Governor Dave Freudenthalís Inaugural Comments-2007
Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. Photo courtesy State of Wyoming.
Wyoming State Inauguration and Swearing In Ceremonies
by Governor Dave Freudenthal
January 2, 2007
Good morning and welcome. Thank you for extending my employment contract to serve as your Governor for another four years. With great humility, Nancy and I look forward to continuing our service to the people of Wyoming.
I congratulate my fellow statewide elected officials and hope for a cooperative and productive relationship over the next four years.
Tradition holds that inaugural speeches are to be profound dissertations written and delivered largely for students of history. But in this period of extraordinary growth and unmatched opportunity, our time is better spent on the decisions of the next few years - decisions which will help define the future we are creating for the next generation and generations yet unborn.
Historians will render judgment on our words. But our actions will be judged most critically by Wyoming*s citizens 30 and 50 years from now - for it is they who must live with the decisions we make as well as the indecision we indulge because of a lack of confidence or the fear of an uncertain tomorrow.
Our rapidly changing world encourages many of us to default to indecision. Even though our mind understands the unavoidable uncertainties of tomorrow, we still seek black-and-white answers, a simple "either/or" logic and comfortable, predictable patterns. Perhaps, this explains why it can sometimes be more appealing to look in the rear-view mirror than to accept the uncertainty of the oncoming future. With or without our active participation, time and history always march forward. But our active participation can affect the direction we march and help create the best possible future for our children and grandchildren. This nation and this state exist because our forbearers accepted the uncertainties of their future, set a course and took action. Given their uncertainties, none of them could have imagined the Wyoming of today.
Nearly universal agreement supports the characterization of Wyoming as being currently blessed with remarkable growth and unmatched opportunity. Data demonstrates increased income for our citizens and our governmental treasuries. By Constitution and statute, the prudent habit of state government savings is now a remarkable 40 cents of every severance tax dollar received by the state.
Our population is finally growing. Instead of being short of jobs, we are short of trained workers. Tourism and recreation are expanding their contribution to our economy. Our agricultural community continues to demonstrate great resiliency in the face of the ongoing drought. The private sector is making huge investments in our state and the production of energy resources continues to expand. We are optimistic about the future. Conventional wisdom summarizes our circumstance with this simple observation: "The sun is truly shining on Wyoming."
This same sunshine illuminates less encouraging parts of the Wyoming landscape as well. Not everyone in Wyoming is sharing in the prosperity. Nearly fifty percent of the children born in Wyoming are covered by public assistance payments through Medicaid. Elderly and fixed income citizens continue to struggle with the rising costs of energy, healthcare and taxes. Substance abuse and the scourge of methamphetamine prey upon on our people and communities.
Our open space, wildlife and physical environment are under immense pressure, not just from mineral development, but increasingly from housing development and drought. A lack of available employees and a housing shortage are continuing topics of conversation throughout Wyoming. Our investment of public tax dollars in housing infrastructure, our road system, and the support of cities and counties has failed to keep pace with the private sector*s investment in the Wyoming economy.
Our demographic trends are similar to the national data showing a marked aging of our population. Our trends are accelerated by baby boomers moving to Wyoming for our low taxes and great quality of life.
And, of course, our old friend, the federal government in Washington, D.C. remains an unpredictable and often counterproductive partner in our efforts to shape Wyoming*s future.
Perhaps the most alarming development, in America and Wyoming, is the inability of working families, through no fault of their own, to piece together a life for themselves and their children. Our formula for the American Dream has always been: Get a job, work hard and you will be able to provide for your family. Sadly, too many wonderful people work two and three jobs, sacrifice time with loved ones and still struggle to provide for their families. The costs of housing, fuel, heat, daycare and healthcare simply exceed the family*s income. Their American Dream, too often, becomes a paycheck-to-paycheck struggle for family survival.
So we see there are two very different views of Wyoming. Both are accurate. Our state is flourishing in many ways, but there is still much to be done. We can take pride and comfort in the mountains we have climbed. But our focus must be on the summits ahead, not the valleys behind us.
Which summits we choose can be guided by contemplating alternative futures for Wyoming. For a moment, let us consider what may greet participants in the inaugural ceremony 32 years from today, in 2039. For some, particularly the young, 32 years may seem like forever. But just a few facts illustrate how quickly time passes: 32 years ago Ed Herschler was sworn in as Governor for the first time, the Wyoming Permanent Mineral Trust Fund had just been approved by the voters and Wyoming*s coal production had reached the seemingly staggering level of 20 million tons annually. For Nancy and I, our children were not the next generation, they were the generation yet unborn.
With some variation, Wyoming*s newly elected officials in 2039 will likely confront one of two alternative circumstances, each an extension of the strengths and weaknesses of Wyoming today.
Our state could consist largely of older retirees, affluent second-home buyers and even fewer young families than we have today. Our economy could be the remnants of a fossil fuel energy industry that has moved on, both in terms of location and technology. The remainder of the economy could be drought-limited agriculture with some tourism and recreation largely linked to Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks. Even though taxes would be relatively low, those seeking to create wealth - aggressive businesses, job seekers and families hoping to build a future - would be looking elsewhere. The inability to retain and attract young families would hamper the economy's ability to support the services needed by the older generation. Healthcare and basic services for an aging population would be increasingly scarce. Our precious land, air, water and open space resources could be compromised by housing sprawl and inattention to the enforcement and adaptation of our ethic of environmental protection. Wyoming could have an economy where it would be nearly impossible for businesses, families and ultimately retirees to prosper.
While this may seem a dark picture, it is not beyond belief. Wyoming*s economy can change quickly in spite of our hopes and dreams. In the mid-to-late 1940s, the railroads shifted from coal-fired locomotives to diesel. No one had thought about other uses for coal or about building new economic opportunities. Wyoming paid the price for inaction as communities shrank or even disappeared.
A far more appealing alternative, for the office holder and citizen in 2039, would be a history of prudent investments by the public and private sectors. Investments working to develop intellectual capital, workforce, basic community infrastructure, and support for clean coal and other energy technologies which we cannot even envision today.
Transportation, healthcare, telecommunications, and economic development infrastructure would have been prudently built over the decades to support an energy economy and the diversified growth necessary to retain and attract younger families. One or two water storage projects, started decades earlier - perhaps around 2007 - would have finally been built and are delivering water to our farms, cities and industry. And thanks to responsible environmental protection, along with investment in wildlife habitat and open spaces, families would have ample places to hike, hunt, fish, or just enjoy our outdoor majesty. Wyoming would be recognized, not only as a land of open spaces but as a state of great opportunity.
Which of these alternatives becomes the future of Wyoming will be substantially determined by the decisions we make. None of the outcomes I have just described will happen immediately, or even in most of our lifetimes.
However, the decisions we make in the next four years will propel us far down one of these paths.
Sound decisions require a clear-eyed acceptance of our circumstance. We are a high-plains desert state, which means scarceness of water will always be a challenge. We have a relatively small population. This limits our ability to attract major companies but on the other hand helps us preserve our small town way of life and our open spaces. Ours is a resource-based economy with modest, but growing, efforts towards diversification. The sheer magnitude of energy development in Wyoming makes it the dominant driver of our economy. But the increasing public and scientific interest in reducing the environmental impacts of energy production means we must work with industry to advance cleaner and more efficient technologies to develop our energy reserves and expand the role of renewable energy, such as wind generation, in Wyoming's future.
Any clear-eyed appraisal of Wyoming must acknowledge that many people like Wyoming pretty much as it is - and they don*t want it to change.
This seems particularly true for many of us, including myself, who are approaching retirement age. Ultimately though, we must recognize that our own quality of life as we age is intimately dependent on the existence of an economy capable of retaining and attracting younger families.
We might also find comfort in some simple math. If by 2039, Wyoming's population were to have grown by 50%, there would still only be 750 thousand people within our borders. In a state of 98 thousand square miles, we can probably handle the change, particularly if it were accompanied by progress. For as Mark Twain said, it is not progress people fear, it is change.
We all know change is inevitable and there are no guarantees in life.
So what do we do to ensure change is coupled with progress? Many steps have already been taken. From the first mineral severance tax in 1969 to last year's phenomenal commitment to the higher education of Wyoming*s young people, a firm footing for progress has been laid.
But much remains to be done. If it is not done, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Wyoming is truly blessed. We have natural resources. Our citizens possess intellectual ability. We enjoy an active private economy. The quality of our landscape and environment offer an increasingly rare and desirable lifestyle. Substantial public revenues are available for investment. Our population is not so large that the system is ungovernable.
Any observer from outside Wyoming can but wonder, "What more could these people want?" All of the essential ingredients exist for the people of Wyoming to mold a great future. Unlike prior generations, we need not complain about what we do not have; quite the contrary we must challenge ourselves to meet the opportunity before us.
Most difficult will be to challenge several unhealthy habits of business as usual.
We can no longer afford to begin and end every discussion about Wyoming*s future by asking, "What is in it for me?" With this approach, we fail to avidly pursue excellence and maximize opportunities wherever they might exist in our state. Our historical pattern is to first ask, "What's in it" for my town, my school district, my community college, my county, or my political party.
In our earliest history, the contentious debate over the distribution of state facilities such as the university, the capitol, the penitentiary and the miner*s hospital nearly derailed our evolution to statehood. Allegiances to our local communities and institutions can be a source of great strength, but only if they include a commitment to our fellow citizens statewide.
An unfortunate, but very human habit is to resent portions of the state which are enjoying prosperity or the benefits inherent in the geologic location of mineral resources. Sometimes I wonder if the 10th Commandment should not have included an admonition to not covet thy neighbor's mineral resources. Rich versus poor jurisdictions should not be a test of policy but simply a fact to be understood in formulating strategies to help build the entire state.
We must also address our fear of an economic downturn or bust. A healthy level of unease generates urgency and sustained dedication to building upon our economic strengths while working toward greater diversification of our economy. Unfortunately this unease combined with a fear of the last bust can also leave us immobile, much like a deer confronted with the glare of a bright light.
It is increasingly clear that our current prosperity is not the same as the energy boom of the Seventies and early Eighties. But the global and American economies are cyclical and the pace of technological change seems to accelerate. Clearly the energy industry will have up and down periods. Those who warn that change is coming are correct. Much less certainty exists as to the nature and timing of the change.
We must not be reckless or overly optimistic. Nor should we allow the fear of the last economic downturn to freeze us in place and time. Whether the change, be it good or bad, comes in 3, 5 or 15 years our basic strategy remains sound: Set some revenue aside, invest in the infrastructure to support our current growth and encourage diversification, build the communities and intellectual capital necessary to attract the entrepreneurs and companies of the next economy, and continue to address the needs of our people.
The greatest limitation on our future may be a self-imposed lack of faith and confidence which confines us to tentative investments in infrastructure and human capital. Relying on tentative investments is like learning to ride a bike by pedaling very slowly - we will not remain upright for long. We must pedal deliberately and quickly, making smart investments and decisions in areas of our economy and lifestyle that we know will continue to be important for decades.
The election preceding this event included candidates professing great confidence and faith in the future of Wyoming, its people and our ability to act with wisdom and vision. But as the time for actually making decisions draws near, the faith and confidence begin to waver.
President Franklin Roosevelt, a man whose confidence never wavered, referred to the role of the Bible in shaping the advances of our Republic. Of the Bible, President Roosevelt said, "Where we have been the truest to its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity."
At James Chapter 2, there is a discussion of the importance of faith being tied to action. The Chapter concludes with this phrase "so faith apart from works is dead." And so it is with our statements of faith and confidence in the future of Wyoming: They must be coupled with action, if not for ourselves then for the next generation.
If I may, can I ask everyone under 40 in this audience to please stand up? To you, I express a hope: that in 32 years, at that inauguration ceremony, you will not look back on these four years, on this period of prosperity, and say, *Yes, they did some good things,* but instead you will say, "They did everything they could have done for us."
And to all of you here today and around Wyoming, I say simply: We have been given an enormous opportunity, you and me. I pledge to you my deepest efforts to be faithful to a better future for Wyoming and to let that vision guide my every decision. And I ask you: Please join me in
these efforts. We have a bright future in Wyoming, should we choose to create it.
And may God Bless Wyoming and these United States of America.
Audio of Governor Freudenthal's comments:
Wyoming Energy Production (0.22 seconds, 183K mp3 file)