Thank you. Thank you very much.
First, to my House colleagues, as we gather in this chamber to open this historic session of the General Assembly. I am humbled by the great honor that you have bestowed upon me. I appreciate your vote of confidence.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to those members who encouraged me to campaign for the office of Speaker. Without your help, this would not have been possible.
I also extend my thanks to the residents of my hometown of West Warwick and to the voters of District 26, which includes the fine people of Coventry and Warwick, for giving me the opportunity to be here.
To my wife Stacey, for her inspiration, love and understanding, her unwavering belief in me throughout my political career. Thank you and I love you.
To my sons Ryan and Kyle, I feel honored that I will be able to make decisions and shape policy that will have a positive impact on your future and the future of all children of Rhode Island.
To my parents, John and Dorothy, who are not well, but are home watching today,
thank you for everything and for always being there.
To my brother Mike, sister-in-law Nancy, nephew Sean and niece Karlah. To my cousin Marie Uncle Bill and Aunt Toni. And to our Great Aunt Sue.
To my law partner Mark Fay. To our associates, Norman Landroche and
Steven Crawford. To our staff, Donna Rogers, Jennifer Turcotte and Luis Colon, and to my colleagues, Scott Lutes and Michael Zarrella.
Gordon Smith, West Warwick Democratic Town Committee Chairman. To my mentor, Attorney John Tramonti and his wife, Patricia Tramonti.
To Bishop Mulvee and Father Healey. To Father Charles Downing, of St. Joseph Church in West Warwick.
To Mayor Cicilline, one of our former colleagues who will bring fresh ideas and values to Providence city government.
And former State Representative Stephen Hernandez, principal of St. Joseph School.
To Colonel Pare of the Rhode Island State Police, who is also a graduate of West Warwick High School.
To presiding Justice Joseph Rodgers of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Thank you for all of your support.
To our invited guests, welcome and thank you for being here today.
While we move forward into the new legislative session, we must look back to remember and mention a few individuals who contributed to making Rhode Island a better state, but left us much too quickly last year.
Supreme Court Justice John Bourcier.
Supreme Court Justice Victoria Lederberg, a former member of the House.
Superior Court Justice John Sheehan.
Honorable Frank Sgambato, former Senate Majority Leader.
Former Representatives Francis McGreavy and Mary Kilmarx.
John Affleck, who had a noted and distinguished career in public service.
And our beloved brother, the Honorable Robert Sullivan of East Providence.
As we say goodbye to these leaders, it is time to congratulate our future leaders.
I want to especially welcome the nine new House members and ask them to stand as I introduce them.
Representative Richard Aubin of Burrillville and Glocester.
Representative William Enos of Tiverton, Little Compton and Portsmouth (glad you finally chose the upper chamber).
Representative Arthur Handy of Cranston.
Representative Norman Landroche of West Warwick, Warwick and Coventry.
Representative David Laroche of Woonsocket.
Representative Matthew McHugh of South Kingstown, New Shoreham, Charlestown and Westerly.
Representative William McManus of Lincoln.
Representative Victor Moffitt of Coventry.
Representative Peter Petrarca of Smithfield, Johnston and Lincoln.
I also wish to congratulate the new leadership team:
My partner, Majority Leader Gordon Fox of Providence, Whip Rene Menard of Lincoln and also representing Cumberland, Deputy Majority Whip Charlene Lima of Cranston.
I also want to extend a welcome to House Minority Leader Robert Watson of East and West Greenwich and House Minority Whip Joseph Scott of Exeter, Charlestown and Richmond.
Collectively we face many challenges.
As you know, the state's budget, which always originates in the House, has been the most important piece of legislation that we enact. I pledge to you and to all Rhode Islanders that we will work together with the Senate and Governor Carcieri to pass a responsible budget that will address any deficit concerns while maintaining necessary state services. Unlike other states which face disastrous fiscal situations, I assure you that with your help, we will meet the challenges.
We are fortunate to have our new Majority Leader Gordon Fox whose ability and insight into the budgeting process will be invaluable to us.
As Speaker and Chairman of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, I will work with all JCLS members to professionalize all offices within the General Assembly.
Employment at the Rhode Island State House is a privilege, and under my leadership employees will learn that they are valued, but at the same time, they too are accountable to the people of Rhode Island.
The voters of our state have given us a message, and it is loud and clear. That message is that we must change how power in Rhode Island is distributed and exercised. We will address this issue today by sending a resolution to the Rules Committee to establish a standing committee on Separation of Powers. The committee will prepare and submit legislation on Separation of Powers that will be debated and passed by this House so that we can submit it to the voters in 2004.
With help from both sides of the aisle, I have pre-filed legislation to impose term limits on the offices of Speaker and Senate President.
As your Speaker, I will deliver a change in leadership practice and a change in leadership style. My office will be open and accessible to you, the membership of the House of Representatives; your ideas, views, and needs are important to me. I know that by working together we can succeed.
Our problem in recent years was that we failed to communicate with the people of Rhode Island. As a result, many see only the warts of our institution, not the beauty of our great work and numerous achievements.
The office of the Speaker will establish a needed stream of communication with the media. We will be proactive, not reactive.
The office of the Speaker and the House leadership will have a spokesperson. We need to get our message out.
When necessary, I will call for caucuses which are often needed during the legislative session. Debate and compromise are the bedrocks of representative democracy. We need to ensure that the voices of our members are heard.
Members of this House have always prided themselves as state officeholders who are closest to the people. The average Rhode Island citizen who has a problem with state government has two options in solving that problem. He or she can call a bureaucracy and listen to a voice mail message, or he or she can call their state representative and ask for help. We can't solve every problem, but the people in our districts know that we will take their calls and will do something about it.
Doing something means more than just fixing a constituent problem. It means we must share with our constituents a clear and ambitious vision of what this state should be in these early years of the 21st century. It means working with our new governor and with the Senate to develop innovative, economic opportunities that will benefit working families of Rhode Island. It means restoring Rhode Island to the kind of prestige and prosperity that our small state enjoyed at the turn of the last century. That prosperity is forever preserved for every generation of Rhode Islanders in this magnificent building, a building that was constructed and occupied for the first time by the General Assembly in January 1901. It means a prosperity which will provide a growing stream of good jobs, so my children and your children will not have to leave our beautiful Ocean State to make their lives and their careers in another state.
Although we are defined as a part-time legislature, our work often consumes a full-time status.
I want to make sure that people in the State of Rhode Island know just how hard all of you work day in and day out. It may be a part-time position, but it is a full-time commitment.
We are a House of two parties. But, as your Speaker, I will listen to each and every one of you regardless of party affiliation. We are not perfect. No group or person is. But over the past 340 years, from the first meeting of the General Assembly in Newport in 1664, this institution has served the people of Rhode Island well, and we will continue to do so.
The men and women of each of our districts have sent us here to do their business, which is to establish good public policy for Rhode Island over the next two years. We must not disappoint them.
I am confident, as I stand here for the first time as Speaker of the House, that we will make them proud of how well, how openly, and how ethically we will go about doing their business.
We are going to restore public trust in this House - let us get to work. Thanks.