The following text is the full address delivered by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller on January 10, 1967. He had just been elected the 37th Governor of Arkansas, and the first Republican elected to the state’s highest office in 94 years. To view a copy of the original inauguration ceremony program, click here.
Thank you very much, Mr. Lieutenant Governor. Thank you, Mr. Speaker of the House, for having set aside my worries about the results of the election. Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, for sharing again with this wonderful group the ceremonies of the morning.
This is a momentous day in my life, and possibly it’s a momentous day in the history of Arkansas. It has been widely noted that not for almost a hundred years has a member of the Arkansas Republican Party addressed his fellow citizens as governor. I hope that it will not be another hundred years before another member of my Party is standing here. Actually, I hope that Footsie Britt and I will have the pleasure in two years of being with you again.
The facts that relate to my having been elected are — to me — an expression by the people that instead of looking backward, we are looking forward. And, in electing me and other Republicans, the people were expressing a desire for change; but at the same time, the fact that relatively few Republicans were elected suggests to me that Arkansans and, appropriately, Arkansans who have led the way in many things — are “testing the water” in terms of the potential of the two-party system.
Now is not the time for party politics. I was elected by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; by people of all races and all creeds, from all walks of life. As the thirty-seventh elected governor, I intend to represent all, and so I dedicate my administration to the people of Arkansas.
Any administration must be measured by its goals and by its objectives. Let us spell them out like men. We come here committed not to discord, but to doing … not to destroying, but to discovering … not to dividing, but by dissolving old problems with new solutions.
The major problem that faces me faced my predecessor, and I fear will face my successor. It is the lack of adequate revenues. But much is possible through better management of our financial resources. So I’m confident that through programs which will be presented for your consideration, we can achieve many good things: better government, better schools, better roads, and more and better jobs … and an improved standard of living for Arkansas.
And yet, I must say to you that something else is even more important — or should be — than these other material goals. The great hope of my administration will be that it can develop in the people of Arkansas confidence in their state government. Without faith and confidence of the people, government can accomplish nothing. With it, government can accomplish most anything. I believe the people want and have this kind of faith.
I move into office recognizing that many important milestones have been reached. There is a foundation upon which a new administration can build … an administration dedicated to finding solutions for problems. It is my conviction that the majority of the people who voted for me want change. Personally, I believe that the change that the people want is not in the spirit of vindictiveness, but of confidence … and of faith.
There is work to do and we are badly in need of some basic reforms in our government … in the very mechanics of day-to-day operations. By “basic” I mean as basic as our State Constitution of 1874, designed at a moment in the history of the South as a reaction to the Reconstruction Period. This is the Constitution under which we are living today. Certain provisions of it are as ill-fitted to our times, quite understandably, as would be the clothing of those men who framed it.
The people will support much-needed changes in our State Constitution, I believe, if those changes are carefully explained.
Even so, I feel that it would be unwise to embark suddenly upon a Constitutional Convention. Experience elsewhere suggests that we first should form a commission of our finest citizens to carefully study all of the problems and propose solutions, keeping the public at all times thoroughly informed of their progress.
This is the way to keep faith. I feel that the task before me is a sacred trust, granted to me by the will of the people. It is my intention to keep that faith with the people, because my strength and my capacity to serve comes from the people.
I am aware of the pride represented in the Sixty-sixth General Assembly. (Maybe I am more aware, today!) It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities.
I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment. We shall make mistakes. That’s to be expected. But we shall also right ourselves, because we share the same goals.
Government is only as strong and worthy of respect as the people, by their convictions, will make it. I come before you today asking you to help me make Arkansas outstanding because of our acceptance of these fundamentals.
As your governor, if unsavory situations are brought to my attention, I will not falter in dealing with them. I ask you to join me in pledging to work-as no men have-so that Arkansas may enter into a new Era of Excellence … to launch a far-reaching quest for quality in which we shall no longer be content merely to exult in our potential, or measure our progress in comparison with our past.
This Era of Excellence can come only if we recognize education as one of the vital foundation blocks. Until we can provide quality education for all, whatever else we build cannot be fully meaningful.
There is virtually universal agreement on this. It is agreed, too, that the quality of any education system is determined by the quality of its teachers. To keep our good teachers … to keep good people and attract more, obviously we must compensate them more in keeping with their contributions.
This is a position that I have frequently taken. It is a position that I will continue to take.
In terms of our education, I am as concerned about kindergarten training, primary and secondary education, vocational training, community college experience and adult education … as I am about our other college education … as I am about our university education, our graduate education and the various fields of specialized training.
The most costly burden that we can impose on the future of our state is inferior education for our young people.
That is a “tax” that they go on paying all their lives. We are obligated to see that they do not. We shall have met this obligation only when every gray, substandard scholastic corner within our borders has been eliminated; when opportunity for quality education is everywhere.
That we have so much to do in some areas should not dismay us. Quality education pays for itself many times over, and the sooner we provide it, the sooner the rich returns will be coming back.
I believe strongly in a system of regional planning for economic development in Arkansas. Regional planning enables groups of counties to accomplish things that they cannot accomplish individually. It permits us — the state — to provide technical assistance in all fields, including education and health, so greatly needed. It gives the regions participation, guidance and proper direction, and it can earn for them vital financial support.
I am convinced that the people with common interests working together as we have found them in the regions as we have defined them-can solve many problems.
I am happy that a six-county area, surrounding and including Sebastian County, has recently become recognized by the federal government as a cooperative element within the concept of the Federal Ozarks Region.
I am convinced that by the use of these regional areas, we can do much more. This is a new concept for us possibly, yes; but it’s a recognized one and proven in many other areas.
The problems of municipalities, for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is the Constitution of 1874 — are virtually insurmountable.
I am deeply concerned about the problems of municipalities and seriously doubt that a full and adequate solution is going to be found until the federal government recognizes the philosophy of tax sharing. I could devote infinite time to a discussion of this solution, but suffice it to say I am concerned, and I will do my best.
As vital as it has been to our economy, agriculture can contribute more to Arkansas. Our farmers have become so proficient that last year cash receipts from Arkansas agriculture approached a billion dollars.
But what was the retail value of this same product once it had been processed and delivered to the nation’s marketplaces? The value was TWO AND A HALF BILLION DOLLARS. This means we produced a billion and a half dollars for people living outside our state. Arkansas could well use the money for its own economy. We can use the new jobs that processing plants would provide.
I shall propose the creation of a commission to study the overall problems of agriculture and recommend how the state might better serve agriculture.
I have been talking about problems and programs which will benefit the state in the near and the distant future. I have talked about the need for constitutional change, but we need not wait. Your state government can make a substantial contribution by becoming more efficient itself … and now!
We have 187 boards and commissions, acting in essence, independently. We have limited fiscal control, limited purchasing and no coordination in the use of data processing. My administration will propose legislation to evaluate our needs and then create machinery to effectuate the recommendations.
I do NOT propose a study that does not contemplate action. J will ask the legislature to provide the funds to get a professional, objective review made of the number one business of Arkansas, the business of the State, itself. The legislation will recommend an early terminal date, so that economies that I am confident can be affected would be available for the enhancement of the program requested in our current budget proposal.
Recently, similar studies of governmental operation have been made in other states. Wisconsin projects thirty-five million dollars in savings. Ohio has recaptured, for the needs of its people, fifty-five million dollars. And Oklahoma, with the typical modesty of their fine first Republican governor-and my good friend, Henry Bellman-has admitted to economies in excess of ten million and with no increases in taxes to give increased services.
To ensure continuing efficiency in state government, I will propose that a Department of Administration be established to coordinate inter-governmental affairs.
By increasing governmental efficiency, I’m convinced that our state can make dramatic gains-not only financially-but once again I return to that even greater objective, in the reinforcement of the confidence of the people in their government.
My legislative program will deal with another resource sometimes forgotten purely and simply because of its abundance … and that is water. Our good fortune is the envy of the less fortunate neighboring states-a problem that is going to face us because we are part of the great United States.
I have traveled extensively in countries suffering from the lack of water and/or proper management. I know the impact of limited water supplies. With the explosion of population around the world, water is becoming an increasing problem and of increasing importance. Not too many years ago, former Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York said to me one evening that he thought that the impact of water problems was even greater than the impact of the atomic bomb on the future of the population of the world. That is a strong statement, and particularly a strong statement for me to make from this platform in a land of abundant water.
As I say, Arkansas is generously blessed; but Arkansas had better be aware, so that it will be able to protect itself against the needs and demands of less fortunate neighboring states.
Another problem that relates to other states is our need for an adequate system of roads and highways. This need is inseparable from an expanding Arkansas economy, because it is the base of communications.
Unfortunately, my communications with the highway department seem to have broken down temporarily!
But I say without hesitation, ladies and gentlemen, that I use this forum to pledge my whole-hearted support to a sound highway program.
It is unlikely that we will ever be able to afford all the new roads we want, at the time and place we want them, but by developing a program based on professional priorities, and making the best use of our funds, we can have the highway system that we need.
Such a program will require vision, greater responsibility and cooperation, and fewer short-range demands. We must achieve a better balance between road use and the expenditures of road money. Less than five percent of Arkansas’ roads and streets carry today almost 50 percent of our traffic.
We must face the fact that the state cannot go on indefinitely giving highway funds to the counties, while at the same time it is accepting the responsibility for more and more county mileage for maintenance.
I will recommend a program which I believe — with our highway operation returned to the spirit of the Mack-Blackwell Amendment — will produce the road system for our state … a system to accommodate increasing industry, agriculture, tourism and our own rapidly increasing personal needs.
We have an abundant future as a tourist and retirement state. I believe that in addition to telling the world what we already have, it is the obligation of the state government to encourage private enterprise to improve these attractions and to build this wonderful new industry within our borders.
I fully recognize the important role of a professional law enforcement agency, the State Police. They will have my full support. Merit — and not politics — should be the basis for state employment in the State Police Department and other agencies. We have dedicated, competent employees who will make a career of government service, but we cannot expect to attract and hold them without the job security offered by a state merit system. Fewer than 2,500 of the more than 16,000 state employees are protected today by the merit system.
I’m delighted that the legislature has already undertaken a comprehensive job classification and salary survey. This — to me — is one of the first and most important steps toward an efficient administration of government.
State employees must be protected from political coercion.
I will propose passage of legislation similar to the Hatch Act, which will ensure that no incumbent administration can use state employees to political advantage. Solicitation of contributions from these employees by their superiors or any others in state government should be prohibited by an enforceable law.
I would be remiss here today if I didn’t re-emphasize my often-stated position of concern for our less fortunate citizens who are welfare recipients. I have emphasized my distress that all too often they have been regarded as political pawns. I recognize fully the importance of the state’s public assistance program. It should be a program based on the recognition of the dignity of these fine people. I can assure you that the welfare program, under my administration, will be managed with integrity and dignity.
A primary objective of government is the preservation of law and order. The people will respect the laws if they are just and if they are fairly administered. The cornerstone of public morality is the respect for the law. The courts are the last protection of the rights of the individual citizen. We must, therefore, do all in our power to see that the procedures followed by these courts are in keeping with our basic ideas of justice.
My administration will submit for consideration certain bills to give our citizens greater protection in the election process. And now with the advent of television, maybe I should more than emphasize the shortening of political campaigns. I will also recommend legislation to strengthen our insurance department and the security office of our bank commission, to mention but a few of the areas that my administration is already working in.
No field offers a greater challenge to us today than that of medicine, with all of its related services. We have some fine medical institutions and excellent professional people associated with them.
My concern about the health services throughout Arkansas is, that while we have many highly competent, dedicated people in all aspects of health service, we are not training sufficient people to keep up and produce the replacements. We are faced with the reality of Medicare and the possibility of Medicaid, and we cannot delay in defining the specific needs of our varied and scattered population in order to best avail ourselves of the programs that will relate to the health care of the people of our state.
And last, but certainly not least, no burden rests more heavily on the conscience of the people of Arkansas, hour by hour, than a prison system regarded by professional penologists as being generally the worst in the United States.
The need for major reforms within what we call our “correctional” institutions is so pressing that I will ask the legislature to give it the very highest priority.
As governor, I will put maximum emphasis on clearing up deplorable conditions within our prisons, our probation and parole systems.
In closing, I would like to say that I am grateful for the wisdom and the experience that have been made available to me through the members of the General Assembly during the busy and challenging days and weeks just past. I shall count on that wisdom and experience in the difficult times ahead.
I still believe that government is best which governs least. The programs of this administration — in the spirit of the Constitution — will have as their basic purpose, NOT restricting the individual, but enlarging the area of freedom in which he may express himself and develop his own hopes and his own destiny.
The great hope of my administration will be realized if we can see public confidence established in our state government.
My dear, late mother lived a life guided by her favorite Biblical quotation: “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
She instilled in her six children the wisdom of these words.
It is in this spirit, ladies and gentlemen, that I accept the trust that you have given me.