I hope you share that.

We also need to make sure we do all we can through our Arkansas Economic Development Commission to provide the leadership to compete with our surrounding states. There will be legislation that will allow private sector dollars to help us attract the best in economic development for the state of Arkansas. I ask for your assistance with that. Another issue that we will be addressing is health-care reform, and this is something that we are passionate about. It's something that we must address. It's something that has not always been met with the greatest unity in this body. And I hope, and I ask, for your patience, as I make my health-care reform address on January 22nd. It's a short amount of time. Please be patient and await action until I have the opportunity to lay out my ideas and what I hope that you will consider in terms of health-care reform for the state of Arkansas.

There is much to be done. Another area that is sometimes neglected and sometimes avoided is criminal-justice reform. We have talked about new prison space. We have talked about the need for new parole officers. In fact, those are combined. When you look at the fact that we have more than 3,500 prisoners over-capacity in the Department of Correction, which actually mirrors the number of parole revocations of 2014 over 2013. There is clearly a correlation. And my objective is to address this problem over the long term by working to change behavior of those who are coming out of prison, so they simply do not re-enter that process months and years later.

To accomplish this, we will need more space, but we will also need to invest in a more effective parole system, change behavior, and have an effective re-entry program for those who are leaving prison and hoping to get a job. Those are objectives on which I think we can work together, so that we can add prison space and, over the long term, we can change behavior and provide more opportunity for all.

Finally, we began this day with a prayer service, which is a custom in Arkansas. But I cannot tell you how much it meant to me. And in that prayer service, I had three of my former pastors participate. I needed three because it takes three pastors to keep me on the right path. I noted that each of them had a different theme. One said we should pray for wisdom for our leaders. Another talked about the importance of truth as we make decisions. Then, finally, one talked about the importance of justice. And those are related, because as we pray for wisdom we will find truth and we will find justice. And those are essential ingredients. And if you will join me in prayer, we might start apart but I hope that our hearts will be knit, our hearts will come together, and we will find solutions that will work for Arkansas, that are unique to this state, and will allow us to build a new day in Arkansas. One in which our children and grandchildren will find their future right here in Arkansas, the state we love.

Thank you, and God bless you.

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