Speaker Johnson's Remarks at the Opening of the 2019 Legislative Session
Good morning and welcome to the people’s House.
It is a tremendous honor to accept the gavel and stand before you. Thank you for your confidence in me to serve you, and our state, for another term as Speaker of the House. Thank you to my constituents in the Champlain Islands and Milton who have entrusted me to once again serve our communities.
I am grateful for my family that is here today - my wonderful parents, my patient partner, my sister and brother-in-law, and most of all, my nieces and nephew - two of whom are visiting the statehouse for the first time.
I look around this chamber and see many new faces. Welcome! I hope you grow to cherish and deeply respect this place, this institution and especially the many Vermonters who contribute: elected officials across Vermont’s government, statehouse staff, the independent press, state workers, and the many people participating in our shared government for work, for passion, or both. Our human-scaled and accessible democracy is a shining feature of our brave state. No matter your party, or Independent status, we are all here because we want Vermonters to succeed. Making that happen takes teamwork. Essential to that team are our caucus leaders who do a tremendous amount of work to make sure their members are informed, prepared, and ready to serve.
Minority Leaders Pattie McCoy and Robin Chesnut-Tangerman and your teams, congratulations on being selected to lead your caucuses. You have a vital role in bringing a range of perspectives to the table and I am committed to working together to make sure all voices are heard. We cannot lead this state without you.
To Majority Leader Jill Krowinski and the Democratic leadership team, it is a pleasure to work with you. The time and heart that you dedicate to our work speaks volumes about your compassion and your commitment to serving Vermont.
On behalf of our state, I extend thanks to your families and friends who have agreed to share you- maybe more than they know- for the next two years. Their support is crucial. Appreciate them. Thank them, and lean on them.
Running for office or stepping forward to participate in public service is never easy. And increasingly, public servants are becoming targets of hate. We saw this ugly side of public service unfold over the last several years with the harassment and threats that one of our own, former Representative Kiah Morris, experienced toward her person and her family. We will miss her voice as she moves on to serve Vermont in other ways.
I hope you will join me this session to embrace civility, inclusivity, and respect. We have much work to do to bring ALL voices to the table in the crucial discussions we have and to carefully look at the rules and systems of our society to make sure that they are equal and just.
This work will start with taking a hard look at how our education system can adopt better ethnic and social equity standards. I ask you to join me in a commitment to ensure all Vermonters have a voice in their government, and that the policies we craft ensure a Vermont that works for all of us, not just the select few.
There is a reason people come here and a reason people stay. I believe that together, we are building a Vermont where our families and communities can thrive and where the Vermont dream is accessible to everyone.
As legislators, it is our job to look at the systems around us and see which pieces need to be redesigned for better outcomes. When we rewrite those rules so that families can care for and support themselves, we boost the economy and build stronger, healthier communities. Every Vermonter should have the opportunity to have a job that pays the bills, or start a business of their own, be able to access quality health care, get a great education, and retire with dignity and security.
When our economic policies are strong, diverse, and inclusive, families are empowered to support themselves and aging Vermonters can live with dignity and respect.
Too many Vermonters are struggling to care for and support themselves and their families. Making paid family leave accessible to everyone as a part of every job, gradually raising wages, and ensuring access to opportunities that improves the lives of working Vermonters, puts more money into Vermont’s small businesses and helps our communities to thrive. Each of these policies support local households and strengthens our collective economy.
Despite the significant efforts from legislators across the political spectrum, the rural-urban divide continues to challenge our state. Conversations with legislatures in other rural states reveal the same difficult trends nationwide. While Vermont’s economy is working for some, it’s not working as well as it needs to in our rural communities. Access to high speed internet and cell service is essential to worker opportunities, to small business start-ups, to selling a particular property, and even to submitting a child’s homework.
We must create a plan and a toolbox to expanding access. In addition to high tech needs, our rural economy depends on agricultural. Most people have no idea the millions of dollars dairy brings into the state every day, or of the number of jobs and secondary economic activity created across our very diverse agricultural sector. We need robust voices for Agriculture and our rural economy not only in the Agriculture & Forestry committee, but across areas of jurisdiction throughout the building.
We must do more to ensure that our successes touch every corner of our state, to problem solve together and expand opportunities for all of Vermont.
Climate change continues to threaten our economy and the Vermont way of life. In addition to the potentially devastating impact on agricultural sectors, even small, lasting changes in weather patterns threaten livelihoods, businesses and ways of life that come from our snow, changing leaves and pleasant summers. More than once in this last decade, our communities and our infrastructure - our roads and bridges - have weathered what we once thought were hundred year storms. We cannot ignore the opportunity to make progress on an issue that that will have lasting impact on generations to come.
Our public schools are the bedrock of our Vermont communities and provide our children the opportunity to reach their potential and succeed in life. With the additional demands placed on our schools from addiction, mental illness, and poverty, great public schools in our communities are more important than ever in giving all children a fair shot at a bright future. And when those children leave school, they need a variety of paths to build their future- access to higher education, opportunities for career-tech education, or a path towards a successful career in the trades. Our children deserve it. Businesses need it. And a stronger future for Vermont depends on it.
While I know there are many more issues to discuss, that it your work in your committees for the session. In doing that work, I ask three things of you: focus on the questions to understand the complex problems we are trying to solve; ensure that dissenting voices are heard; and concentrate on building a stronger, healthier Vermont together.
Now let’s get to work.