Inaugural Address of Governor Phil Bryant
January 10, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Lt. Governor. I look forward to our term of service together. Deborah and I are so proud to work with you and Elee in this crowded hour.
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, for your work in the Judiciary and for guiding me through the oath of office. Governor Barbour, Senator Wicker, Congressmen Harper, Nunnelee and Palazzo, Speaker Gunn, Senate and House members, and all elected officials, I offer a warm welcome with profound gratitude for your presence here today.
I am joined on this delightful occasion by my family, both immediate and extended. Holding my Grandmother’s Bible for my oath is the one who has supported my dreams and challenges for thirty-five years. The person who has held my heart in her hands: my wonderful and patient wife, and our new First Lady, Deborah. Also here are my two children, Katie and Patrick, who are the light of my life, and Stephen who will soon join our family as Katie’s husband. I am so grateful for God’s great gift of such a beloved family.
My two older brothers are by my side today as they have been since my earliest memory. Larry, the oldest, set the example with his passion for success and dedication to achievement. Chuck, the middle child, has been the balance between hard work and a love for life. I am here today because I stood on their shoulders.
Our parents, Dewey and Estelle, would have been equally proud of all their children today. Our mother was the lighthouse that would bring us home when we lost our way. They were simply the best part of our lives, and we loved them with all our hearts.
To my mother-in-law, Doris Hays, I extend heartfelt thanks for your acceptance and willingness to allow your daughter to marry a young deputy sheriff so many years ago. I know you all, both Hayses and Applewhites, must be equally surprised. You are my family, and my world would have been empty without your love and support.
To former Speaker Billy McCoy, I am honored by your presence today and thankful for our years of service together. I ask for God’s blessing upon you and yours. To newly elected Speaker Philip Gunn, I extend a hearty congratulation. I look forward to our time together and your great service to the citizens of our beloved Mississippi.
And I want to give a very special “thank you” to Governor Barbour and Marsha for your leadership and service. Mississippians will long remember and appreciate your dedication and sacrifice. I think I can speak for all Mississippians when I say: “Well done our true and faithful servants.”
In addition to my parents, there are others I wish could be here today. I would have enjoyed having Governor and Mrs. Fordice here. Pat would have been gracious with her comments, and Kirk would have said: “Keep it short, Phil.”
I was elected to the House of Representatives on the same day Kirk Fordice was elected Governor. I ran for that office after I had a rare opportunity to visit the White House for a meeting with President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Inspired by his admonitions to rise above our own self interests and to stay the course of his conservative revolution, I returned to Mississippi determined to make a difference.
I have been blessed on my journey with some unique perspectives of this wonderful place. I have seen from behind a badge as a deputy sheriff how Mississippi keeps the peace. I have seen from its records as a state auditor how Mississippi spends its money. I have seen from the floor of the Senate as Lt. Governor how Mississippi makes its laws. And at each step along the way I have marveled at our people. I give my sincerest thanks to the incredible people of Mississippi who made today possible. You are all truly amazing in my eyes, which makes my presence here today as your Governor all the more humbling.
Today we start a new administration, one that will reflect upon the success of our past with admiration and respect, while looking for greater achievements in our future. It would be timid and insincere to believe all our problems are solved or our shared potential exhausted. We must dedicate ourselves to the belief that we may fall separately, but we will surely rise together. And if we are to rise together, we must do so with the inherent characteristics of Mississippi. We are a people of character who value hard work and treasure loyalty to our families, state and country. And, as the prophet Isaiah described so long ago, we are a people of faith who “will soar on wings like eagles” because our trust is in the Lord.
With the Lord’s blessing, I want to help the people of Mississippi to be a people of opportunity, and there are four important opportunities that should start our work: every Mississippian should have the opportunity to be gainfully employed right here at home; every Mississippian should have the opportunity to actually learn from the best educational system we can offer; every Mississippian should have the opportunity to be born into a mature, two-parent family; and every Mississippian should have the opportunity to be sure his or her tax dollars are put to proper use.
First, our most important work is making sure that Mississippians have work. Providing job opportunities is critical for Mississippi’s long-term success. And there are two sectors we can foster that have incredible promise to bring more jobs to Mississippi over the next decade: energy and health care.
Mississippi is becoming a center of power – the very power that fuels modern life. Natural gas, bio-fuels, solar power, clean coal technology and tertiary oil recovery are all adding to our position as a leader in the energy economy of the 21st century. Mississippi can not only create thousands of homegrown jobs with an energy economy, but we can help this nation become energy independent while we do it.
Mississippi’s other potential growth sector for enhancement is healthcare. Look around: many of us here are “Baby Boomers.” Whether it is hula hoops, automobiles or housing; we have driven the economy since the 1950’s. We now need additional healthcare. To meet this demand, I have proposed adding 1,000 new physicians by 2025 — knowing that each doctor and the support services surrounding that doctor — bring $2 million into the community in which he or she settles.
To do this, we will complete our new medical school as we plan new medical zones across Mississippi. The thousands of jobs that will be created by this public and private venture is just the beginning. The lives that will be saved, the diseases that could be eradicated and the education of the nation’s finest medical professionals will be transformational. Together, we can enhance the health of our bodies and the health of our economy at the same time.
Governor Barbour and I have had a singular focus on economic development for an important reason: when a Mississippian has a job it changes absolutely everything. A Mississippian with a job doesn’t need public assistance, adds taxes to the state treasury, is an example of responsibility to his or her children, and is more likely to avoid crime, to vote and to participate in a community. State government cannot create jobs, but we can remove as many obstacles as practical to make our state a magnet for the people and companies who do. Every day I am Governor I will make it my job to make sure that more Mississippians have a job of their own.
Second, we must change our discussion of education from one only of dollars and cents to one that makes sense. Early childhood learning, charter schools, classroom redesign and higher qualifying standards for teachers will be our goals.
We must also attack the dropout rate by allowing children to take standard high school classes and workforce learning in community colleges at the same time. A dropout who would otherwise be preordained as a societal failure could be valued as a craftsman with such programs.
And we must re-focus our efforts on the most important factor in education: a child’s ability to read. We know a child who cannot read at a standard level by the fourth grade is almost always destined to failure. We cannot continue to stand-by and allow this failure. The future our children live in will be written, and I want every child in Mississippi to be able to read it.
Third, the epidemic of teenage pregnancy in this state must come to an end. Churches, schools, community organizations and most importantly, families, must realize that the highest teen pregnancy rate in America will eventually cripple our state.
Such a change in a societal norm is possible. Forty years ago many of you here today would be smoking during this ceremony. It was the norm and few would have noticed. Society, however, decided that smoking was harmful and a slow but certain repudiation of the habit began.
A similar repudiation of teen pregnancy must begin throughout Mississippi society. Every church, health care provider, teacher and employer must help in identifying teen pregnancy as an activity more devastating than smoking. Friends, we can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Teen pregnancy in Mississippi must be reduced if we are to reach our full potential.
And finally, our people need to know that the precious tax dollars they send to Jackson are spent with the upmost care. Mississippi’s budget process is broken and must be fixed. Our state cannot be successful in the 21st Century with a budget system from the 19th Century. Most importantly, it is inefficient at a time when we can ill afford inefficiencies. Instead of measuring outcomes and appropriating for success, our state budgets are set by two deciding factors: what was last year’s budget number and who did you know at the Capitol. This is no way to treat our people’s tax dollars. We will work smarter than our sister states, make spending transparent and design budgets based on performance and not politics.
An appropriation of money will not solve all of our problems, but an appropriation of leadership can. Not just the kind of leadership at the State Capitol, but the kind of leadership that has helped Mississippi endure great challenges.
Friends, Mississippi has endured a Civil War, a Reconstruction, a Great Depression, poverty, racial strife and the worst natural disaster in American history. We have been branded by the rest of the world by these challenges. But the world cannot deny our resilience and perseverance.
From a state that seceded from the Union, we are now home to thousands of U.S. military men and women and some of the most patriotic people in this Union.
From the depths of Delta poverty, we cradled the birth of America’s music — from blues, to country to rock-n-roll.
From the bitter and righteous struggle for Civil Rights, we gave inspirational rise to some of the country’s foremost writers, musicians, artists and leaders.
With each challenge we have, as William Faulkner said, not only endured but prevailed. Our endurance and perseverance has been at its best when the waters have risen around us. Mississippi has become accustomed to rising water. Over the last decade alone, Hurricane Katrina and the Mississippi River have given us historic and painful examples of the waters’ depth.
But there is something we have learned from it. The rising water forced us to higher ground. It forced us to build stronger and better. It made us climb to new heights.
My fellow Mississippians, it is true that in years past our troubles have risen around us like the rising water. But we have persevered, and each time we have climbed to the new perspective of that higher ground.
As we make our way deeper into this new Century, let us rise together. Let us ascend to a place where the troubled waters can no longer touch us — a place where the view of the water is big and wide and beautiful. Let us rise together, Mississippi — and with the guiding hand of God Almighty – let us take that first step up together.
God bless you; God bless Mississippi; and God bless the United States of America.