SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Illinois’ 40th Governor, took his Oath of Office today during a ceremony at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center in Springfield. The Governor was joined at the ceremony by his wife Patricia and his two daughters, Amy and Annie. During his inaugural address, Gov. Blagojevich pledged to continue the work he began four years ago – changing the priorities of state government so it works for people.
“I stand before you as your Governor, once again, humbled by your trust and committed to meet the challenges ahead. There are no words that can properly express my gratitude for the great honor you have given me. I will do my best and work as hard as I can to keep my faith with you. As I look to the future, I find myself thinking of our past. Four years ago, standing before you, I looked back and also saw a government that was failing our people. I think back to the veterans who served our nation abroad, and sacrificed their lives to protect our homes and way of life; and to those today still on the frontline – and to the families, some who are here with us today, who have lost loved ones. Our prayers are with you,” said Governor Blagojevich.
“I think back to the workers who built our nation’s industrial might, I think back to so many from whom we inherited so much. And for me personally, on days like this, I can’t help but always think back to my mother and father. Loving parents who started with so little but gave me and my brother so much,” the Governor continued. “Four years ago, standing before you, I also looked back, and I saw a government that was failing our people. A bloated bureaucracy, costing taxpayers millions, for no purpose, no results. A pension system built on a foundation of false promises. And an education system - under funded and our children under challenged. Debt and deficit and the promise of higher taxes. It was hard to understand how a state with such a proud past and such promise had been so betrayed. But that’s how it was, and we were determined to change things. So we took on a $5 billion budget deficit with a new energy, a new idealism, and new ideas. And we got things done.”
During his first term, Gov. Blagojevich strove to change Illinois’ government so that it worked for the people. He started out by balancing the budget. Without raising taxes, Gov. Blagojevich was able to balance the budget and put a record $13 million into our state pension fund by consolidating a bloated bureaucracy, closing corporate loopholes and saying “no” to special interests. With the budget back on track, Gov. Blagojevich raised the minimum wage not once, but twice so that starting in July, minimum wage workers will make $7.50 an hour. The minimum wage will continue to increase for three years: to $7.75 in July 2008, $8.00 in July 2009, and $8.25 in 2010. These increases will benefit 647,000 Illinois workers and their families.
Under the Governor’s direction, Illinois became the first state to make health care for every child not a privilege but a right. All Kids health insurance plan has been successful in providing health insurance for children from working and middle class families. These families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase health insurance in the private market. In December, the Governor announced the 300,000th enrollment in All Kids.
And in his continued effort to improve life for Illinois working families, the Governor has made great strides. 150,000 new jobs have been created over the past three years, giving Illinois the best record in the Midwest and the lowest unemployment rate in state history. 500,000 more men, women and children now have health care, the best record in the country. Six and a half million fewer hours are wasted in traffic each year because of Open Road Tolling. And 600,000 high school students are achieving higher scores in math, science, and reading.
The Governor told the audience that the he would expand upon those accomplishments during his second term. He highlighted the two key focal points for his second term: a government focused on the people and affordable healthcare available to all.
During his address, the Governor spoke about a letter he received from 13-year-old Katelyn Reynolds of Shannon, wanting to know when he would do something for middle class. In the letter she wrote for a school assignment, Katelyn, a guest of the Governor’s at the swearing in ceremony, asked a question the Governor said symbolized his administration’s goals.
“For the people who work hard and play by the rules, for the families without lobbyists, inside deals, stock options and hedge funds. For the vast majority of people in Illinois—they live in every part of our state, in every neighborhood, on every block,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “They quietly go about their business. They work and pay their taxes. They raise their kids and look after their elderly parents. They meet their responsibilities. They work in our factories, and on our farms. They are small business owners. They are shopkeepers and nurses and coal miners. They teach in our schools. They are firefighters. Police officers. Truck drivers and computer analysts. They clean our offices and work in our restaurants. They are the soldiers who keep us free. They are good and decent people. They ask for little from government but too often government asks too much of them. They are forgotten and taken for granted. They are the backbone of our state. They are the families that Katelyn Reynolds asked me about in her letter. And when it comes to health care, they are worried. They need our help. They are our cause. And they are the people we will deliver for.”
In the coming months, the Governor will detail the next phase of his health care reform plan. He will work to improve the quality of care. For the 1.4 million adults still uninsured in Illinois, he will also work to ensure that not only children, but that each of their family members also has access to affordable, quality health care.
The Governor also pledged to reform the tax system that favors corporate loopholes, bring equity and improvement to schools across the state, work with small business owners to create new jobs especially as part of the ethanol expansion, make state government more efficient and provide health care security to every family.
And to help the Governor celebrate the accomplishments of the past and his goals for the future, many individuals from throughout Illinois had special roles in the Ceremony.
The festivities began with a musical prelude from The 566th Air Force Band, The Air National Guard Band of the Midwest and the 144th Army Band. The 566th is one of only 11 Air National Guard Bands in the United States and is stationed at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria. The band has given innumerable performances for audiences that have included presidents, foreign dignitaries, veterans and troops returning from overseas. The men and women playing in The Air National Guard Band of the Midwest are slated for deployment to Southwest Asia in the coming summer. The members of the 144th Army Band come from all walks of life but share a common love for the performance of music. Many of the members are current or former high school band directors, college music majors and professional musicians.
The musical selection led into the introduction of state dignitaries and the Constitutional Officers who also took the Oath of Office. Gov. Blagojevich then took the stage and was joined by his wife Patricia, and daughters Amy and Annie. The First Family, Constitutional Officers, dignitaries and attendees were welcomed by Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin.
The Illinois Army National Guard Honor Guard presented the colors in preparation for the singing of the National Anthem. The Honor Guard is a ceremonial unit that supports the entire spectrum of American military and patriotic ceremonies. “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung by former Congressman David Phelps. Mr. Phelps was elected as State Representative in the 118th district in 1984, where he served through 1998. In 1998 he was elected as a United States Congressman in the 19th district where he served two terms. And in 2003, Gov. Blagojevich appointed Mr. Phelps as Assistant Secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, where he continues to serve Illinois citizens. He is also lead singer for the Phelps Brothers Quartet, a gospel group that includes his three bothers.
Following the National Anthem, Sergeant Dusty Hill led those present in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Sergeant Hill is a 22-year-old National Guard soldier from Galva who survived a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Reverend Walter Turner of New Spiritual Light Baptist Church in Chicago delivered the Inaugural Invocation. During the Governor’s first term in office, he appointed Pastor Turner to serve as Coordinator for Clergy Outreach throughout Illinois. Pastor Turner has teamed up with various state agencies and state officials in his advocacy and outreach work.
The Bright Star Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) Mass Choir under the direction of Pastor Chris Harris, Sr. performed the uplifting song, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Under Pastor Harris’ leadership, membership at the Bright Star C.O.G.I.C. has increased from 65 members to 600. He is the founder and C.E.O. of GOD IS Productions, Inc., a gospel music production company.
Father Ezequiel Sanchez followed the choir’s enthusiastic lead-in with the Prayer for Unity, befitting the day’s tone. Fr. Sanchez is a native of Chicago, whose parents are from Durango, Mexico. Fr. Sanchez is a dedicated community servant. He is the pastor of Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Cicero; he also serves on the boards of the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic, Casa Jesus and the Interfaith Leadership Project in Cicero.
After the prayer, Gov. Blagojevich took the Oath of Office, delivered by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke. Justice Burke previously worked with mentally disabled children as a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District, and she founded the Chicago Special Olympics in 1968. She later served as director as the organization grew to become the International Special Olympics, now represented in more than 160 countries. Justice Burke also delivered the Oath of Office at the Governor’s 2003 Inauguration.
Following the Governor’s address in which he promised to continue to build a state government focused on the people, Pastor Tom Cross led the Prayer for Peace. Pastor Cross has served United Methodist Churches in Northern Illinois for over 40 years.
After the Constitutional Officers took their Oaths of Office, Rabbi Michelle Greenberg of the Temple Jeremiah in Northfield gave the Benediction. Rabbi Greenberg has created innovative music programs that have brought together Mariachi and Klezmer musicians, designed teen Talumud study programs and coordinated a nationally acclaimed HIV/AIDS prevention program.
The Bright Star C.O.G.I.C. Mass Choir led by Pastor Harris followed up the Benediction with the fitting song, “We Made It.” After the choir sang, the Honor Guard retired the colors as the Air National Guard of the Midwest played a postlude, closing the ceremony.
Following the official swearing in ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Blagojevich will host the “Celebrate! Illinois 2007” Inaugural Ball on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The Ball, an Inaugural tradition, will highlight the people, communities, traditions, inventions and resources that make Illinois so unique. The Ball will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Exposition Building.