Pete Wilson

36th Governor, Republican

Second Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 2, 1995

First Inaugural Address - January 7, 1991

California: Forging America's Future

This is a day of renewal. Today, we recommit ourselves to that miracle we call democracy, and to the spirit and promise we call California.

That spirit and promise burn brightest not here in the Capitol, but in the hearts and minds of California's people — in our factories and on our farms, in our churches and our temples, in our classrooms and around our kitchen tables.

This morning's ceremony is a celebration, and also a vindication: a vindication not of an individual or political party, but of a resilient and sturdy people blessed with courage and character. Though tested and tempered in the forge of adversity, they came through the fire, their faith intact, clinging tenaciously to the promise of California.

When the earth shook and the hills burned, when rivers overflowed and riots scarred our cities, when drought seared the earth and fiscal crises tested our confidence in government itself, a lesser people would have just given up.

But not Californians. That's not the California Way.

When confronted with the worst, we respond with our best.

That is the California Way.

Californians have always answered adversity with bold thoughts and challenged convention with fresh ideas. They have always dared to dream.

The poet Carl Sandburg wrote, “The Republic is a dream. Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

In the 1850s, a dream led pioneers West in wagon trains across a desolate prairie and over frozen mountains.

These early pioneers risked their lives crossing the mighty Sierra, till one day they crossed a ridge to find themselves gazing down from the heights upon a golden valley that held the promise of California.

Most of us are not the lineal descendants of those pioneers. We came later. We came by ship from Asia and by station wagon from Ohio. We came during the Great Depression from the Dust Bowl in pick-ups piled high with our possessions. And we came by jet-liner last year, last month, and last week.

Today, we too stand on that same ridge, with a valley of promise spread before us, inviting us to partake of the good life.

But ours is a generation that cannot take for granted the good life, the historically generous bounty of California, unless we are prepared to make dramatic change.

We must act, and act quickly, because we live in a time of great and accelerating change; because we live in a shrinking and more competitive global marketplace; and because, as we rush toward the 21st century, we are at a crossroads and must choose what kind of California we will have.

We must choose whether California will be the Golden State — or a welfare state. It can't be both.

On that, my fellow citizens, there can be no question.

We must be wise enough, tough-minded and honest enough to repeal programs that fail their stated noble purpose and fail expensively, incurring fiscal and human costs that are unaffordable.

The people agree. They are out of patience with misfired good intentions that defy sense or fairness.

They ask: Is it fair that the welfare system taxes working people who can't afford children and pays people who don't work for having more children?

They ask: Why should federal law reward illegal immigrants for violating the law and punish California taxpayers and needy legal residents?

They ask: Why have schools that reward poor teachers for promoting — even graduating — students who can't adequately speak and write English?

And they ask: Why do our laws put dangerous criminals back on our street, and put us behind barred windows and locked doors?

The last refuge of those who call these questions unfair is to assert their compassion, and to deny ours.

The ultimate compassion is to build an economy that works, one that grows and provides the jobs working Californians need to feed their families, build their homes and pay their taxes.

To produce that economy and all the work our people need, we must lift the burdens that government has placed on risk-takers, on the people who create California's jobs. If we over-tax and over-regulate, if our workers are not well-educated and our streets are not safe, we will drive these job-creators to other states.

California can't afford to do that. If we do, we will deserve to lose the talent, the entrepreneurial drive, the energy and innovation that make California all that it is.

So we will not put up with bad schools, or violence on our streets, or regulations that impose costs greater than their benefits, or taxes that dwarf those levied by our neighbors.

We must free our people, and release their creative energy.

By lifting from them the restraints, regulations, and burdens that government has imposed, we free them to seize opportunity and create more.

So, we will deliberately shrink government to expand opportunity.

We will demand that all citizens meet the test of common decency, respecting the rights of others, and we will demand that those who can, pull their own weight and meet the test of personal responsibility.

We will make clear that welfare is to be a safety net, not a hammock — and absolutely not a permanent way of life.

We will correct our laws to make clear that bringing a child into the world is an awesome personal responsibility for both the mother and the father.

The costs are simply too high for society to continue tolerating the promiscuity and irresponsibility that have produced generations of unwed teen mothers.

It is monstrously unfair to the children; to their sad, ill-equipped teen mothers; and certainly to working taxpayers, who must support them at a cost to their own children.

We will insist that those who receive public assistance earn it. We will give them help and support to escape from dependency to the independence and self-respect of work. We want them to see in the eyes of their children that special look of respect and pride that only working parents can know.

We will not tolerate the selfishness of “dead-beat dads” who casually father a child and walk away from their responsibility. Their child is their obligation, not the taxpayer's.

If they lack the basic decency to send love to their child, they must at least send money. If they don't, we will track them down and dock their pay for child support.

We will demand accountability and personal responsibility. Now the teen predator who does violence to his victim will be prosecuted not as a juvenile, but as an adult.

But as I said four years ago — how much better it is to prevent crime than to punish it.

That kind of prevention is fundamentally a father's responsibility. Too often the fatherless child of a teen mother becomes a teen predator, and the trigger man for his gang.

We are paying for too many prisons because absent fathers have failed to take responsibility to socialize and civilize their children. That must change.

For those who become so brutalized that they can't respect themselves or the rights of others, prison must be the answer to violence.

The fundamental right of every Californian is not to become a crime victim, and it is the first responsibility of government to safeguard that right.

We will do so. Those who commit violent crimes will pay heavily for their brutality.

But we must at the same time work to alter the behavior of parents who default on their responsibility as parents.

When we succeed, we can build more laboratories and libraries — and fewer prisons.

We must also change our schools. Something's wrong with our schools. Something important and basic.

Some are superb. Too many are not. Despite the dedication and skill of many teachers, the quality of our schools is erratic.

Our schools must be safe: free of guns and drugs and free of kids who bring them.

We must insist on order and discipline in the classroom, or teaching and learning cannot occur.

Recognizing the enormous importance and the influence of good teaching in a child's life, we must recognize and reward excellence, and remove from the classroom those teachers whose performance is inadequate.

Children must learn the basics. And we must be assured that they have learned by standardized tests that measure individual student performance.

We must raise our standards high enough to challenge our children to meet the competition they will all too soon encounter in the international marketplace. The standards we enforce must be high and clear, not imprecise and politically correct.

And if our kids have not learned what they must know to compete in this increasingly demanding job market, we must not do them the serious disservice of pretending that they have.

Social promotion is the worst form of false kindness. We must not promote them.

If they can't do arithmetic, don't understand rudimentary science, and especially if they cannot read, write and speak English, our children won't be hired, much less promoted.

Much is written and spoken about the importance of self-esteem to a child's success. Self-esteem is important. But it cannot be conferred. It must be earned by performance, by meeting standards, and by having been honestly tested and honestly judged to have met or exceeded clear, high standards.

Anything less is not honest, and not fair. It is deception, and cannot be the basis for success. Not for a school child, not even for a nation-state that boasts the world's seventh largest economy.

We must reward effort and achievement. We must honor those who work hard, who meet life's test playing by the rules;

who respect themselves and the rights of others; who honor their obligations as parents and citizens; who raise their children to obey the law.

And just as we demand that citizens meet these standards of decency and responsibility, we must demand at least as much from government — in Sacramento and in Washington.

California will not submit its destiny to faceless federal bureaucrats or even Congressional barons.

We declare to Washington that California is a proud and sovereign state, not a colony of the federal government.

We will set our own course.

We will return both dollars and decisions to Californians who are working hard this very day to build a better future.

We will perform radical surgery to undo two decades of mischief, which, though wrought with good intentions, have imposed an intolerable burden on our people.

We will break the bonds of restraint which government has placed on those strong enough to create opportunity, and break the chains of dependency on those addicted to government's largesse.

We will make these changes and empower Californians.

We will meet the challenge of building the first society to embrace every culture, every language, every ethnic group on the planet.

We will not allow ourselves be divided into divergent interests who simply rub up against one another like the tectonic plates of the San Andreas fault.

We will meet the tests that lie ahead, as a people proud of our many pasts, who now share a common future, a proud future.

And what makes our success all the more critical is that a nation —indeed a world — challenged by constant change looks to us for new lessons in democratic renewal.

America has always asked a special role from California: to seek out the American future by trying new ideas, rejecting what doesn't work, and building on what does.

The historian Kevin Starr wrote, “California [is] the prism through which America glimpses its unfolding identity.”

The California Way has always been to shape the future with courage and creativity, embracing change, while still clinging to the unchanging values of faith and family, of individual effort and personal responsibility without which no republic can long endure.

Our role, our responsibility, is to assure that California chooses greatness, to guarantee those seeking opportunity that we will provide it, and that we can and will take the steps required to do so.

This, then, is the California Way: seeing possibilities where others see only problems, forging a new future of opportunity from the flames of adversity. Where others suffer change, or patiently await it, California will invent the future — and export it.

In a time of grave peril Abraham Lincoln declared: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.”

Time and again, America has seen California rise with the occasion and triumph over peril. Through every difficulty, California has offered a dream to be realized. We will make real again the dream of a republic where work is respected and rewarded, where every right is balanced by responsibility, where freedom thrives and opportunity burns bright.

We choose to be victors, not victims.

We are, after all Californians.

California's favorite son, Ronald Reagan, has for all his life embodied that special unbridled optimism that is at the heart of the California dream. He is again teaching us new lessons about courage, candor and dignity.

In his moving letter to the American people, President Reagan wrote:

“For America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”

My friends, let us vow that we will keep faith with Ronald Reagan's vision for America.

Let us assure him and our children that we will make California that shining city on the hill, where America's bright dawn is always breaking.