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Governor Jeb Bush’s 2003 Inaugural Address

January 7, 2003
The Executive Office of the Governor

I thank Almighty God for the opportunity to be here today, and for the colleagues, friends, and family who have gathered to celebrate our common purpose. I also thank the people of

Florida who have honored me with a second term as Governor. I am humbled and grateful for the trust you have placed in me.

Can it be that only four years ago we paused under these oaks to talk about the future with an enthusiasm, and in hindsight, an innocence, that was unique to that day? Only four years, yet a generation's wisdom learned in that time.

Through goals achieved and hardships endured, we have seen the world change in ways that were then unimaginable. It is fitting and good that we, as Floridians, return here today wiser and more resolute, with the energy and commitment to continue our journey forward. But most important is this: That we come here today as a people; as a community; as a state that has for the first time in our modern experience united behind common goals that elevate all of us and the least of us.

And how will we realize our destiny? We will do it with the grace of God, a fierce determination, and the lessons we have learned.

Those of you who were here for the last inaugural may remember the warm tropical breeze that enveloped our capital city. I hope you also remember my message that day. I said that government is not the answer; that we must build a life centered on faith, friends and family. Four years later, I am more convinced than ever that if we remain true to this focus our lives will be fulfilling and meaningful.

Faith is grounded in humility, gratitude, and generosity; an acknowledgement that through life we have been given a gift that is wholly unearned and never fully understood. It requires the difficult acceptance that we are loved, despite our flaws, just as we should love others, despite theirs. In our darkest hours, it is what sustains us. In our final darkness, it will bring us light.

Friends, too, sustain us. Through laughter and loyalty, they fill our lives through a bond made all the more extraordinary because it is freely chosen. This, too, is a priceless gift, and many listening today have blessed me with their friendship. Through these relationships a life is made rich; and through the web of relationships that spring from friendship a society emerges and flourishes.

And then there is family. It is family that taught me the importance of faith and friends. These weren't conclusions I drew based on reading or research, but on seeing my own parents make these their priorities. My mom and dad are here today, and each remains for me a very personal and compelling example of a life fully lived; of people who have experienced both the triumphs and pain that come from giving themselves over to the vibrant core of human experience and to the service of others. To this day, I call my dad for advice, and his response is always as gracious as it is wise. He is now and forever my greatest hero.

Now my mother, she doesn't usually wait for my call. She calls me. And what she lacks in coddling, she more than makes up for in smaller phone bills by keeping her comments short, to the point, and right on target.

At any rate, my parents have shown me that when we accept personal responsibility for ourselves and those we love, we don't have to invent government programs that apply complex rules to matters better addressed by profound human caring. What is a checklist compared to kindness? What is agency procedure compared to compassion?

But without a caring society, without each citizen voluntarily accepting the weight of responsibility, government is destined to grow even larger, taking more of your money, burrowing deeper into your lives.

Consider the mathematics of the tragedy: Each year in Florida , eighty thousand children are born without a father in the home. Each year, there are eighty-five thousand abortions. And each year, eighty thousand marriages are dissolved. Sadly, today, almost fifty thousand children are in the custody of the state, and hundreds of thousands more aren't receiving the child support they are due. The numbers are so staggering, the implications so bleak, that we can become numb to the human toll they exact.

In the past, our response has been to raise more taxes, grow more government, and embrace the thin fiction that if only we can hire one more social worker or complete one more form then we can somehow reverse these corrosive trends and salvage these lives. But while these intentions may be noble these methods are folly. Government will never fill the hollowness of the human heart. It can only be filled by a like kind substance. It can only be filled by another human heart.

So in the end, while I am the one who takes this oath today, when we leave this place your responsibility is as sacred as mine: Through our example and our deeds we should strive to shape our society through kindness and caring. In our businesses, we should give moms and dads time to be parents with their children. In our hectic daily lives, we should fiercely guard a time for selflessly helping the most vulnerable and needy. In our most private moments alone, we should reflect on our unearned gifts and rededicate our lives to those around us. In a thousand ways we can be more accepting, more giving, more compassionate.

And if we are, we can embed in society a sense of caring that makes government less necessary. There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.

But this is a distant destination, and there are many steps in the journey. I am reminded of the wisdom of Governor Leroy Collins, the man I consider to be Florida ’s greatest Governor. When describing his leadership, Governor Collins said that the proper role of the chief executive is to make sure we navigate the ship out of the harbor but not beyond the horizon where it can no longer be seen by those on shore.

So we should pause and reflect on the visible. In my first term, with your help we set and achieved some remarkable goals. We dramatically reduced the rate of violent crime by imposing swift and certain justice on those who illegally use guns and punished to a greater extent repeat violent offenders. We signed an historic accord to save the Everglades . We significantly increased resources for the developmentally disabled and made them a focus of this administration.

But at the pinnacle of our achievements sits education, and appropriately so. Better education is the fundamental mechanism by which a society is elevated and transformed. Every small accumulation of knowledge and skill in each person is amplified to huge effect over a lifetime.

We have done nothing less than revolutionize education in Florida . We have built a school system that is accountable to our students and parents. It has not been painless, and the protectors of the status quo have resisted every step of the way. In the end, we have prevailed…but it is our students who are achieving victory.

The changes we have made will not be undone because the people of Florida understand their power. Can it be that just four years ago parents were left to guess whether their children's school was giving them a good education? How is it possible that we tolerated a bureaucracy that was indifferent to the success or failure of a child? We will never, never, never go back!

We will only go forward. If education is the most important function of government, then reading is the most important skill to be derived from education. That is why it is my goal over the next four years t o make reading an enduring core value of our state. This means showing the way for all to be involved. It means making sure that our early childhood programs have reading as their highest priority and that our teachers are fully skilled to teach reading. It means that parents and mentors have our full support in their selfless campaign to instill in our children a love of the written word.

And that is why we have developed a battle plan that is aggressive and bold, committing massive resources to nurture the skill that is the basis of productivity and understanding.

Just as we will be equipping citizens with the tools to thrive in an increasingly complex world, it is my goal in the next four years to help grow an economy that will give our people the opportunities they deserve. Already we have seen the wisdom of cutting taxes and red tape. While other states have languished in our national economic downturn, Florida has been a national leader in the creation of new jobs.

As the great inventor Thomas Edison said, “Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”

We must never be merely content with the progress we have made in Florida we must always be restless. We must always strive to do better.

We need to build an economy that creates not just new jobs, but better jobs; careers that enhance the quality of our lives, and protect the integrity of our natural environment. I will make it my calling to bring these jobs to this state.

And finally, it is my most ambitious goal to provide the catalyst, in small ways and large, that will bring our families closer together. I, for one, intend to begin with my own family. Although it is an intensely private -and at times painful-matter, you should know I have rededicated myself to being a better father and husband. Looking today at the faces of my wife and children, all three of them, I realize that any sense of fulfillment I have from this event is meaningless unless they, too, can find fulfillment in their lives. They have sacrificed greatly for me, and I love them dearly.

And so that their sacrifices and yours have not been wasted, and that our hopes and dreams for our beloved Florida are fully realized, I leave you with this thought: In my first inaugural address at the dawn of this new century, I talked about how the forces of the previous hundred years would shape my first four years in office. Today, I want you to consider how we may, in the next four years, shape the hundred years that come after.

In a mere 48 months, another person will be standing on this spot, placing his or her hand on the Bible, taking the oath of office and becoming our next governor. Our principles must endure beyond that person and those who come after. They must be intractably rooted in a culture that demands excellence, not adequacy; that exalts in the individual, not government; and that through compassion, rather than compulsion, provides solace and support for the most vulnerable among us.

This can be our legacy. This can be Florida.

And it begins today.

It begins now.

It begins with you.

God bless you all, and God bless Florida.