DENVER—Today, Minority Leader Mark Waller ,R-Colorado Springs, delivered his opening day speech to the Colorado House of Representatives.
A copy of Waller’s speech can be found below:
Speaker Ferrandino, Madame Majority Leader, colleagues and honored guests, I appreciate the opportunity to stand before you, today. I would like to begin my remarks by congratulating the newest members of this chamber. New members, please raise your hands. Wow, that’s quite a few new members. Seems like there are many more on your side then there are on mine, Mr. Speaker. Maybe next time you could share a little better? After all you don’t want to set a bad example for Lila do you? Seriously, congratulations Mr. Speaker. I look forward to working with you to make Colorado a better place to live for my children, Truman and Camille, and for Lila as well.
Let us also take a moment to thank all of our families. Their love and sacrifice give us reason and strength to continue our work serving the great state of Colorado.
Friends, we begin our work on the heels of a difficult election season, but the time for political grandstanding is past. As a body of citizen legislators, we are united by our duty—and our desire—to create new opportunities for every individual living in Colorado. Mr. Speaker, Madame Majority Leader, I pledge to you that House Republicans will do everything in our power to build the coalitions we need to strengthen our state together.
I am under no illusion that our work this session will be easy, but I know that we have worked together in the past, and I know we can do it again this year. Under Republican leadership last session, we passed a budget with almost unanimous support. Our budget increased funding for K-12 and higher education, protected our seniors and safeguarded funding for cancer research, prevention and treatment. Last year’s budget is just one of the many successes we shared working together. In fact, the vast majority of bills this chamber passed last year enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans alike.
Colleagues, let us continue this tradition of bipartisanship. Titles and majorities may shift, but our responsibilities to our constituents stay the same. Mr. Speaker I know you and the members of your caucus are here to promote the best policies for the people of Colorado, and I want you to know that Republicans are here to do the same. We may disagree on what the best policy may be, but I know in my heart we all want Colorado to thrive and prosper.
Colleagues, we stand on the cusp of remarkable opportunity. Our friends and our neighbors elected us to this chamber because they trust we will bring forth new and innovative solutions to solve the problems we face as a state. Times are tough. Too many Coloradans are without work, new federal regulations present new challenges to our state’s business owners, and a tough economy will force all of us to make difficult decisions. However, despite these challenges, I firmly believe we can create new economic opportunities for every Coloradan. I believe every one of us—whether a student, a parent, a business owner or the working individual they employ—is capable of accomplishing great things if given the room to grow. Our task and our challenge is providing every Coloradan with the opportunity they need to succeed.
I’d like to share with you a true success story about one my constituents who capitalized on her opportunity. This story is about a woman who grew up under difficult circumstances—circumstances that could easily overwhelm even the brightest and strongest among us. At 13-years-old, her mother passed away and her father took to alcohol. Her father’s alcoholism forced her to fill the role of a parent and provider for her younger brother. However, despite her troubles at home, this young woman soon saw her hard work and perseverance pay off when she was given an opportunity—an opportunity to attend college on an ROTC scholarship. She later became an officer in the United States Air Force, and married another officer in the Air Force—a smart, funny, articulate and extremely good-looking gentleman, I might add. Her success allowed her to pay forward the opportunities provided to her, and give her husband the chance to study law and ultimately serve in the Colorado House of Representatives. In case you missed it, I’m talking about my lovely wife Jennifer.
Honey, thank you for everything—for our 18 years of marriage, our two beautiful children, and the endless encouragement and selfless dedication that keeps the Waller family strong.
You see, when I talk about opportunity, it’s not rhetoric. It’s something personal to me and my family. Were we not given the opportunity to grow, I would not be standing before you today.
Jennifer’s story—our story—is one shared by many, but there are still many others left in our state looking for their own happy ending. Too many students find themselves unable to afford higher education. Too many graduates find themselves without the proper skills they need to find gainful employment and many more can’t find work because the job creators who employ them can barely afford to keep their doors open. This legislature has done much to create opportunity for our constituents, but there still remains more work to be done.
And our work starts in education. A conversation about jobs and the economy cannot begin without first taking a hard look at the education of tomorrow’s workforce. We must build on the successes we started last year and once again prioritize funding for K-12 and higher education.
We need to ensure that Colorado’s most gifted and deserving students have the opportunity to rise to their full potential by creating a special fund offering merit-based scholarships. We need to ensure that all students in Colorado, whether they live in an urban or rural area, have the opportunity to challenge themselves by taking advanced placement courses. And we need to ensure that every Colorado student in an English language learning program is given the tools and skill set they’ll need to succeed in the future.
No Coloradan should ever fear a quality education for their child is out of reach, and House Republicans look forward to working with our Democratic colleagues to ensure it never is.
Strengthening our schools and empowering our students reminds me of a conversation I shared with another one of my constituents. Gary Derubis, my friend and neighbor, is a mechanic and a small business owner. He spoke to me about the lack of highly skilled technicians in the auto repair business. Without them, he said, it’s more difficult to grow his business and see it prosper. House Republicans recognize an educational opportunity doesn’t always mean a four-year degree. We plan to do more to help our citizens, whether they are job applicants or job creators, by strengthening opportunity through vocational training. By directing more resources toward these valuable programs, we can be sure more Coloradans have the tools they need to take advantage of opportunity as it arises.
My friends, opportunity is the foundation of a strong and robust community. Opportunity seeds growth and nurtures accomplishment. Opportunity is the difference between a paycheck and an unemployment check. Our workforce is eager and waiting, and we must do our part to prepare them for each opportunity offered—so that, one day, they can pay it forward and create waves of opportunity for others. Just as it works at the individual level, giving our industries room to grow will only further improve the wellbeing of our state and accelerate our economic recovery.
In energy development, for instance, we can give Colorado the chance to lead the nation through a thoughtful and responsible “all-of-the-above” development strategy. Colorado’s energy resources are diverse and waiting to be tapped. While we are positioned to lead in renewable energy development, we cannot forget traditional energy sources like oil, gas and clean coal. With new technologies allowing for more than two billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves in Colorado’s share of the Niobrara formation, this industry will continue to prove itself a boon to our economy; and it must be allowed to continue to grow. A dynamic, “all-of-the-above” approach to responsible energy development moves us closer to energy independence and further along our path to economic recovery.
There are opportunities to reprioritize spending in our budget as well. Through bipartisan efforts, we have reduced crime in Colorado by 32 percent in five years, resulting in thousands fewer incarcerations, yet the corrections’ budget continues to climb. Imagine how much better a place this world would be if we spent fewer dollars on prison beds and, in turn, used those dollars for desks in the classroom. Mr. Speaker, I know how you feel about letters to Santa Clause, and this is no such request. We have been smart on crime. Now, let us be smart with the budget and use those dollars to create opportunity for Colorado students.
My friends, the people of Colorado are counting on us. They’re counting on us to make the right budget and policy decisions to grow our economy, not cripple it or force our constituents to tighten their belts any more than they already have. The people we represent want to see us create opportunity because they know, just as I do, that opportunity is both an open door and a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mr. Speaker, Madame Majority Leader, and members of this assembly, this is my pledge—and my challenge—to you: My caucus and I will work with all intensity and speed to create opportunity for every Coloradan. It is our responsibility. For generations immigrants have come to America looking for an opportunity to make their lives better. Opportunity is what made this country great and it is what all citizens deserve, because at the end of the day Coloradans want a paycheck, not an unemployment check. Thank you.