Iowa Condition of the State Address 2006
By Stateline Staff
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.
During the last holiday, I had an opportunity to travel to my hometown of Mount Pleasant. I decided while I was home to take a run around the track at the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex. Built in 1978, the complex serves as the
athletic and band field for the Mount Pleasant Community School District and also for Iowa Wesleyan College. As I ran around the track, my thoughts kept coming back to how the complex was built and the amazing power and value of strong community.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, my friends in the General Assembly, I come her today to visit with you about strong community. Prior to 1978 the school district had tried to pass bond issues to improve the facilities in Mount Pleasant without success. A group of us decided to improve the facilities and we teamed up with a group of high
school students associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We conducted a radiothon, a marathon radiothon, took over the local radio station and attempted to have folks call in pledges of support. We set a high goal for ourselves. We wanted to raise $100,000 in a single weekend.
Well, we surpassed that goal and we raised over $200,000. The project grew as carpenters and bricklayers and steelworkers and other construction workers gave of their time and their talent. Businesses followed suit with donations of cash and in-kind contributions.
When it was all said and done, we had a state-of-the-art facility where later I would watch with pride as my sons performed in the band and played football.
I learned a valuable lesson about strong communities, that people working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible. I come here today to visit with you about the state of our community, the great State of Iowa, how our work together has made it a stronger community and how by continuing to work together we can make it an even better place to live and to work and raise a
Before I do, I want to acknowledge the Chief Justice and members of the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, other statewide elected officials and members of the General Assembly for the dedicated service each of you has provided to the people of Iowa. Joining us today are also Congressman Leonard Boswell and former Governor Robert Fulton. I want to acknowledge our Lieutenant Governor, Sally Pederson, for her extraordinary efforts on behalf of all Iowans, particularly those with disabilities; and my first lady and our first lady, Christie Vilsack, for her full-time volunteer effort to promote libraries and literacy that has had such a positive impact on the young readers of our state.
On behalf of all of the Iowans that I represent as your governor, I want to thank each and every one of you for the valuable contributions you have made to all of us. You know, a strong community honors sacrifices, and joining us today are two people who deserve our thanks for the sacrifices they have made. Several months ago
Christie and I traveled to Walter Reed Hospital where we had the honor and privilege of visiting with Sergeant Bobby Briggs and his wife, Michelle Briggs. Bobby is a proud member of the 224th Battalion of our National Guard located in southeast Iowa. The 224 served with distinction and incredible valor and effectiveness in Iraq.
The 224, during its tour of duty in Iraq, suffered casualties and lost four brave soldiers: Second Lieutenant Gienau, Sergeant Garceau, Sergeant Byers and Specialist Miller. Our thoughts and our prayers are extended to the families of those bravesoldiers and to all of the families who have lost loved ones during this war.
Now, Bobby was injured when a rocket came into camp and he was hit with shrapnel. During our brief visit at the hospital, Bobby talked about his hope for the future, while Michelle shared her concerns and feelings about Bobby's deployment in his service and his injury and the impact it had on his family. Michelle said that she had to leave her job in Mount Pleasant so she could spend time taking care of Bobby and her children. She wanted
to make sure that Bobby got the care he deserved.
She talked about how expensive it was to travel to hospitals in state and out of state.
She had handed me a piece of paper, and on the piece of paper was an outline of a plan adopted in Minnesota to provide for a state payment, a one-time state payment, of $10,000 to those National Guard members and Reserve members who were seriously wounded in combat. In that hospital suite, I made a promise to Bobby and Michelle. Today I keep that promise by asking this General Assembly to adopt a similar plan for our Iowa soldiers. You see, our National Guard and Reserve is all about strong community. They dedicate themselves to protecting us and they do so so that our community, our state, our nation can be safer and more secure. A strong community values that service and when a member of a community hurts, a strong community helps. That's
why the first bill that is passed and signed into law should be Bobby and Michelle's Bill to help injured soldiers and their families.
When Bobby was in that hospital bed, he told me that his hope and prayer was that he would be able to stand with his unit when they returned to Mount Pleasant. I got to tell you, I've seen many exciting things in my life and many opportunities to feel that special chill when you see something special happen. Bobby stood at attention with the 224th in Mount Pleasant at the coming-home ceremony. I knew that he deserved our thanks for his service and his sacrifice and, Bobby, for representing the very best in all of Iowa.
A strong community also supports quality education and recognizes that we depend on well-educated citizens. In this grand capital, much of the work that we do seeks to improve learning opportunities in our state. When we work together to reduce class sizes and to focus on math and reading skills for our early learners, our children reverse in an eight-year decline in test scores under the Iowa Basic Skills Test. Today we probably speak of a five-year increase in scores and we can expect even better results as a result of our "Strong Start" initiative designed to ensure the parents, as their child's first and best teacher, to improve the quality of childcare and to expand preschool opportunities.
A strong community also recognizes that healthcare, access to healthcare, access to quality healthcare, should always be a right and never be regarded as a privilege. Our work together now means that more of our children, more of our seniors, more of our veterans, more of those struggling to make ends meet and more of those
coping with mental illness now have access to healthcare as their right and not as a result of any privilege.
A strong community also creates opportunity. Our work together on the Values Fund and venture capital and utility regulatory reform designed to increase new jobs and to increase incomes. Today a record number of Iowans are at work. Incomes rose in our state at a rate higher than all but one state in the country last year,
and Iowans should be encouraged by the fact that we have the fastest-growing economy in the Midwest and
the eighth fastest-growing economy in the entire nation.
A strong community also protects its people. When we focused on safety and security, we cracked down on drunk drivers and sex offenders and meth makers. Our work, together with dedicated law enforcement, will mean that our highways will be safer, our neighborhoods more secure and our children better protected.
We have work to do to work with our private-sector friends to ensure that they understand the risks and responsibilities associated with Homeland Security; and, indeed, we must invest more in corrections so the prisoners that go into prison stay in prison.
A strong community also preserves its natural resources. God has blessed us with rich soil, abundant water and clean air. Our national leadership position in clean energy production and renewable fuel production and use, together with recent efforts to conserve our soil and to improve our water quality, reflect that preservation ethic.
There is more work to be done, which is why we need to continue and expand our efforts and why we propose investing an additional $50 million from the tobacco settlement in cleaning up our water, our rivers, our streams and our lakes, because that's what a strong community should do.
Together, working together, we have made a difference. Iowa has changed. Lives have been improved. Together we have made a difference. Our community is stronger. It's a better place to live, work and raise a family, but our work is not finished, for a strong community never stops striving to be stronger.
You know, as we improved so did the rest of the world. Thomas Friedman in a recent best-selling book called "The World is Flat" talked about the convergence of technology that will change everything that we do and how we do it. As a result of the personal computer, software that is compatible, the World Wide Web, today anyone or everyone can transmit unlimited amounts of information instantaneously anywhere or everywhere.
The rules of the game have changed, and Friedman's advice to his readers and to us is that future success and opportunity will go to those who are most innovative and most creative among us.
In the future a strong community will be an innovative and creative community. Much of our work here this session should be dedicated to preparing Iowans for that future. A strong community through innovation and creativity is the pathway to a bright and better future for our state. We have much work to do and no time to
Now, if our community, our state, is going to be strong and innovative and creative, we have to continue our work to improve education. One of God's greatest gifts to a child is a vivid imagination. I attended a preschool last year in Ames and I will never forget the four-year-old youngster I met as I walked into that preschool. He was using large Legos to build a structure. The structure was bigger than he was. I went up and said, "What are you building?" And he quickly replied, "A skyscraper on wheels." Imagine, a four-year-older and a skyscraper on wheels. If we do our job to improve education, can you imagine the future that young fellow will have? Can you imagine the future we all will have?
Last year we launched a "Strong Start" initiative, a coordinated early childhood effort to improve education for our youngsters to make sure that our youngsters started school ready to learn and healthy. We must build on that effort.
Continued and expanded investment in "Strong Start" will mean that we will always have those new discoveries that our state and our nation needs to create opportunity and to support community to meet that important responsibility.
I am asking the General Assembly to ensure that every four-year-old child in our state has access to quality preschool.
We started last year by expanding the number of youngsters who would have that opportunity. This year we must continue and expand our commitment to "Strong Start" to ensure that every child has access to quality childcare because every child has dreams bigger than skyscrapers and with a "Strong Start," those dreams can become their reality.
Now, I am blessed, I am privileged. I married a classroom teacher. I watched as Christie worked hard for years to reach and teach middle-school students and then later college students at Iowa Wesleyan College. She taught me another very important lesson about strong communities; that is, that quality teachers, dedicated teachers, are an invaluable resource to a strong community and deserve our respect, but respect is not enough when we rank 41st in the nation in teacher compensation.
You see, we started together several years ago an effort to improve the quality of teacher quality and teacher compensation. We knew that that was the secret to future success. We've created a new mentoring program for beginning teachers. We developed quality standards for our teachers. We put forward a career pathway for our
teachers focused on professional development and we created more professional evaluations, all linked to the ability to learn more.
Difficult and challenging times of several years have made it difficult for us to make the progress that we all expected to make, but this year we must finish the job. This year we must finish the job because strong communities rely on great schools and great teachers make great schools.
So I call upon the General Assembly to make a statement about the importance of teaching. Let us dedicate ourselves over the course of the next five years to increasing teaching salaries so that we exceed the national average going from the bottom half of the class to the top half of the class because our teachers deserve it and, more importantly, our children's future depends on it.
Now, in a world that is dominated by creativity and innovation, we must always ask ourselves whether we are doing everything we should be doing now to ensure quality education. Now is not the time and Iowa is not the place for complacency. Now, more than ever before, our schools must be creative learning centers where
innovation and experimentation are encouraged.
Around the world today there are children who are spending more time during the school day and school year in school than our children. In many lands youngsters have access to computers and personalized learning opportunities. In some creative schools, music and art are expanded and certified teacher librarians are hired and some schools are experimenting with class size and school size through consolidation and schools within schools to try to find the right place and the right level for learning. And at least one state is being encouraged to completely consider restructuring its entire public education system, the State of Delaware.
Recently I had a chance to meet Kevin Johnson, former NBA star of the Phoenix Suns. Kevin retired from basketball and he moved back to Sacramento, California, his hometown, to start a series of chartered schools. He understood, and I think we understand, the importance of parental involvement in students' success, and his charter schools put together an innovative parents' liaison program to encourage more parental involvement,
particularly for students who are poor-performing students. That type of innovation and education should permeate everything we do in Iowa.
You see, we cannot and should not rest on the fact that our ACT scores and our SAT scores are higher than most, or for that matter that our high school graduation rates are higher than most. We must press forward. If there are school districts that want to experiment with a different school day, a school year; if they want to encourage more art and music, if they want to hire certified teacher librarians, if they want to take a look at class
size, if they want to take a look at schools within schools or consolidation, if they want individualized learning opportunities or whatever the experimentation is, they should be encouraged to do so.
We are the nation's leader in education, and because we are let us be the first state in the nation to create a real research and development component in every K-12 system throughout the state. Let's create a Vanguard School Grant Program to do for education in schools what Vision Iowa did for communities to spur transformation because a strong community never fears the challenge of change, it embraces it.
The future will be challenging, and if we finish the good work we started in early childhood education and preschool access, the good work we started together in a bipartisan way -- teacher quality and teacher compensation -- if we instill innovation and education, then our students will be prepared, our children will be prepared for that challenging future. Your work, our work together, will help them create a brighter and better future for themselves, the state and the nation. I say to you there is no more important work than that.
Now, strong communities also shape their own future and never stop growing. Iowa must continue its economic transformation, if we are to shape our future and continue our recent growth. Our recent leadership in clean energy production and renewable fuel production and use provide a great foundation and platform for that effort. I want to state today to members of the General Assembly and to your leadership that I stand ready to work with you to expand the production and the use of clean energy and renewable fuel. Let us dedicate our work this year to making E85 and soy diesel the future fuel for Iowa and for all of America.
That work is important not just for our state, but for the entire nation; and as important as it is, there are still other areas that require us to spur innovation and creativity. Our strategic plan for transforming the economy of our
state is focused on the three areas that make the most sense, the greatest potential for our state -- ag and chemical biotechnology, innovative focus on insurance and financial services -- but we should never forget the important role higher education plays in all of this.
The plan put together by the Battelle Group suggests that we need to invest more in human capital and physical infrastructure to spur innovation and creativity. If we endow chairs and recruit great faculty to our universities, the
brightest and best minds can be attracted to Iowa. If we expand lab space and incubator space, those bright minds can transfer into new products and new opportunities for Iowa. Higher education -- our colleges, our universities, our community colleges -- have made great strides in contributing to the collective economic well-being of all of us. But we need to make more. We need to make an additional investment of up to $50 million from the tobacco settlement account. We need to dedicate that investment to the human capital and
the physical infracture that will allow us to spur innovation and creativity. We need to lead the nation in this effort by putting these resources together. With Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure funds, we can, indeed, create new opportunities for innovation and creativity. In doing so we can continue our growth and maintain the momentum that we have in our state today. I ask you to consider it for today and for tomorrow.
Now, strong communities, as I said earlier, also embrace change. New discoveries require us to think differently and approach things differently, to think anew. There is no better example of that than the area of medical research.
Several years ago we placed a ban on certain types of medical research at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics involving nuclear cell transplants. We never dreamt that the treatments resulting from those research opportunities would ever develop so quickly, would ever develop into life-saving treatments, but they have. It requires us to think differently about the ban. I suggest that we lift the ban, that we lift the restrictions on nuclear cell transplant research. I suggest that we allow that research to take place in Iowa so that life-saving treatments
can be administered to Iowans in Iowa and not force anyone outside of our community, because a strong
community would never, ever do otherwise.
Strong communities also recognize the important role that small business has played in developing new jobs. Clearly in our state small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Small business is the place where innovation and opportunity intercept. Today our small business owners face competitive challenges from global
competitors, and we must do everything we can in these chambers to ensure that they can effectively compete.
One of the dilemmas that small business owners face today is having to choose between competitively pricing their product or providing health insurance for their employees. There are steps that can and should be taken so that small business owners are not having to make that false choice.
You see, insurance is about spreading risk and sharing risk and the more who shoulder it, the less everyone pays. Last year we took some small steps to encourage and allow for fair allocation of risk among small businesses for
health insurance purposes.
This year we must do more. This year we must allow our small business to pool their risks together. In doing so, we can lower their costs and make them more competitive. We also have to recognize that when small businesses do provide insurance, that a serious illness or injury, the cost of treatment and care is spread over a very small number of employees. And in a strong community, everyone recognizes that we all have a stake in ensuring that good, hard-working people get the help they need without bankrupting themselves or their employer.
A state reinsurance plan based on a successful effort in New York and Arizona in this state could help us spread the cost and risk of catastrophic illness and injury over a larger group of people with greater resources. It would lower costs. It would make our businesses more competitive, and it would send a strong signal to small business owners that they are important and valued in this state.
I ask you to seriously consider this to help us supplement what we have already done in healthcare. We are considered a leader in the terms of the coverage that is available to citizens in our state. We need to take this additional step and I ask for your support.
The reinsurance fund that we propose would be paid for by increasing the fees and cost of tobacco products. Now, I understand that there are many in this chamber that do not agree with that increase, but the public supports it. And the reason the public supports it is because the public recognizes the research shows that when tobacco products cost more, fewer people smoke and fewer people start smoking. With your vote you can save
lives. With your vote you can ensure more young people have healthy, longer and more fulfilling lives. With your vote in establishing this reinsurance fund, you could also ensure that our small businesses can remain competitive and that our community grows stronger.
You know, we lose a lot of young people needlessly in this state to tragic deaths due to car crashes that could be avoided. Youngsters who get their driver's license become distracted by a cell phone or a passenger in the car, they lose control and they lose their life. Youngsters and teenagers growing up far too fast think they can beat the odds by drinking and driving. We must do everything we can in this chamber to avoid those needless tragedies from occurring year end and year out.
One of those youngsters we lost too soon was Nick Bisignano. Nick was the son of former State Senator Tony Bisignano and Kim Bisignano. My first encounter with Nick was when I was sworn in with his father in 1993. Nick was in his family in the senate gallery seated next to my family, and Nick was pointing out his father with pride. From that point on for years to come, I would have conversations with a very proud father who had very
high hopes for his son.
Our Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement care about Nick Bisignano and youngsters like him. They have put together a program called "Keep Young Drivers Safe," suggesting modifications to our graduated driver's license program and tougher sanctions on those who furnish alcohol to our children. In Nick's honor and in honor of all of those we lost too soon, we should restrict the number of cell phones and access with youngsters with graduated driver's license. In Nick's honor and in honor of all we have lost too soon, we should do a better job of educating young people about the deadly consequences of drinking and driving; and in Nick's honor and in honor of all we lost too soon, we really have to stiffen and toughen the penalties and sanctions for all of those who provide alcohol to minors.
Tony and Kim are with us today, and I want to personally take this opportunity to thank both of them for caring enough about our children and the safety of our children, even though they have lost one of theirs. In honor of Nick, in honor of all those children that we lose too soon, let's keep our young drivers safe because a strong
community never forgets.
I want to just take a minute of your time to be personal at this point before I conclude my remarks. I owe a great deal to this state, more than anybody can ever imagine. As I look down today, I see my two sons and I know that these two young men have grown up with the support of family, but as importantly, a strong community. It's
allowed them to succeed. It is a gift that this state and my hometown gave to me that I can never repay.
I think about what I need to do to at least make a down payment on that debt, and I realize that with this opportunity I have as your governor, I can work hard every day and be motivated by the desire to make sure that not just my children, but all of our children, have strong communities. I am dedicated to that effort. I look at so many Iowans who have made such a difference.
One that we just lost yesterday, David Kruidenier, is a role model for me. He had a vision for a brighter and better and more successful Iowa. He had a pride in our state that motivated his generosity. I approach my last year in this job with that same dedication and motivation, and I look forward to working with all
of you so that we can move this state forward because each of us owes so much to it.
You know, when I started this speech with a discussion of running around a track, let me finish it with a story about an Olympic runner, a runner from Tanzania. This runner trained hard, trained really hard, to qualify for the Olympics, and he was successful and he was expected to medal. He started with the leaders at the beginning of the race and he was with the leaders throughout the race until he developed a very serious injury. It slowed him down. He began to jog and he walked for a period of time, but he continued to compete. He fell behind, he fell way behind; and an hour after all of the marathon runners had finished the marathon, a 26.2 mile race that would test the endurance of anybody who runs it, this runner slowly came into the stadium and crossed the finish line to the cheers of the remaining few in the crowd. He didn't have anything to prove. He was a world-class runner. He had done everything he needed to do, but he finished the race and so reporters asked him, "Why did you feel the
necessity of finishing the race?" He said, "Well, my country didn't send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish it," and so it is with us.
People of this great state sent us here to finish the good work we have started, to work together in a bipartisan way to move the state forward, to strengthen community. You see, there are a lot of people counting on us. There are injured soldiers and their families counting on us.
There are children with dreams counting on us.
There are folks with high hopes for success in small business who are counting on us. There are teachers who want to teach in this state who are counting on us. There are patients looking for cures counting on us, and there are parents looking for protections for their children who are counting on us.
May God bless us in this work. May God bless our great state and our great nation. May we work together in a bipartisan fashion to finish what we started, to strengthen our community and to make Iowa, our beloved land, the best place in the world to live and to raise a family.
This is our challenge and now it is time to get to work. Thank you very much.