Majority Leader Hullinghorst, Minority Leader Waller, fellow representatives:
Today, we begin the first session of the 69th General Assembly. I want to first thank each of you for granting me the opportunity to serve as your Speaker. This is the greatest honor of my life, and I am humbled to stand here before you today.
I want to welcome each of the 27 new members of the House of Representatives. You are truly an outstanding infusion of talent and energy for this chamber, and I am eager to work with each and every one of you.
I also want to welcome back 37 gluttons for punishment, the returning members. Evidently we failed to scare you off last year. As we undertake the work of the 69th General Assembly, I will rely heavily on your experience and expertise.
I want to recognize Majority Leader Hullinghorst. Thank you for your mentorship and counsel. This body and the whole of Colorado will be well served by your years of experience and generosity of spirit.
Minority Leader Waller, congratulations on being selected to lead your caucus. We may disagree now and then, but I know we share a love of Colorado and its people.
And to my friend, Speaker McNulty, who led this body these past two years. Some might say we’ve had our moments, but I know how deeply you care about this state, and I respect the work you’ve done.
I want to take a few moments to recognize my family, those who are able to attend and those who are not:
My parents, John and Stephanie Ferrandino, retired educators who taught me so much, including the importance of public service. I would not be standing here today without your love, guidance and support.
My twin sister, Nicole, who has always been my greatest supporter and personal cheerleader, and her husband Arran McWhirter, and their children, Abbey and Owen, who led us today in the Pledge of Allegiance.
My husband, Greg Wertsch, who picks me up when I’m down and knocks me down a peg or two when I take myself too seriously.
Our one-year-old foster daughter, Lila, whom Greg and I hope to adopt later this year. She couldn’t be here today. But in the five months she has been with us, this beautiful baby girl has enriched our lives beyond our wildest dreams. And you get a different perspective on life when you’re changing diapers in the Speaker’s office.
Also absent today are my older brother, Michael Ferrandino, and my grandfather, Teddy D’Amore. They are the more conservative members of the family, and my arguments with them have prepared me for the coming discussions with Minority Leader Waller.
Members, thank you for answering the call of public service, and thank you for your willingness to endure the rigors of the political process. Each of us now represents roughly seventy-five thousand Coloradans. On their behalf, we have a serious job to do. And we will not get it done if we approach it from a partisan point of view. As Speaker, my first responsibility is to the House of Representatives as an institution.
This building, outfitted with rich red rock from Colorado quarries and crowned by a dome ornamented with Colorado gold, is an expression of our high aspirations for this state. It is a physical acknowledgement that the work we do in this room matters to families beyond these walls. We understand that the impact of government is significant, immediate and enduring. It ought to be a cause for good in people’s lives.
When disaster strikes, our government is there to help. When a wildfire roars into Colorado Springs or a madman opens fire in an Aurora theater, our government responds. In those urgent and impossible moments, it is our government — in the form of police officers, firefighters and paramedics — that is first on the scene.
And as crisis subsides, it is our government that provides grief counselors and social workers. It is an intricate web of local, state and federal agencies working together to rebuild homes, lives and communities.
Our government is not just for emergency response. We task our teachers with providing our most precious resource, our children, with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed as adults.
It regulates other essential resources, so that our families might have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.
Our government tunnels through mountains and bridges rivers to build our roads, and then plows them so that we may engage in commerce and recreation.
It keeps our neighborhoods safe and puts criminals behind bars.
Our teachers, police and firefighters, and the other public servants who deliver vital community services, are performing tasks that are essential to the functioning of our society. They are our government. Their job is to respond to the needs that are too big for us to deal with as individuals.
To quote Congressman Barney Frank: “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”
It is reasonable to debate the size and scope of our government and its institutions. But to blindly and cynically condemn government is to willfully ignore the many ways it makes our lives more secure and contributes to our shared prosperity. Likewise, to blindly defend government is to ignore the fact that, like any human institution, it can be improved.
It is our job to keep an open mind and a willingness to bend, if just a little, for the good of the whole. It is our job to question our preconceived notions. If you’re having trouble questioning your own opinions, talk to someone on the other side of the aisle, who will happily assist you.
This year, you will hear me emphasize three C’s: Consultation. Consensus. Cooperation.
When we consult with one another to achieve consensus, we expect to succeed. When we go it alone, the path to success is far steeper and narrower. The legislature is no place for rugged individualists. Cooperation works in the real world. And it works here in this chamber.
I repeat today to all members what I told my caucus after Election Day: “Your job is to build consensus. Your job is to reach across the aisle, find partners, and come up with the best policy for the people of Colorado.”
As we seek the best policy this session, a large number of issues will command our attention. Our first priority is the same one we’ve had for years: We have to find ways to accelerate our state’s economy and connect more Coloradans to good jobs.
After the Great Recession, Colorado’s economy is on the mend. Unemployment is coming down, but still, the number of people out of work is too high. We’re creating new businesses, but still, too many entrepreneurs can’t access the capital to make their idea a reality.
A broad, sustainable economic recovery is within our reach, but it is not yet in our grasp. We will seek consensus around a practical, pragmatic package of legislation that will help lay the groundwork for Colorado’s sustained economic recovery.
We will make smart investments in economic development programs that work, like Small Business Development Centers. We will ensure that more of our tax dollars are spent here in Colorado to create Colorado jobs, assist Colorado businesses and support Colorado families.
We will make reforms where necessary to programs that might need adjustment, like enterprise zones. We will take bold steps to assure that Colorado is a leader in aerospace, clean tech, bioscience, information technology and renewable energy. But we will not try to predetermine the future. Growth will require recognition that there are times when we should act and times when we should stay out of the way.
All of the economic development programs in the world pale in comparison to our single largest economic driver: our schools. We cannot send our children underprepared into the global 21st century economy.
I was a kid with special needs, so I understand the importance of a strong public education system. I wouldn’t be standing here today without a lot of extra help from teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists.
I want to make sure that kids who are sitting in the position I was in, who are sitting in special education classes across Colorado, know that if they set their mind to it, if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they want. Don’t let the people who tell you are not going to amount to anything, you’re not going to be able to achieve what you want to achieve, don’t let them discourage you. If you put your mind to it, you really can achieve your goals. The opportunities I had should be available to anyone.
Economic prosperity requires bolstering our whole education system, so the door of opportunity opens for every child in every community, starting in preschool, and remains open throughout every Coloradan’s life. So he or she can always access the education and training necessary to succeed.
As a result of the Great Recession, we’ve been forced to cut funding for our schools by a billion dollars, and we could be on-course to defund our public colleges and universities. We will face tough choices. But when the time comes to make those choices, remember this: Our schools are the incubators of our future success, not just as an economy, but as a society.
I applaud Governor Hickenlooper for his proposal to expand our investment in our classrooms. And I am pleased that our revenues are continuing to recover after a difficult few years. As a result, we can start to claw our way back from the downturn and expand assistance for those who need it the most.
The revenue forecast indicates we’ll be able to provide services to about 800 more people with developmental disabilities, and there’s more money for early intervention programs for our children.
It allows us to address unmet needs in our mental health system. And the declining prison population, coupled with the increased revenues, might allow for innovative thinking and action on chronic social issues.
This may, for example, include repurposing Fort Lyon to expand support for the homeless and for enhanced drug treatment, so people can find a path back to being contributing members of our society.
But we still face a structural budget crisis. And we won’t be able to climb all the way back – ever – unless we address its causes. So we’ll continue to have unmet needs in our classrooms, our colleges, and in critical areas like developmental and mental health services. Ultimately, that should be unacceptable to all of us.
We must ensure that our system is fair to all.
One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote: “[T]he political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.”
In that spirit, we must acknowledge that all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law, forever end Colorado’s “hate state” nickname, and, with bipartisan cooperation, pass civil unions this year.
We must make sure we don’t squander our investment in young people who have graduated from our high schools, who consider themselves Coloradans in every way, but who, through no fault of their own, lack legal immigration status. We must give them a more attainable road to college, so we can fully redeem their potential as contributors to the Colorado of the future.
And we must be sure that in health care, education and employment, we treat our military veterans in a way that befits their sacrifices for us.
Our highest obligation is to protect the health and safety of Coloradans.
We have to implement major parts of the Affordable Care Act, fondly referred to by some as Obamacare. Whatever you call it, it will enhance health care for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and make the cost of care more affordable. We have to make sure Medicaid reaches more low-income Coloradans who lack health coverage, because a healthier state is a more prosperous state.
We have to make sure we reap the economic benefits of oil and gas exploration in Colorado, without putting our communities at risk from water or air pollution, and without harming other important industries such as tourism, recreation and agriculture.
We have to review our child welfare system to do a better job of protecting our most vulnerable children.
The Second Amendment is sacrosanct. But so is the First. It is our right – and the time is right – to speak openly and honestly about how we can curb the gun violence that costs our communities far too many sons and daughters.
We have to seek consensus about how to prevent more horrors like the shootings in Aurora and Newtown. That conversation will include guns and mental health.
When the sixty-ninth General Assembly ends, I want the people we serve to be proud of the way we’ve governed. I want them to be excited about the future of Colorado. I want them to be satisfied that we have worked hard to find reasonable, common-sense solutions to the issues that confront us.
Colorado is an amazing place to live, work, and raise a family. Our natural beauty brings people here from around the world, and many of them stay to make Colorado home.
The investments of previous generations have allowed Colorado to grow and prosper, and we have a responsibility to build on what previous generations have handed to us. By working together, we will build an even greater state of Colorado that we will be proud to hand off to the next generation.
Doctor Martin Luther King once said, and I quote: “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.”
In the long hours we will spend together in this General Assembly, we must be tireless in our effort and persistent in our work.
I’m eager to begin. Thank you.