“Galen Fox Image”

Aloha Kakahiaka. It’s a beautiful morning. Isn’t it a beautiful day in Hawaii nei?

Some of you, like me, remember when Hawaii was a territory. You remember when we were second class citizens, left out of the promise America offered residents of the 48 states. Then one bright morning, the door opened, and the nation welcomed us in. Hawaii became a state. What a beautiful day.

Hawaii was then an exciting place filled with hope. The last territorial Legislature glowed from the creative sparks produced by rubbing new ideas against old. Republicans and Democrats were all involved, a Republican governor, a Democratic Legislature, together generating change that enlarged Hawaii’s role in the nation, and embraced our entire population.

Now, today, such a beautiful day has come again. We have a new governor. The windows have been thrown open. The fresh breeze of change is blowing through our collective home. Once again, after an absence of 40 years, no matter what your party, Hawaii has a place for you. Fifty-one representatives feel the joy that comes from being part of solutions that involve Republicans, Democrats, and all Hawaii standing together.

The solutions we crave are those that help people find jobs. All of us want more jobs for Hawaii’s people. It’s the lack of jobs that is forcing families apart, and sending our friends to the mainland. Most transplanted ex-Hawaii residents would rather be home, if they could make a decent living here. We need jobs.

All of us want not just jobs, but better paying jobs for Hawaii’s people. The “price of paradise” is a real problem here. Hawaii’s cost of living is 22 percent above the national average; only the Bay Area is more expensive. Yet our wages are barely above the national average. We have an income gap that makes it hard to live here.

To have better paying jobs, we need to take Hawaii into the knowledge-based economy. For that, Hawaii’s people need a good public education system. Reforming public education has to be one of this Legislature’s top priorities. To seize our future, we must improve public education now — we need action, not studies.

The road ahead remains difficult. But we know that real change comes from Republicans and Democrats, business, labor, and government, working side-by-side to get the job done.

History has led us to this remarkable January 2003 morning. At the dawn of the territorial era, 100 years ago, James Dole brought the pineapple industry here. It was the last time Hawaii, on its own, generated a major new industry. Pearl Harbor, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam gave us the defense industry, a boon to our economy that owed little to our own initiative. And so it was with tourism, which grew Hawaii through statehood’s first three decades. Tourism thrived because of outside forces — the jet plane, the jumbo jet, mainlanders discovering the neighbor islands, and finally Japanese tourism and investment. It all came so easily. We were freed from the discipline of having to work together to make our own future.

Since the Japanese bubble burst in 1990, we have been searching for a new path to prosperity. After 1990, tourism stopped growing. After 1990, Hawaii family income dropped 15 percent in relation to the rest of the country, from 21 percent higher to only 6 percent higher. After 1990, while state government employment jumped 15 percent and our population grew by 9 percent, private sector job growth stopped-increasing by just 3 percent. After 1990, Hawaii’s poverty rate rose faster than that of any other state, and a higher share of Hawaii’s population left for other states than did the population of any other state.

Now we stand at the beginning of a new day. We are filled with hope. We know that no outside force or event is going to bless us the way Pacific wars and the jet plane helped us earlier. We know we are going to have to do it ourselves. And we will work hard to shape our own destiny. We will find the common ground that unites us, and for the benefit of Hawaii’s people, we will embrace change. Let’s do it, let’s do it together.

Mahalo.

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