Taking the gavel, President Groff invoked Robert Kennedy, saying, “If our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.”
Groff thanked family, friends, and his Senate colleagues for their support on this momentous day for Colorado. “My friends, we are told all our lives to be mindful of history. Today, I am particularly mindful of the history we make in this chamber, and humbled to stand before you today as your President.”
Please stand and join me in observing a moment of silence to honor the men and women who have given their lives defending our country – including Major Andrew Olmstead of Colorado Springs who was killed last week in Iraq – and to the active duty members and veterans of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Thank you.
Let us also take a moment to acknowledge Colonel Steve Ward from Senate District 26 and Lt. Colonel Joe Rice from House District 38, the two sitting members of the Colorado General Assembly who are currently serving us on active duty in Iraq. We will keep the light burning until Sen. Ward returns home.
Mister Majority Leader, Mister Minority Leader, Senate colleagues, distinguished guests, friends and my family. Let me begin by thanking the Senate for my election as the 47th President of this great body. I thank both sides of the aisle for your support and I pledge to continue to work collaboratively with all of you to build and invest in a better Colorado.
Let us welcome our newest members, Senators Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs and Dan Gibbs of Silverthorn. Welcome to the Senate. It will take a little while for us to break you of all those bad habits you picked up over in the House of Representatives, but rest assured, we will make Senators out of you yet.
We should also take a minute to say thanks to former President Joan Fitz-Gerald for her leadership in this chamber and bid her well in her pursuit of further public service.
Let us acknowledge the members of our body who are beginning their last session. Senators, please stand as I call your name:
Majority Leader Ken Gordon of Denver, Minority Leader Andy McElhany of Colorado Springs,
Senator Bob Hagedorn of Aurora, Senator Stephanie Takis of Aurora, Senator Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs, Senator Ron Tupa of Boulder, and Senator Sue Windels of Arvada.
You have each added indelible marks to the history of the Senate and your contributions to Colorado’s greater good will serve you well as you look back on your distinguished legislative careers. Congratulations.
My friends, we are told all our lives to be mindful of history. And today, I am particularly mindful of the history you all made in electing Sen. Abel Tapia as our President Pro Tem and me as your president.
I understand that is not just my hand that takes the gavel today; I understand that it is the hands of my relatives who toiled under the overseers whip on the red clay of Georgia that take this gavel today on the red carpet of the Colorado Senate.
I understand that it is the hands of my relatives who wore the obscene shackles of slavery at the foot of the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, that take this gavel today at the foot of the mighty and majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Those magnificent Rocky Mountains just outside our door can serve as a barrier or a challenge.
Like Colorado’s pioneers and generations of my family before me, I recognize that challenges, though mountainous in nature, can offer tremendous opportunities if we are willing to climb; as Robert Kennedy once said, “…if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.” For the next 120 days I say let us climb the mountains of challenges that face Colorado, let us climb above the forest of partisan politics and to ascend above the timberline, to the summit, to a place from which we can see the long view and the pathway to a greater Colorado.
To create that pathway it will be important for us to come together from both sides of the aisle, in both chambers and throughout this historic building – to put the welfare of all Coloradans before the well-being of any political party, to put our personal principles before short-term political gain and to commit ourselves to rise above pandering to the whims of the moment to seek the wisdom of long-term solutions for the future of our state.
Let us not stand at the foot of the mountains of challenges, look up and wonder “what if…?”
Let us climb to the summit and begin to create a pathway in Colorado that makes the Centennial state the place where all Coloradans have affordable, accessible and reliable healthcare.
Every day in our state 200,000 children go to sleep without health insurance and 600,000 Colorado adults wake up without health insurance. When those individuals get sick and end up in the emergency room or when they end up in the hospital, we all pay the bill. That hidden tax is reflected in your premiums and mine.
It is not just the poor and unemployed who don’t have insurance, but middle-class working families who constitute 80% of Colorado’s uninsured.
At the end of this month we will receive the much anticipated recommendations and proposals of the 208 Commission on Health Care Reform. Let us be respectful of their inclusive process and the work of the commission and not approach the report with our preconceived ideological and political blindness. But let us approach this challenge by understanding that our journey up this mountain will take more than 120 days, but in the end our goal must be to reduce the number of uninsured in Colorado.
We can begin that journey this session by covering all children. It is the morally right and responsible thing to do. While adults can make decisions about whether they accept coverage, our most precious and vulnerable resource cannot make those decisions. An investment in their health is an investment in our future and puts us on the pathway to a greater Colorado.
Healthier children deserve better schools.
Let us not stand at the foot of the mountainous challenges in education, look up and wonder “what if…?
Let us climb to the summit and see the pathway that makes Colorado a place where all children are educated to the fullness of their God given talent and are academically readied to thrive in a global economy.
While the global marketplace stretches and expands, our children seem to be slipping further behind their global competition. According to recent studies American student’s rank 35th out 57 countries in the world on average in mathematics scores – behind Lithuania, Iceland and Azerbaijan. In the area of science we’re slightly better. We place 29th out of 57 – behind Latvia, Liechtenstein and Austria.
Other studies also show that for every 100 ninth graders only 68 graduate on time, of those only 40 enroll in college directly, only 27 of those are still enrolled the following year and of those only 18 earn an associate’s degree within 3 years or a BA within 6 years. 18…out of 100.
In Colorado only half of all 8th graders scored proficient on the Colorado CSAP last year and nearly 20,000 kids gave up on the one thing that can make the biggest difference in their lives and our future: their education.
Those numbers and so many others indicate an educational crisis that we need to respond to – not by laying blame and trying to score political points but asking the question on every single education bill we debate “is this in the best educational interest of the child?”
It is the long term educational interest of which we need to be morally mindful and the P-20 Education Council has issued a preliminary set of recommendations that will begin to place us on the path to the creation of a 21st century education system that should have no rival and no peer in preparing all our students for global competition, strengthening and ensuring multiple avenues of public educational delivery from which parents can choose, fixing unsafe buildings, better valuing our teachers, creating statewide standards and requirements and finding new ways to fund our woefully underfunded higher education system.
However, some of our students can’t wait. They urgently need innovation and substantive reform now. Over the next 120 days let us put aside the paralyzing ideological political chits we owe that often pinches the dramatic need for educational revitalization and let us embrace originality, innovation and meaningful change.
Without swift urgency, those students who are caught in the achievement gap, the readiness gap and in our political bickering will continue to circle the drain with little hope for the future, so let us throw off the shackles of convention and caution and act as Rev. Martin Luther King said “with the fierce urgency of now.”
Healthier, better educated kids deserve better jobs and a better economy. Properly prepared students create a homegrown employment base that will help sustain the businesses of our state which are the economic engines of Colorado.
Let us climb to the summit and continue to move Colorado forward as an economic, energy and bioscience powerhouse in this nation and find a pathway to assist our businesses.
In Colorado, according to the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, there are nearly 100,000 firms with 100 employees or less and those small businesses employ nearly 800,000 Coloradans – about a quarter of our workforce. We must stand ready to relive some of the burdens weighing down those small businesses and all businesses in our state. Cutting red tape, slicing state bureaucracy and the business personal property tax, aren’t ideas that belong to Democrats or Republicans, they are ideas that are just good government that will spur the economy and our businesses and allow more investment in the future of the state.
Scaling the mountainous challenges of education, health care and economic development, standing at their respective summits and seeing the pathway to a better Colorado will mean nothing if don’t ascend the tallest mountain in our legislative range and that is the reformation of the constitution of Colorado.
The time has come for a substantive legislative discourse about fixing our foundational document. A constitution should be the moral guidepost by which a state’s progress and journey are measured. A constitution should be a thoughtful list of principals and obligations of citizens and government. However, Colorado’s has become a laundry list of detached and contradictory provisions offered by special interest groups who wanted to add their special twist to the constitution.
The United States constitution has only been amended 27 times in 221 years. Colorado’s however, has been amended 52 times in the last 27 years. In fact since 1990 we have added more than 21,000 words to what is suppose to be our foundational mission statement.
Our constituents expect us to climb above the partisan forest that so often slows our ascent to a better Colorado and with future legislatures expecting us to have the political courage to tackle the toughest issues of our moment; let us not squander the opportunity to help our successors and serve our constituents. Let us begin creating a blueprint for a better constitution.
With that in mind, today I create a Senate Select Committee to begin a substantive legislative discussion about constitutional reform.
Because this is not about democratic solutions or republican answers I will require the committee to work with respected former legislators who have a unique understanding of our constitutional quagmire, Former Senator and CU President Hank Brown, former Senate President Stan Matsunaka, former Senate Majority Leader Norma Anderson and former Senator and JBC member Penfield Tate have all agreed to serve as senior advisors to this committee.
The committee will have a time certain in which to meet, so that if recommendations or potential legislation comes from their work the General Assembly will have time to vet the plans through our regular legislative process.
I will also ask the committee to thoroughly review the recent constitutional study and 12 recommendations that came from the University of Denver’s constitutional panel. That report could certainly be a piton to help us climb this mountainous challenge. But the report isn’t the only assistance we need to ascend this mountain. The other piton is our political courage and political will -- our successors need it, the people of Colorado deserve it and our future demands it.
In closing, let me share with you my favorite scripture which comes from the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 58:12 it says “you shall be called the repairer of the breach and the restorer of pathways to dwell.”
My friends we know what the breaches are in Colorado. We know about the breaches in Education, Health Care, Transportation, Economic Development and constitutional reform.
Our constituents are depending on us to close those breaches and restore the pathways in which all Coloradans can dwell. Our state, our citizens and our future cannot afford for us to be left wondering in 120 days “what if we had restored those pathways…?”
“What if we had given 3,000 more children the opportunity to go to preschool and we were truly innovative in K-12 education? What if we had fixed the roofs, boilers and broken down infrastructures of 200 schools? What if we had given 30,000 businesses much needed tax exemptions and clarity? What if we had provided healthcare to our most vulnerable and most precious citizens? What if we had worked together?”
We can not stand at the foot of the most mountainous challenge of our moment and wonder “What if?”
Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate the mountain tops, especially those in this great state, contain wonderful and breathtaking views and are a great source of inspiration. So let us look to those hills from which cometh our inspiration, our vision and our opportunity. My friends join me in a journey to the summit of our challenges so that we can in 120 days marvel at we’ve accomplished – together – not as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives but as Coloradans and chosen public servants. And together we shall look down from the mountain top and see a better Colorado, but better yet that God will look down and say well done my good and faithful servants.
Thank you for this tremendous honor, God bless you, God bless this great and august chamber and God bless the great state of Colorado.