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Inaugural address - madeleine m. kunin 1985
Thursday, January 10, 1985
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the General Assembly and Friends:
As I stand here before you — the solemn words of the Oath of Office echoing still in my mind — we know
that we have opened another chapter in the proud and independent history of the Green Mountain State.
I am the first woman to serve as Governor of Vermont, the third Democrat since the Civil War and the
I stand with my husband and children, with members of my family who are a source of my strength — and
Their love and support are essential to me.
I stand with the memory of members of my family who are no longer with me — my mother, my aunt, my
grandmother — the strong women who could never have dreamt I would be in this place on this day, but who, through the courage of their own lives, give me the stamina to stand as tall as they did in their time.
It was my mother, who as a widow, came to America from Switzerland with two small children, aged 6 and
10, in 1940, as war was spreading over Europe.
In addition to a limited knowledge of English, she carried with her to these shores a limitless dream of what
this country could offer her and her children.
And she talked to us about the dream, but it was not until many years later, that I fully understood her.
Her dream enabled me to strive, to reach, and to touch some horizons I was certain were beyond my grasp.
— That dream must continue to beckon to the next generation.
I thank this country, which welcomed me here, greeted by the Statue of Liberty, which, despite layers of
scaffolding, continues to send a message of hope, just as it once did for us, and for the generations of Irish, Italians, Polish, French, and Canadians, who came to work in the granite sheds, woolen mills, railroads, farms and factories of Vermont.
My immigrant roots, while more recent than most, are not extraordinary.
It is that immigrant spirit of hope which I wish to bring to state government — a spirit which instills in our
children the belief that anyone can achieve anything in this country with hard work, an education, and a fair chance.
It doesn’t matter where you came from.
That has been the unique opportunity offered by our country and by our state. And our system of
government has been specifically designed to help bring that about.
We have not accepted for ourselves the harsh theory of “Survival of the Fittest.”
Social Darwinism was specifically rejected in the years of this country’s evolution when we opted for public
education, for public health programs, for social security and unemployment compensation.
But the debate about the proper role of government, which was lively at the time our Constitution was
framed, has in fact become more vigorous today.
How much are we our brother and sister’s keeper?
It is a question which we must ask of ourselves, and then, answer through our public policy decisions.
From my personal experience, I believe that because this nation has been generous to me, in providing me
with a public education, with opportunity to achieve my potential, that I have something to give back.
And what we can give, is the same chance that we were given.
There are many Vermonters who are waiting for that chance.
A second chance to get off welfare. A chance to obtain child care, a chance for job training.
We know that for each generation it must be different. In the 60’s, it was thought that government could
solve any social problem as long as there was money enough to do it. These beliefs must be tempered, re-examined, and in some cases, set aside.
And our way has to be more selective, more creative.
We know today that for people to be given a second chance in life, they have to fully participate in the
process and work for success, instead of merely being on the receiving end of public generosity.
And we know that the private sector must also be involved. Government cannot do it alone.
But we also know, just as I did as a child, that what this nation must continue to offer to the next generation,
Without both, we not only deny the next generation a chance to reach its full height and breadth, but we also
As the first woman to take the Oath of Office of Governor of the State of Vermont, I recognize that I was
able to raise my right hand before you this afternoon, only because so many women had raised their voices, long before my words were spoken.
It was Susan B. Anthony, after all, who told us, “Failure is Impossible.”
And if we listen, we can hear the voices of Vermont farm women, who in the pioneer days of this state,
worked the soil with rough red hands, alongside the men who cleared the land.
I stand here because of the women who worked in the mills in Winooski, who taught in the one-room school
houses in Alburg, and who entered this Hall of Representatives in Montpelier before me.
Clarina Howard Nichols, the first woman to speak in this Chamber, grew faint from fright when she spoke
in favor of a bill which would have given women the right to vote in school district meetings in 1852.
It was Edna L. Beard, from Orange, whose portrait hangs outside these doors, who became the first woman
to be elected to the House of Representatives in 1921. Peals of laughter rose from the floor when finally a man found the courage to take the seat next to hers.
I, and the 44 women in the House and 4 women in the Senate, stand here in the shadow of Consuelo
Northrop Bailey, the only woman to become Speaker of the House, and the first to be elected Lieutenant Governor.
We all paved the way for one another, knowingly and unknowingly.
As a Democrat, I have a special bond with the two Democratic Governors who are here, Philip H. Hoff and
Thomas P. Salmon. Both served this state with distinction.
As I stand here before you as your new Governor, I walk in the path charted for the last eight years by
Governor Richard A. Snelling — a man who has shown both strength and courage in leading us.
We all step on ground that has been walked before, even as we make our own imprints, as I intend to make
I stand here today, not only because of the Vermont men and women who paved the way for my own
election, but also because of the 233,753 Vermonters who went to the polls last November.
Once again, we showed our fine independent spirit.
Regardless of the tide, we set our own course, as Vermonters have always done.
What are our expectations for the next two years?
— And a clean and healthy environment.
In order to achieve these goals, we must add a fifth
objective — to retain and strengthen our faith in
government itself by making Vermont government both more open and more responsive.
Vermonters always have had faith in our ability to govern ourselves.
We continue to believe that government can and must be a force for good.
We know that state government must take a leadership role to get the job done.
There is a difference between a Vermonter’s view of Montpelier and the national view of Washington.
In Vermont, government is not “they”.
Because we are small, we meet one another on the main street of our towns, where we do, in fact, discuss
There is even more trust here than in the rest of the nation in both the political process and in those who
But even here, where we can be proud of our government involvement, we can do better.
I am committed to achieving a new level of openness, accessibility, and responsiveness in state government.
The highway engineer who designs a local road, the health department inspector who tests water quality,
and the tax department official who asks you for just a little bit more — each one of them will make a renewed effort to serve the public to the very best of his and her ability.
And we, in turn, must recognize and respect the difficulty of their tasks. They are state employees. They are
trained to give their best, and often their best goes unnoticed.
I intend to build good morale, reward excellence, and put a recognizable face on what has been called a
State employees will recognize you, the Vermont citizen, for who you are — their most important customer.
And you in turn will be asked to recognize them as hard working and successful public servants.
There will also be a new openness within
We must establish new and more open lines of communication between the executive branch and state
employees, as well as among agencies and departments.
Problems know no neat and tidy boundaries, despite the best efforts of public officials to put them in little
square boxes. When we address job training, a clean environment, and unemployment, we have to adopt a plan of action that disregards the usual categories and shapes new entities to meet our needs.
Our human service programs depend on the success of our economic development programs, and they in
turn, depend on the quality of our education. The best way to get off welfare is to get a job, and the best way to get a job, is through education.
Neither can we delude ourselves into believing that there is a choice between economic growth and a clean
and healthy environment. The two are inseparable.
The five agency secretaries who were recently appointed fully recognize their interdependence and will
work collegially to achieve our mutually-shared goals.
They bring much energy, a new vision and special skills to their tasks. You will be proud of their
But as they begin their work, they know, as we all do, that in this year of the deficit we must be prudent
The deficit will be retired as planned. I am committed to adhering to the schedule which this body has
In Vermont, we have always known, here in this state of hard scrabble hill side farms, that we live a world
Living on the margin, we learned to husband our natural resources.
The stones in the field were not merely moved into a pile — they were carefully placed, one on top of the
other, forming perfect walls of protection.
As we learned to become stewards of our natural resources, so must we now learn to be stewards of our
It will be neither a simple nor a painless process.
We will have to recycle limited tax dollars, just as we have recycled limited natural resources.
Our challenge in the next two years is clear -- we must learn to live in a world of financial limits, while
moving forward on the problems of our time.
But, we must distinguish between financial restraint and political paralysis.
We cannot afford to stand still, because that too, has a cost. In fact; if we do not invest now, despite the
sacrifice it will demand, in a sound education and a clean environment, we will pay a greater price years from now.
Within the restrictions of financial limits, there are exciting possibilities. Under these pressures, innovation
Our challenge in 1985 is to balance responsibility and hope.
We must also think beyond this year, and plan our long term future.
In my dictionary, the future is defined through our children.
It is their education and well-being that we must assure.
In that sense, all Vermonters are parents for the next generation.
Raising the drinking age to 21 is one step we can and must take to make certain our young people are spared
from being victims or perpetrators of drunk driving accidents.
I appeal to this body to make that a first
priority in this legislative session.
, I ask you to work toward a goal that I sense we already share — quality education and property
Increased state aid, access to kindergarten, coordinated job training for adults — these are education
In my budget address, I will spell out the details of these proposals, as well as programs geared directly to
property tax relief: a property tax deferral program for senior citizens and a revenue-sharing program for local government.
Access to higher education, both public and private, is another investment we cannot postpone. We must
look for innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors and higher education, to enhance the economy of Vermont and bring it into the vanguard.
To further bolster our Vermont economy, and to shield us from later economic downturns, I ask you to
make a renewed effort to provide more jobs to those areas of the state where it has been most difficult to create new jobs.
We cannot accept the status quo
. We can and we will do better.
I will propose two pieces of legislation which will move us in that direction.
— A Vermont Venture Capital Corporation and Job Zones.
Both initiatives will create economic growth by using the resources of the public sector to stimulate private
In keeping with the accessible spirit of this administration, I will direct the Secretaries of Development and
Community Affairs and of Environmental Conservation to streamline rules and regulations affecting business.
We will continue to be regulators, but let us assure ourselves that the regulations are necessary and serve the
purpose of promoting the public good, rather than promoting a burgeoning bureaucracy.
Our commitment to our children’s future begins with our support for parents. The focus of the Agency of
Human Services in my administration will be to strengthen the Vermont family in several ways:
1. We will establish clear goals to measure our success, such as increased incidence of healthy birth
weights, increased number of parents who complete high school, and decreased cases of verifiable child and spouse abuse.
2. We will establish a working group to define how to better coordinate and organize the Department of
Social Welfare and the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, with one goal in mind, to provide better services to Vermont families.
Under the leadership of the new Secretary, the Agency will also keep a watchful eye on services for the
elderly, and those who are most vulnerable in our society. We must be certain that they are not ignored as the federal government proposes drastic cutbacks.
But the Agency alone cannot meet all needs.
Greater cooperation with private social service agencies and with the private sector will characterize this
In this spirit, I will call a child care conference for Vermont employers to assist and encourage them in
providing child care options for their employees.
The private employer has not only much to give in the area of child care, but also has much to gain — better
morale, increased productivity and lower turnover.
In former years, a Governor could turn towards environmental issues and separate them from human service
issues. One seemed to concentrate on “objects” and the other, on “people”. The environment was largely an aesthetic issue —“Keep Vermont Beautiful.”
That is no longer true. The environmental issues of our time are health issues and very directly affect the
lives of people. This creates a new sense of urgency to act in a responsible and expedient manner to protect the public.
It is the point where nature meets technology which has turned into an unknown quantity.
We know we have taken uncalculated risks, which we have yet to define and contain.
To help us cope with consequences of our actions, as well as to prevent future environmental problems, I
will propose that we create a mini-superfund to clean up hazardous areas and to set standards for those who produce, transport and store these materials.
I will strongly support right-to-know about hazardous materials in the workplace, either through regulation
In keeping with our collegial spirit, a sub-cabinet, dealing with environmental issues, will be formed, and
will include the Health Department, sections of the Environmental Agency, and the Department of Labor and Industry.
A policy of reasonable growth will characterize my administration. Our task will be to protect and share our
natural resources without mandating arbitrary restrictions on growth. Such a policy often can be achieved through negotiation and technical support. Legislation and regulation may be necessary to augment that — options which I will fully explore.
As we know the limits of nature, we also know of its abundance. Our Vermont farms must continue not only
As Governor of the State of Vermont, I assure you, I will not stand idly by if Washington believes it can
I will fight for our survival because the farm is the center of our rural way of life, it is the foundation of our
tourist industry, and it gives us our basic character.
It is our agricultural heritage which guides Vermont today, even as many Vermonters no longer themselves
Ira Allen wrote in 1798: They are all farmers and again every farmer is a mechanic in some line or other, as
inclination leads or necessity requires. The hand that guides the plow frequently constructs it, and the labors of the axe and the plane often evince a degree of genius and dexterity that would really amaze you.”
This sense of ingenuity is our source of strength. It enabled us to survive as we carved these farms out of the
It will enable us to survive today, and to set an example to the nation.
Our environmental conscience in the early 70’s helped stir the conscience of the nation.
Our nuclear freeze resolutions in the early 80’s at town meetings set a national movement in motion.
Today, we have such an opportunity again.
Our ability to deal fairly with the harsh realities of living within a world of financial limits can set an
example to the nation which is struggling to achieve that goal.
Our task is to be both prudent and humane.
I ask this General Assembly to join me in a bipartisan effort to achieve our shared goal.
I grew up in this Chamber. I know it well. I respect it. There is a special feeling of warmth and familiarity
when I look across the span of this room.
I ask you to share in the task ahead, as we jointly work to achieve more with less.
I look forward to the challenge of leadership which Vermont has placed before me.
I have faith, not only in my ability and in yours, but in our mutual resourcefulness.
In Vermont, we have grown up with the knowledge that nature indeed may be harsh and unpredictable, but
also with the assurance that each season brings its own renewal and each year follows a certain rhythm. We know it is not only possible to blend austerity and optimism, but it is part of the human condition, and it is essential to our survival.
It was Governor George Aiken, whom we particularly miss on this day, who wrote in 1938:
“Day after day I have occasion to thank God that I am Governor of Vermont. Of all the Governors of the
United States, I think I have the best opportunity to observe the general good which may be effected by cooperation among groups. I don’t mean that we don’t have differences of opinion in Vermont . . . I want to say here and now that although our folks differ in the means, they all aim at the same ultimate end — and that is the welfare of our state.”
I, like Governor Aiken, thank God that I am Governor of Vermont. It is an awesome task.
With your help, and the blessings of the Almightly, we will succeed.
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