Oklahoma State of the State Address 2008
By Stateline Staff
Members of the House and Senate, Lt. Governor Askins, President Pro Tempores Morgan and Coffee, Acting Speaker Blackwell, Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished Cabinet and elected officials, honored guests and my fellow Oklahomans and friends:
2007 tells the story of Oklahoma. Perhaps no other year has so clearly illustrated the vibrancy and vitality of our great state. Our Centennial shined a national and international spotlight on a strong, spirited, proud people, and we dazzled with a brilliant birthday bash like no other.
The Centennial was a glorious and magnificent milestone. It was an opportunity to retell the spectacular story of Oklahoma, the story of our compassion and ingenuity, of our indomitable spirit.
It was an opportunity to brag on all this state has accomplished and how far we have come in a short 100 years. And it was an opportunity to showcase the brilliance of Oklahoma in the 21st century.
But 2007 was marked by more than our Centennial. In a year in which our state endured a record nine presidential disaster declarations, we saw another noble characteristic of Oklahoma: our resilience.
Oklahomans have witnessed time and again that challenge and opportunity go hand-in-hand. We Oklahomans don't shy away from a problem. We meet challenges head-on, with strength, grace and tenacity.
Such traits are evident in the number of Oklahomans stationed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, more than 3,300 members of our National Guard and Reserves have placed themselves in harm's way to serve our nation.
That's why Oklahomans from all walks of life came together during Christmas and donated their time and money to "Operation Holiday Homecoming," a program that enabled the Thunderbirds of the famed 45th to spend the holidays at home with their families before deploying to Iraq.
Families are the heart and soul of Oklahoma, and it's the love of family and friends that will help sustain our troops during this difficult time. I know I speak for everyone in this chamber when I say our hearts and prayers are with our troops and their families. We salute them.
And, speaking of family, it is with tremendous, sincere pride that I introduce my own family. My family comforts, inspires and sustains me -- my wonderful children: Leah, Laynie and Baylee; and the love of my life, a gracious and graceful First Lady, my incredible wife and equal partner, Kim.
Now, in the first year of our next 100 years, Oklahoma faces a new set of challenges and opportunities. The centennial is over, but the story of Oklahoma continues -- a story that is bold and reinvigorated, a new beginning for a state constantly evolving.
What we do now will set the course for our future. It's time to build on the successes that you and I have accomplished together during the past five years. Our actions this session will buttress the unshakable foundation of our second century of statehood.
As we chart Oklahoma's future, we must strengthen education, the cornerstone of economic prosperity, cultural richness and quality of life. We've made great gains, building the best preschool programs in the country and bolstering academic excellence with the ACE initiative. Now, nearly 90 percent of the class of 2011 is enrolled in the college-bound ACE curriculum. Middle schools with math labs created by ACE have seen their math scores jump by an incredible 20 percent.
But there is more to do. It is undeniable that our classroom teachers play a central role. Few professions are more critical in shaping future generations, and we are fortunate to have many of the finest educators in the nation. Oklahoma routinely ranks among the top states for teacher preparation, accountability and national board certification.
It's no wonder, then, that Texas and other states have long recruited many of our best educators. That's why we made a promise to our teachers and committed to a five-year plan to raise teacher pay to match the regional average by this year.
We're almost there. The average teacher salary in our state is only $1,200 below the regional average. We must keep our promise to the teachers, parents and children of Oklahoma.
Among our ranks of great teachers is Valorie Lewis, a third-grade teacher in Stigler. Her story is truly inspirational. Raised in utter poverty, Valorie and her family struggled simply to survive -- homeless and not knowing when their next meal would come.
Valorie knows all too well the challenges of an at-risk childhood. That experience is what drove her to become a teacher. And her success in the classroom has been extraordinary. In fact, USA Today recently named her one of the top 20 teachers in the entire nation.
Valorie is committed to the children of Oklahoma, and we must keep our commitment to her and raise teacher pay to the regional average. Please help me honor Valorie Lewis, who is with us in the gallery today.
As leaders, it is our duty to look beyond the present day and plan for the future. The length of Oklahoma's school year lags behind most other states and industrialized countries. That's why I propose we adopt the recommendations of Superintendent Sandy Garrett and the Time Reform Task Force and expand the school year by five days. This small step will help prepare our children to be more competitive academically.
A longer school year, increased accountability and higher teacher pay are of little use if students don't stay in school. There are many reasons why a student might drop out, but there is no reason so compelling that they must drop out.
Whatever it is that leads a student to believe that quitting school is the only option, we must have the resources in place to help students through those issues and see them complete high school.
In every community in Oklahoma, there are people with the education, dedication and experience to guide students to graduation. Our sense of community is among the greatest strengths of our state, so why not invest that strength in our students? It's time to create a graduation coach program so every student can succeed.
In the arena of higher education, we must build on the momentum of recent years. Our successes have been astounding. Oklahoma's college graduates have increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000. And 90 percent of our college graduates are staying in Oklahoma to work and raise a family.
Let's continue that momentum. It is crucial that we fully fund endowed chairs and reduce their backlog in our colleges and universities. By doing so, we will reaffirm our commitment to top-quality instruction and research in our institutions of higher learning.
A successful college experience also requires a safe campus. In the wake of last year's tragic slayings at Virginia Tech, I created the CLASS Task Force to review security at our college and CareerTech campuses. For the sake of our students and faculty, let's do everything in our power to ensure their safety and security.
Economic realities of the 21st century require innovation, boldness and a willingness to think beyond the ways we've always done things. Oklahoma's competitors are no longer simply neighboring states. Instead, our competitors are China and India and dozens of other countries around the globe.
Fortunately, we have worked diligently to diversify and grow the high-tech, high-paying jobs of tomorrow.
Results over the past five years have been dramatic: More than 127,000 new jobs; consistently low unemployment; personal income growth well above the national average; and 30-percent growth in our economy, which ranks seventh in the nation. And, according to the FDIC, our high-tech job growth alone is fifth best in the entire country.
But more work remains. Growing our economy means making smart, strategic investments. That's one reason we nearly doubled funding for the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
Every dollar we investment in OCAST brings an incredible $27 in return. That is truly remarkable, and well worth us increasing our commitment to OCAST this year.
Similarly, we established the Opportunity Fund and EDGE Research Endowment so Oklahoma can act quickly and decisively in securing the best jobs of today and tomorrow.
However, even the most visionary idea means nothing if we turn a blind eye to it. In 2006, we appropriated $150 million to the EDGE Endowment. It was a solid start, but our commitment is to create a $1 billion fund. The endowment, which will cultivate cutting-edge research, is too important to languish.
This year, let's ensure a permanent funding mechanism so the endowment can do what we envisioned: Fund the research that will create high-tech, good-paying jobs for a diversified, dynamic Oklahoma.
While much of the nation faces a looming economic downturn, we in Oklahoma are fortunate. Our economy is strong, buoyed by the oil and gas industry.
Domestic oil and gas producers are a key cornerstone of our state's economy. They employ thousands of our citizens, and growth in the industry has boosted Oklahoma's economy and enabled us to devote additional resources to vital state needs.
But that tremendous industry does not negate the need to diversify our economy or do our part in the drive for renewable energies.
Last year, we took a critical step toward energy independence, environmental protection and improved national security. In creating the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, we hastened making our state a global leader in biofuels and bioenergy research by capitalizing on the cutting-edge work being conducted at OU, OSU and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
Already, the Bioenergy Center is showing signs of what promises to be an amazing future. In only its first few months, the center has produced a 100-percent return on our initial investment of $10 million and shows potential to revitalize our rural economy. This year, let's continue our funding commitment to this vital mission.
Our Centennial celebration underscored another truth about Oklahoma: This is a diverse, modern, creative state.
The Oklahoma Creativity Project, championed by civic leaders like OSU's new president, Burns Hargis, seeks to harness and grow that creative energy, enhancing both the cultural landscape and the entrepreneurial economy of our state. Let's build on this forward-thinking initiative that will enrich our lives and our livelihoods.
The heritage of Oklahoma and that of Native America are inextricably linked, so profound is the influence of the tribal nations headquartered here. The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, currently under construction in Oklahoma City, promises to be a boon for tourism in our state as well as a fitting testament to the impact of the nearly 70 Native American tribes with Oklahoma ties. This year, we should authorize a $45 million bond issue to ensure the completion of this long-awaited, world-class facility.
A safe, dependable network of roads and bridges is also critical to economic growth. Together, we have laid the foundation for a modern transportation infrastructure, with a commitment to provide $2 billion over 10 years for roads and bridges.
But we cannot afford complacency. It's critical that we continue our progress and increase funding for transportation so we can literally pave the way to a prosperous Oklahoma.
Our future prosperity depends on a healthy people, and so we must boost our efforts to ensure a healthy Oklahoma.
Good health should not be dictated by where a person happens to live. Oklahoma's ambulance services are in a crisis, especially in our rural areas where nearly 50 EMS operations have closed in recent years.
Some communities have no ambulance service at all. This is not about quality of life; it's about life itself. Let's join forces this year to ensure the survival of ambulance services throughout our state.
Oklahoma is not immune to the nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity. Far too many of our children are overweight or obese. And that can lead to a host of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
We've taken positive steps over the past several years by raising nutritional standards in school lunchrooms and guaranteeing that students have healthy options in vending machines. But there is more work to do.
Two years ago, we enacted legislation requiring at least 60 minutes of weekly physical activity in elementary schools. That's a good start, given the sedentary lifestyle of many children. But a long life requires a life-long healthy lifestyle. This year, I urge you to pass legislation to double the physical education requirement to 120 minutes each week.
The first duty of government is to protect its people, and we have done that. But a recent audit shows in stark detail what many have known for years -- our prisons are deteriorating, understaffed and overcrowded.
The Department of Corrections has done a great job with the resources allotted. But those resources have never been adequate, and each year the department must come back to the Legislature to plead for more money -- not to improve facilities or hire more corrections officers, but simply to make ends meet.
This situation is inexcusable. It presents an immediate danger to the men and women who work in our prisons, and it threatens the safety of our citizens.
We must be tough on crime, and, at the same time, we must be smart on crime. That means continuing to build on innovative strategies such as drug courts, mental health courts and substance abuse treatment programs.
Most important, it means acting responsibly. This year, I again call on the Legislature to adequately fund the Department of Corrections so this agency can truly perform its central mission -- keeping Oklahomans safe.
All of our state employees work hard to serve the public every day, often without praise or acknowledgement, and at salaries lagging behind the private sector and nearly every other state. They are the best of the best. For their exemplary effort and hard work on behalf of Oklahoma, let's see to it that state employees get a 5-percent pay raise this session.
Our charge as leaders is to lay the foundation for the future. 2007 was the year of our Centennial, and 2008 represents a new beginning for Oklahoma, a time to look forward with clarity and vision.
With the same enthusiasm that marked our celebration of the last century, we must act today to achieve those things that will be celebrated 100 years from now.
We cannot move forward by pushing back. We must set aside partisan bickering and reactionary politics. The people of Oklahoma have nothing to gain from petty quarrels, and our time is too precious to waste in gridlock. Press releases are short-lived, but cooperation and constructive action resonate for generations.
We will face disagreements, but it is the civil exchange of ideas and respect for diverse viewpoints that make our democracy and our state strong. Together, we will find solutions that benefit all Oklahomans.
We will face challenges, but we Oklahomans are resilient and innovative. We will persevere, as we have many times before, through our strength, wisdom and characteristic compassion for friend and stranger alike.
One of Oklahoma's greatest sons, Will Rogers, once cautioned, "Don't let yesterday use up too much of today."
Good advice. We must put aside our past differences and work together for the common good of all Oklahomans. We must follow Will's sound advice and look to the future.
The year of our Centennial is over. We have celebrated the history and heritage that gives us our identity. We have praised the men and women whose dreams and determination built the state we love.
It is time to look to the future. That future begins today.
God bless you, and God bless Oklahoma.