STATE HOUSE - If there is a single image that dominates my thoughts about our House of Representatives in 2003, it is that of its size. The people have spoken, and now fewer of us are entrusted with more and greater challenges, it may be argued, than have ever before confronted our state.
Yet I say to you with the utmost confidence – with a certainty originating not within wishful thinking, but rather from sober, critical, dispassionate evaluations of the men and women with whom I serve – that the history of 2003 and beyond is ours for the imagining…ours for the shaping…ours for conjuring the vision to perceive…ours for summoning the courage to affect.
Today we are fewer in number, but greater in compassion for the men, women and children most in need.
Today we are fewer in number, but grander in commitment to the ideals of the American Democracy – fairness as the prerequisite for governance…cultural diversity as the prerequisite for societal strength…personal integrity as the prerequisite for public trust.
How we choose to govern over the next legislative session will form the basis of history’s judgment of our individual and collective worth.
I pledge, on behalf of the majority party I help lead, to hear every voice in the House of Representatives, to accept as our constituency all Rhode Islanders regardless of party affiliation, to seek the best leadership, the brightest ideas, regardless of the political allegiances of the men and women who offer them.
One of the many pressing issues we shall confront during this session is that of separation of powers. Some two hundred and two years ago, Thomas Jefferson addressed the Rhode Island Assembly and spoke of just this concern.
“Our citizens,” he said, “have wisely formed themselves into one nation as to others and several states as among themselves. To the united nation belong our external and mutual relations; to each state…the care of our persons, our property, our reputation and freedom.”
While Jefferson was speaking directly to the conduct of the nation’s politics as a whole, his words surely resonate with us as we devote our energies to reinforcing separation of powers within the structure of government in the state of Rhode Island in the 21st century.
I am committed to the concept and the reality of separation of powers not as an agent of limitation, but as a stimulant for expansion – for the growth of democracy as a participatory exercise…for the enhancement of accessibility and accountability in government…for the enlargement of the public heart and the development of the public mind – indeed, Mr. Jefferson, for the care of our persons, our property, our reputation and freedom.
These and other challenges – great, consuming, imposing challenges – await us in the months and years ahead – and all in a time of profound change in the mechanics of government in our General Assembly, and in the leadership of this chamber.
Yet I prefer to read the word “change” as a synonym for the word “opportunity.” I prefer to accept change as a blessing. I prefer to know change as the only constant in life, as the first and greatest indicator of life.
Of all the changes that must take place in this room, none is more critically important to the success of our Lively Experiment than that of bringing to it the profoundly changing face of Rhode Island in all of its diversity.
Of all the changes that are taking place in this room, none is more significant than that occurring within our leadership. Today it is my honor and privilege to nominate, for the position of Speaker of the House, a man who is both my colleague and my friend.
He is a man of quiet dignity and of moral strength that is belied by the calm and deliberateness of his manner. His voice, I believe, will become the new voice of the people – one that does not confuse thoughtfulness with volume, or the quality or words with their quantity.
Bill Murphy and I are members of the class of 1992, two former rookies who, over a decade, have become veterans together. Throughout that time, we have been witness to historic change. Yet for all that is different about our state, our country and our world, much remains the same.
People still seek security and good health and opportunity – the needs for shelter, food, health care and employment have not diminished.
People still seek government that is ethical and responsive – the needs for elected representatives who are honest, open and effective have not diminished.
Bill Murphy understands these needs, and I know that he is ready, willing, and able to lead us as we strive to meet all of them.
He is a respected criminal defense attorney who has demonstrated, in his life’s work, an unwavering commitment to the Constitution. His skillful representation of clients in our legal system bears witness to his belief in equal protection under the law. And that same tenacity, that same dedication to ideals, that same command of the system to which we all pledge our allegiance, will be applied in this chamber to benefit all the people of Rhode Island.
He accepts our diversity as our greatest strength. He understands our differences to be the engine that drives the ship of the state, and he is committed to enhancing the power of that engine and applying it to propel us on a new, brighter, more noble course.
And so we begin this voyage of a thousand miles with a single step. It is my great honor and privilege to place in nomination for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, William J. Murphy.