Pete Wilson

36th Governor, Republican

First Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 7, 1991

Second Inaugural Address - January 2, 1995


We meet today to celebrate the people's sovereignty, as old as California itself, and to confront their problems, as fresh as the morning headlines.

It is a day for symbolism, and a day for substance. For long after the rituals of inauguration fade from memory, each of us will be held accountable for the oath we take and the vision we offer.

I hope you will permit me a personal note on this very public occasion. A quarter of a century ago, I first climbed these steps, and with George Deukmejian, Willie Brown and David Roberti, proudly took my seat upon Ronald Reagan's inaugural platform. I'm proud and grateful to return today to give my own message. And I'm eager to undertake with those on this platform what I hope will be a journey of shared values, a common pursuit of uncommonly important goals.

We are a diverse assembly gathered in Capitol Park, a coat of many colors stitched together from a hundred countries and a thousand traditions.

We are Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives, Moderates and Liberals. Yet for all that might appear to divide us on the surface, core values of far greater importance unite us. We care about one another and about California. We share a passionate belief in the Democratic process and in the future of California.

This magnificent Capitol is itself a metaphor for the challenge facing those of us on this platform. For more than a century it sheltered the people’s representatives, until the 1970’s, when it nearly collapsed from age and neglect. We didn’t replace our Capitol; we restored it to new luster. And today the government of California does the work of the 20th Century amidst the splendor of the 19th.

Now we stand on the threshold of a new century, and even more than the house of government, the process of government needs structural renovation if we are to keep faith with those who sent us to Sacramento.

For state government to function at all, it must be credible. The people of California have entrusted us to conduct their government through the decade of the 1990s. We are faced with the same choice as those Capitol planners of the '70s. If we are not to destroy the credibility of state government, we must restore it.

And to do that, we must make government work.

It is no secret what the People of California want from State government, from those of us on this platform.

It is no secret to me. I have heard it up and down this huge State for almost two years.

I have heard it from a respected elder over tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown;

From a young commercial fisherman and father at a barbecue in Eureka;

From a wife who keeps books for her husband’s almond groves in Chico;

From a brawny longshoreman in San Pedro, a worried mother in Watts, an Hispanic teacher in Fresno, and a biotech entrepreneur in San Diego.

What do these different Californians have in common?

Quite a lot.

They—as you—are worried and they want change.

You want drug dealers gone from your kids' schools and parks.

You want education designed for the age of computer chips, not Mr. Chips.

You want an economy that will offer you the dignity of providing for your families and doing something useful each day.

You want affordable car insurance and health care.

You want to secure the spirituality of Big Sur, and safeguard cathedrals of redwoods that were already old at the time of Christ.

And you want and deserve an end of government in gridlock, and to the annual trench warfare that passes for a budget process.

We on this platform are the people's agents. To us you have delegated authority to enact laws and to regulate conduct, and above all, to make needed change.

We have a charter to bring all the change required to realize the full promise of our state, to allow California to be all that it can be.

The change California needs ought not to be imposed by federal mandate or judge's orders or ballot-box budgeting by initiative.

To make that change is our job—the job of elected officials. It is the responsibility shared by the legislature and the executive. And if we share that responsibility wisely and in good faith—if we do the people’s business and make state government work for you—we will find there is ample credit to share.

For my part, I am eager to embrace old friends and new ideas to achieve the future that California deserves.

As we face the future, we recall our proud past.

For the better part of two centuries, Californians have followed the sun westward, pushing back known frontiers until they came up against the broad Pacific. And then they joined with Californians from the ancient lands and cultures of Asia and Mexico, and created new frontiers—intellectual, scientific and cultural.

The world has been drawn to California since even before John Charles Fremont fell in love with its rugged beauty while mapping mountain passes and exploring the countryside around what is today, Sacramento. General Fremont helped free California from the grip of the Spanish dons, and he was rewarded with the new state's first seat in the U.S. Senate, and a place in legend as "the California pathfinder."

Early in this century another pathfinder blazed new trails in popular government. Just as Fremont mapped the physical majesty of California, it fell to Hiram Johnson to redraw the map of our political landscape. He attacked corruption and the abuses of power and patronage, and brought the reforms of initiative, referendum and recall. Later Johnson occupied that same seat in the U.S. Senate, which Fremont first held and which I was privileged to hold until about ten minutes ago, the seat John Seymour will assume next Thursday.

Thirty years later, Earl Warren infused new energy into a stagnant economy, gave new hope and new justice in the form of worker’s compensation and old age pensions.

Pat Brown—The Builder—gave California its State Water Project, made deserts bloom, and worked to make even greater what is today the world’s greatest university system.

But times change. The blessing of one generation can become the burden of the next.

And so by 1967, Sacramento welcomed a new governor and new pathfinder by the name of Ronald Wilson Reagan. He made old values a new vehicle for reform and renewal. He exalted the rights and dignity of the individual, and preached that government must be the servant, not the master of its citizens.

And once again, through him, California proved a harbinger of the best of America, and gave eloquent voice to an idea of such irresistible power that it brought down governments without firing a shot.

From Fremont to Deukmejian, these Californians are as different form one another as Mount Whitney from Death Valley. Yet each a pathfinder, scorning only the path of least resistance. Each a leader able to imagine possibilities where others see only problems. Each embracing changes while holding firm to unchanging values and time-honored truths.

Now our generation must find a path to California's future. At the dawn of the new year, we witness a world where walls crumble and tyrannies collapse, as the values of free peoples triumph over regimes that would put the soul itself in bondage.

But if the world has become less dangerous, it also is more competitive than ever.

No longer are national boundaries to be considered as natural barriers to the flow of commerce and culture. Modern technology has annihilated distance, and the age of information promises rewards to those who can best adapt themselves to an ever accelerating pace of change.

So be it, and let the whole world hear us today: California means to win that competition.

Neither drought nor freeze will stop us. We will recover.

Not war, not recession. We will triumph in the end.

Not a 40% high school dropout rate. We will keep our kids in school and teach them to compete and win.

It will take time and discipline, but our course is clear.

We will not suffer the future. We will shape it.

We will not simply grow. We will manage our growth.

We will not passively experience change. We will make change.

Yes, we can shape our physical environment.

But even more important and more threatened, we can shape our human environment.

But to shape our future we need a new vision of government, a vision based on the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

At a time when this nation lay divided, wounded and bleeding, rent almost in two by a great civil war, Abraham Lincoln told the Congress:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

With eloquent simplicity, Lincoln gave us a prescription that fits strikingly our own state and time almost 130 years later.

No longer can we be satisfied with reactive and remedial efforts. Even in this time of unprecedented fiscal constraint, we must find a way to at least begin to move to a mode of anticipation and prevention.

We must prevent the waste of precious time, precious dollars and precious lives.

But with revenues declining, how can new programs be undertaken when existing programs seem inescapably threatened by the budget crisis?

Now, more than ever, to lead is to choose. And the choice that California must make—the choice that the people and their government must make—is to give increasing attention and resources to the conditions that shape our children's lives and California's future.

Prevention is far better than any cure. Even those with vested interest in the status quo will not dispute this. They will simply ask: But surely, you don't propose new preventive programs at the expense of established remedial programs?

That is exactly what we must propose. It is our only choice where it can be shown that prevention is more effective, and -- more important -- infinitely more humane, than remedial actions of greater cost and uncertain benefit.

To those uncertain or not ready to embrace prevention, I say:

How much better to provide prenatal care to assure 50 or 60 healthy newborns, than to pay for neo-natal care for only one unhealthy baby.

How much better to teach a child to value himself above a quick high, than to pay for costly and uncertain drug therapy.

How much better to prevent pregnant women from using drugs, than to suffer an epidemic of drug-babies.

How much better to prevent learning disorders, than to engage in compensatory education.

How much better to prevent dropouts, than to counsel teen-mothers or chase down drug gang members.

How much better to prevent crime, than to punish it.

None of this can be achieved overnight. But all of it can be achieved.

We can change young attitudes and change young lives. Ask Jaime Escalante. Ask the Los Angeles volunteer mentor group called "The 100 Black Men."

Together, let us bring preventive government, wise enough to invest in children as well as infrastructure, determined to shift from the remedial to the preventive, from income maintenance to enrichment of individual potential, so that we may set the human spirit soaring, and never be content with warehousing its failure.

Let the growth of this greatest state be measured, not just in gray demographics, but in the bright colors of our children’s dreams.

Let California’s rich valleys produce a bumper crop of leadership to ennoble and energize America in the great adventure of the 21st century.

Let us demand a California of such celebrated justice and opportunity that every little boy can grow up knowing that his race or color or creed is no bar—and no ticket—to becoming chairman of the board or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Let the little girl confined to a wheelchair grow up knowing that her chair need never confine her spirit and that it will fit quite comfortably behind the desk of the Governor of California.

We, who have tasted the sweet fruit of freedom and have been nourished by it, owe to our children and to theirs the legacy of a California that imposes no false limits on their just dreams to become the pathfinders of tomorrow.

The horizon is never quite within our grasp, even as we pursue it at speeds exceeding that of sound. It marks a moving goal that we must constantly advance, even as we pass the place it was, in an endless re-calibration of progress and achievement.

In this decade of the '90s, let us expand California's horizons. Let us make California our gift to the Class of 2000, and make the Class of 2000 our gift to the 21st Century.

Let us aspire to nothing less.

Let us settle for nothing less.

Thank you, and God bless you.