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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 11, 1999

GOV. GEORGE H. RYAN INAUGURAL ADDRESS PRAIRIE CAPITAL CONVENTION CENTER

In 1956, Lura Lynn and I walked down the aisle of the Asbury Methodist Church in Kankakee and pledged our lives to each other.

That union produced six wonderful children and 13 beautiful grandchildren.

Neither of us ever thought that 43 years later we would once again walk down the aisle together and pledge our lives to the people of Illinois.

We have always stood side-by-side and have always walked down life's path together.

We have had a wonderful marriage and we have a wonderful family.

I hope to be a good governor.

I know Lura Lynn will be a good first lady.

I would like to officially present the woman who has been my first lady, and is now the first lady of Illinois -- Lura Lynn.

I would also like to present our family:

Mr. and Mrs. John Coghlan.

Mr. and Mrs. Michael Fairman.

Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Koehl.

Mr. and Mrs. Nick Barrow.

Mr. and Mrs. James Schneider.

And last, but not least -- George, Jr.

Our grandchildren are right over there.

Also here today is my brother Tom and his wife Stella;

My sisters Kathleen Dean and Nancy Ferguson and my sister-in-law and brother-and-law, Patti and Tom Lewis.

I love you all -- thanks -- and thank you for all your support.

As you can see, I have been blessed with a lot of women in my life.

Today, I am especially proud of the fact that my partner in government, Lt. Governor Corinne Wood, is the first woman lieutenant governor in the history of the state.

We will govern as a team.

During the course of the campaign, Speaker Madigan made reference to my age, which later prompted a question from a reporter about how I would feel being the oldest governor ever to be elected in Illinois.

I couldn't answer the question then, but I can now.

For Speaker Madigan, that reporter and anyone else who is interested: It feels wonderful.

I might add that Speaker Madigan has reached senior citizen status and the reporter is not far behind!

As I look back on the 14 months of the campaign, I readily recall the times I came home tired, full of doubt and asking Lura Lynn and myself if the goal was worth the aggravation to our family, friends and supporters.

It wasn't easy.

We have lost so much in our political process.

There is too much pettiness, mean spirtitedness and partisanship.

It must stop or we risk losing qualified people who want to serve in government.

On those days of doubt, my mind always turned to the people I met that day:

Not the opposition candidate; not the reporters, but the people -- the warm, gracious, knowing people of Illinois.

They are marvelous.

If you want to know what something means, talk to the people.

They can separate right from wrong and they have an inherent common sense and a great sense of fair play and even-handedness.

It is the people that kept me going.

The thousands of people who Lura Lynn and I met in every community throughout Illinois kept me going.

I remember campaigning on North Avenue in Chicago, in the heart of the city's Hispanic Community.

They took my hand...they were not angry in their words but rather full of hope.

What they talked about was a better day for their children, for an opportunity to work and a desire to preserve their culture, their customs and their language.

That is what we all want.

In whatever language you say it, that is what we all want.

That is the promise of America.

I will not forget the services at the Romanian Baptist Church, a church whose members are almost entirely immigrants who fled their native Romania.

They came to this country in search of opportunity and the freedom to practice their religious faith in the open light of God's day and not in dark, secret places.

The pastor's remarks reminded me that in one way or another, we are all the sons and daughters of immigrants.

We are a nation of immigrants.

The cultural, ethnic, religious and racial diversity of our people is what has made this nation a beacon of light and freedom and opportunity to the entire world.

These are places and people that made a difference to me.

I think about the young man who was sitting in a restaurant with his wife and family and sent me a note:

That note said, "George, I'm celebrating the first anniversary of my new life with my liver transplant. God bless you."

If you want to know what is great about public service, that is it.

I think about the young lady whose body was crippled by a drunk driver and who, with great courage and in pain and suffering, worked hard to get her life back together.

She now speaks throughout the state to young people about drinking and driving.

I was happy to be at her wedding just a month ago.

What a magnificent young lady.

What a testament to courage.

What an inspiration to me.

There were hundreds of stories just like this.

I recall with fondness my meetings with the Teamsters in Southern Illinois, with businesspeople in Peoria, with environmentalists in Lake County, with farm groups in Bloomington and with community activists in East St. Louis.

I met with all kinds of groups.

We didn't always agree on a solution, or even on the extent of the problem.

But what almost everybody wanted was for things to be better and to be a part of something that made life better.

Our goals, I found, were very much the same.

How fast we got there and how we got there were the issues.

My basic instinct is to be open to everyone; to listen; to learn and to help where I can.

Compromise is not a bad word.

Government cannot operate under the watch word of "change for change's sake."

That makes no sense.

Nor can government operate by holding back the hands of time and the call for progress.

That makes no sense, either.

Society needs advocates for all kinds of causes.

The marketplace of ideas will sort them out.

But we also need people who can work out issues and offer solutions.

Depending on your view, and certainly depending upon whether or not your issue prevailed, an advocate is either an "old-time pol" and "dealmaker" without principle or a skilled negotiator who reconciles divergent interests for the common good.

In short, a hero.

Isn't that the way it is?

I've been on both sides of that and I'm sure that I will be in the future.

I'll be an advocate.

I'll try to formulate compromise and a deal.

And I hope very much to be a hero.

If something doesn't work out, it will not be because I have not tried.

I fully intend to do my part and I expect that in return, each and every person will lend their support.

I look forward to working with everyone who wants to make progress and to build society.

Society, and how it has viewed issues, has changed.

Each generation seeks its own way and sometimes that search for change makes us very uncomfortable.

But because we don't like the change or because we don't understand the change does not make it wrong.

Everyone finds their own "right way."

But there is no "right way" to spew hate.

There is no "right way" to cloak intolerance with righteousness.

There is no "right way" to avoid family and societal responsibility.

There is no "right way" to deny any part of our population the rights we all enjoy.

What I am saying is, there is no "right way" to do the wrong thing.

I do not pretend to have all the answers.

But I do know that unless we all get together and talk -- and stop shouting -- and unless we all accept our own responsibility and stop pointing fingers and one another, we will never leave a legacy of opportunity, promise, prosperity and peace for our children.

During the course of the campaign, I campaigned, on a variety of issues and pledges to do certain things.

Some of those pledges are totally within my power and ability as governor to fulfill.

Some of the other pledges are going to need your help.

They are going to need the help of every group that I have talked with, every citizen that shook my hand, every member of the legislature.

There is not much that happens by just wishing for it.

It takes work and it takes compromise.

Even with all that, sometimes things just don't always work out; and sometimes we miss our goal; and sometimes we fail.

But if that happens, it won't be because I have not tried.

I committed to budget 51 percent of all new state tax growth to education.

I pledged that because it is right.

It is what we must do to insure a productive, growing and viable education system.

We have a basic responsibility to public education, but we also must recognize the value of a private education, charter schools and home schooling.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to instruct the secretary of transportation to start putting together a plan to put a noose around the neck of the "Hillside Strangler" bottleneck in the Chicago area.

That engineering feat has got to be corrected.

I do not expect to wait until my three-year-old grandkids are old enough to drive before it happens.

I want it done yesterday.

We have a special responsibility to the residents of the communities around O'Hare International Airport to control noise, pollution and traffic.

I feel very deeply about that.

I will not be a part of any plan or effort dealing with O'Hare without the participation and input of the "O'Hare Community."

It is no secret that I am committed to the construction of a third airport in the Chicago area.

The concept of the third airport presents us with the greatest opportunity to build an economic engine that will bring a whole new era of prosperity to thousands of people.

It will be a catalyst for rebuilding our economically-depressed communities.

It will create tens of thousands of jobs.

I'm not kidding myself, or you.

This project won't be easy to bring to life.

But do you know what?

This third airport will be built.

Not because I say so, but because as time passes it will become more and more apparent that it is the only long-term alternative to meet our needs.

I will need and want Mayor Daley and others to work with me to make it happen.

I am a hunter.

I am a firearm owner.

I respect the rights of every legitimate gun owner.

But we must stop the gun violence on our streets.

I do not want to look into the face of another mother who tells me that her child was killed by senseless and random gun violence.

I don't have words enough for the family of the 80-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a stray bullet as she walked back home from shopping.

I am sure that there is a special place in Hell for these senseless killers.

But the Lord needs a little help.

We should make certain that those who have no respect for life are brought to justice and spend a lot of in jail before they go to Hell, where they belong.

We must enact my "15-20-LIFE" proposal.

It will add significantly to the sentence of anyone who commits a crime with a gun and it will send a clear message that we as a society will no longer tolerate their lawlessness.

This violence must stop and I expect all the handgun groups, the domestic violence prevention people and people and yes, the NRA, to join me in this fight.

This is a crusade against senseless violence and killing.

We can make a difference -- and we will.

I believe we can do these things.

I'm going to do my best to do all these things and lots more.

I know I am not the media consultant's idea of a charismatic leader.

I do not have the oratorical skills to keep you on the edge of your seat.

But what I have is an understanding of government and a desire to make it work right and a profound respect for the office of governor and a faith and belief in the fair judgment of people.

There are no easy solutions.

There is no magic formula.

No one has a monopoly on ideas or on truth.

I want the help of the mayor of Chicago; and the mayor of Rockford and Marion and Kankakee.

I want the help of all mayors, Democrat or Republican.

I don't care.

I want the help of the Cardinal.

I want the help of Rev. Jackson.

I want the help of all religious leaders and clergy.

I want the help of unions and businesses.

I want the help of the IEA, the State Chamber, the Medical Society, the policemen, the firemen, the farm community and the women's groups.

I want the help of the Christian Coalition and I want the help of the gay community.

They are all part of our society.

Will I make some mistakes? Probably.

Will I make some wrong decisions?

I hope not.

Will some of the people I appoint stray off the right path?

That is a fear that haunts me.

No one is perfect.

We all make mistakes.

We all have been guilty of errors in judgment.

Being elected governor or being anointed to the clergy does not protect you from making a mistake or making an error in judgment.

But you can rest assured that I will do my very best to honor your trust in me.

If I make a mistake, I'll tell you and we'll try again.

If I make a bad decision, it won't be because I didn't care and I didn't give it my very best effort.

When my time comes, you, the people of Illinois, will decide and judge my place and my legacy in our history.

I ask you today to keep me in your prayers that I may govern for the best interest of all the people of Illinois.

God bless you all.


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