From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
April 8, 2000
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Inaugural Address of Governor Rodney Ellis*

*Governor Ellis may deviate from written remarks

Thank you, Governor Richards, for honoring me here today. The first time my daughter Nicole met you will always stick in my mind. It was at the annual Easter egg hunt at the Governor's Mansion and Nicole was only 3 years old. I had to drop her off and run back to the Senate for a moment, but I told her to make sure to meet the Governor. When I got back to the mansion, I asked Nicole if she had met the governor and she said "I think so." Well, I wanted to make sure, so I brought her up to meet you. After the introduction, Nicole was stunned. She said: "You mean that girl is the Governor?" Yes, that "girl" certainly was governor, and one of the finest Texas has ever seen.

Governor Richards, you wrote a new chapter in Texas history and served as a shining example for men and women across our state and across our nation. You have been a friend, mentor and inspiration to me personally and countless others. I and all Texans will always be in your debt for your proud and honorable service. Thank you for being with me here today.

Thank you, Mayor Kirk, for coming down from Dallas and shepherding these services along. Your friendship and cooperation mean a great deal to me. We all appreciate what you are doing to make Dallas and all of Texas a better place. Thank you for being with me here today.

Thank you, Congressman Washington, for paving the way for me to become only the fourth African American to be elected to the state senate since Reconstruction. You have been a tremendous friend and trusted advisor for so many years. Thank you for being with me here today.

Thank you, Judge DeAnda for your commitment to civil rights and Jack Rains, for your devotion to boosting opportunity in Texas. Thank you both for being with me here today.

And to my friends and constituents, thank you for being with me here today. This is a proud day for me and my family. I am overwhelmed that so may came from Houston and across Texas to celebrate here today. You have honored me with your trust and allowed me the freedom to attack the great issues that face the future of our state. I have been deeply privileged to represent you and your values in the Texas Senate this past decade, and I am honored to serve today as your governor. Even if it is just for one day.

Actually, you may not know it, but I have been governor for nearly thirty days and I kind of like it. If I don't act up, I will be governor for many, many more days.

It is my hope and dream that one day, a day in the not too distant future, we will gather here to swear in an African American, or an Hispanic, or an Asian American as Governor of Texas, and not just for one day but for a full four years. For the people of this state are as rich and diverse as our land, and our higher offices should and will reflect that diversity. I hope this day serves as a catalyst for someone -- perhaps African American, or Hispanic perhaps another woman -- to take on the odds, to defy conventional wisdom, run, win and serve as Governor of Texas.

Standing here in the shadows of the monuments to the Old South, today is of profound importance to me. As a child growing up in the segregated South, it would have been far-fetched for me to imagine a day in which I would stand here and take the oath of office as Governor of Texas. Yet, here we are, on the steps of the Capitol barely three decades removed from Jim Crow and Separate But Equal. These monuments reflect the past of Texas; this ceremony offers a glimpse of its future.

Today symbolizes the potential of Texas in the New South. We have shown that we can recover from our past while embracing our future. We can celebrate diversity while preserving heritage. We can expand freedom and opportunity to all, regardless of race, color or ethnicity. And we have shown that, through perseverance and struggle, we can overcome. Soon, that struggle -- the chapters of Texas history written by African Americans and Hispanics -- will be memorialized on the Capitol grounds alongside the likes of Jefferson Davis and the defenders of the Alamo. It is time for our story to be honored. In fact, it is long overdue.

My fellow Texans, as we usher in the 21st Century, our state has never been stronger. We are living in an era of unprecedented prosperity, an era that seemed altogether impossible just 10 or 15 years ago. Instead of dealing with recession, high crime and budget shortfalls, we are instead enjoying explosive growth, safer streets and budget surpluses. Thanks to the hard work of many Texans -- business and community leaders, teachers, parents, public officials and many of the people with us here today -- our economy is booming, our schools are improving, our streets are safer, and more and more Texans have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

In the past two decades we have watched Texas grow and evolve, from a state where success was measured in bushels and barrels to one in which our strength is now gauged in microchips and hard-drives. Whereas success once depended on sweat, gumption and the strength of your back, it now depends on diligence, openness and the strength of your mind. It has indeed been a long, interesting journey.

Governor Bush has described this new era of prosperity as "living on the sunrise side of the mountain," where we can watch a bright new day dawn for Texas. We stand on the summit of that mountain and see before us an almost limitless horizon filled with the bright sunshine of hope and potential. Indeed, on the sunrise side of the mountain, it seems that almost anything is possible.

But, while the sun shines brightly on much of Texas, we cannot ignore the clouds casting shadows on many of our fellow Texans. Clouds such as poverty, injustice and hatred; clouds such as closed doors, ignorance and inequality. Even on the mountaintop there is much work to be done.

In this time of booming stock markets and rising wealth, the number of Texans living in poverty is growing. In this time of good and plenty, millions of Texans feel the gnawing pain of hunger. In this time of medical miracles and stunning technological advancements, more and more Texans lack access to basic medical care. In this time of growing diversity, our flagship universities reflect not the Texas of the future, but the Texas of the past. In fact, despite all our progress, Texans of color are more likely to be part of the criminal justice system than the university system. On the sunrise side of the mountain, we can do better.

We have the opportunity and the responsibility to use this time to build a Texas that is brighter for all. We must use it wisely.

We must invest in our children's future, providing them the best schools, with the best qualified and best trained teachers in the nation, because a good education is the best inheritance we can give our kids. We know what works. Smaller class sizes. Newer classrooms. An environment that promotes learning, not violence. We can afford to make this commitment. In fact, we can't afford not to.

We must invest in health care to ensure that no Texan must choose between going to the doctor and paying the rent, between buying medicine or buying food. We must make health insurance more accessible and more affordable for the working Texans struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And we should make a commitment to provide health insurance to every child who needs it.

In this high tech, high skilled age, we must invest in higher education, to ensure that every child that wants to go to college, can. In an era when a college education is the dividing line between the haves and have nots, only 20 percent of Texans have a college degree and only 25 percent of our students have taken college prep courses. While the Dells, the AMDs, the Compaqs and Motorolas plead for new workers, Texas still produces too few college graduates each year to keep pace.

If we want to keep these companies in Texas, and if we want to ensure our children benefit from the high tech revolution, we must do more to make college accessible and affordable to all.

And when our children arrive on campus, we must ensure that the sign hanging on the doors of our universities reads "Welcome" instead of "Do not enter." We must take stronger steps to increase diversity on campus, to ensure that our classrooms are as diverse as our state.

We must keep the promises we have made to Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M, by eliminating vestiges of discrimination and breaking down the walls of inequality that separate historically black colleges from traditionally Anglo schools. It is foolish that, even though the Office of Civil Rights has been investigating discrimination in Texas since 1973, we must still discuss the reality of state sponsored segregation and discrimination. Complete the dialog. End the investigation. Keep our promise to make Texas Southern and Prairie View equal institutions of learning and value.

And, finally, we must invest more in the front end of our criminal justice system. We must focus on prevention and rehabilitation, instead of just punishment and retribution. I believe we can and must use this time to do more to ensure that justice is both equal and fair for all Texans.

My fellow Texans, on the sunrise side of the mountain, these are the things we no longer should do, these are the things we can do. If we want to ensure a brighter future for our children, these are not just the things we could do, these are the things we must do.

As we chart a new course for the 21st Century there is much for us to be proud of. We have built a Texas that is on the sunrise side of the mountain, a place where hope and opportunity shine bright. But we must use this time of prosperity to plant the seeds of success and renewal and ensure an even brighter future for Texas. Let us live up to the character and ideals of Texas by providing all of our children the ability to live up to their potential. I am ready to work with every one of you to achieve these goals. May god strengthen our hands for the work ahead - and, as my good friend Bob Bullock would say, always, always, may God Bless Texas.