- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Text of the Republican response by House Speaker John Diehl to Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address, as prepared for delivery Wednesday night:

“Good evening and thank you for giving me a few moments of your time. I’m John Diehl, Speaker of your Missouri House of Representatives. It is my immense honor and privilege to share with you tonight the vision Republicans have to promote growth and opportunity for families and businesses throughout our great state.

However, before I talk about policy, let me first talk about what matters most in any discussion we have - people. It is the people of Missouri we are meant to serve and the people whose best interests that elected officials must have in mind with every decision they make. It is a matter of giving each and every individual, regardless of gender, race or region, equal standing in the eyes of the law…the equal rights to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Just this week we paused to remember the words and deeds of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who played a pivotal role in moving our nation toward a day when all Americans “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And even as we acknowledge the progress we have made, we also admit we have many more steps to take. As we take these steps together, I hope we can understand that it is government’s role to ensure a level playing field where all men and women are treated equally in the eyes of the law and to pursue our basic inalienable rights. But it is not the purpose of government to undertake policies of social engineering to create equal outcomes for all. All Missourians should have an open door of opportunity, where hard work, perseverance, and initiative can lead the to the satisfaction and fulfillment of providing a better life for one’s family and children.

I mention this fundamental role of government because we have seen how disastrous the outcome can be when government policies and institutions fail. We saw these problems come to the surface and play out on national television during those tragic nights in November on the streets of Ferguson. These are issues that cannot be solved with one piece of legislation or in just one session. As legislators we need to focus our attention on economic and educational opportunities that will give all Missourians, regardless of where they live or their background, an opportunity to live a healthy, prosperous life. As a legislature and as Missourians, it is a dialogue we need to begin right now. I know Missourians across this state were disheartened and upset by the violence and destruction in Ferguson that escalated out of control. The general assembly cannot and will not direct blame at the first responders who are on the front lines. The brave men and women who police our streets, fight fires and provide security to our lives and property put their lives on the line every day and should be thanked and not scorned.

We have a leadership problem and we have a failure on the part of government institutions. Our governor failed to communicate his polices and fulfill his promises and Missourians paid the price as Ferguson was looted and destroyed. I make this promise tonight - we will get answers as to why our communities were left undefended during the unrest in Ferguson. The people of Missouri demand accountability and are entitled to answers as to who dropped the ball at the moment our state needed leadership the most. We will hold hearings to get to the bottom of the events of that night and to provide the people with the truth they deserve to know.

Beyond Ferguson, people need to have confidence that their government will act with their best interests at heart. The answer is not more government; the answer is not taking more money from the hands of hard working Missourians; and the answer is not to spend more money and declare Mission Accomplished. Unfortunately, these ideas often run contrary to the policy objectives of our governor, who once again is advocating for bigger government and using more of your hard-earned tax dollars on wasteful government programs. Just like we have seen from our president at the federal level, this unchecked growth of government stifles freedom, creativity and productivity.

As Republicans, we will continue to work to keep government out of your lives, and out of your way, as you work to make your dreams come true. That goal starts within our system of education, where we must bring the key players to the table so that we can have an honest discussion about the things we can do to prepare our young people. It’s imperative that we break down the silos that put each faction in the education system on a different page and focuses their attention on something other than the best interests of students. And it’s crucial that we acknowledge the answer to our problems isn’t simply a matter of more funding.

As I stand here today, Missouri has made a record investment in our system of education, more than $5.8 billion in funding for our K-12 public schools. And even with this funding mark that is higher than any other in the history of our state, there are the 62,000 young people who are stuck going to school in a district, which is not fully accredited. These 62,000 children don’t care about record levels of funding, or the talking points of elected officials. These 62,000 children don’t care about the bickering or power struggles, which all too often consume our educational system. These 62,000 children are being cheated out of the opportunity they need in order to be successful in life when all they want is an education that will give them a chance to fulfill their vast potential and live the American dream. That is why we must fix this system that is meant to prepare our children for future success. We must use all the tools we have as legislators to meet this obligation.

The general assembly will pass a bill, which provides immediate options to those trapped in failing districts. We must further expand their educational opportunities by providing more choice in the form of additional charter schools and we must take advantage of the technologies of the 21st century by providing virtual schools that will give our young people another vital option to obtain a quality education. These are ideas meant to not only help our failing schools but also to make the opportunity of education more accessible and more effective for every student in our state.

I call on the Governor to work with us to put politics and the education bureaucracy aside and instead put the focus where it belongs - on our children. So that we can help them now and not sentence another generation of students to failed schools. Beyond K-12, we must create a work force that is prepared to succeed in the jobs of today. Right now, we have a disconnect between our job creators and our institutions of higher learning. There are thousands of jobs available right now in this state that go unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, especially in the areas of science and technology. At the same time we see thousands of young people graduate each year from our colleges and universities who are unable to find employment.

With increased funding, comes increased responsibility and accountability. As a state we need to improve the communication between our states employers and our institutions of higher education. This gap can be bridged by building partnerships and breaking down silos that will give current and potential employers the qualified work force they need, while also giving our young people the proper training to obtain good-paying jobs that exist today and will allow our most talented to remain in this state.

Next, we must continue our commitment to reforming our system of welfare so that it empowers people to find opportunity, rather than entrap them in an endless cycle of dependency. That means working toward a welfare system that will keep people out of permanent poverty by putting them on the path toward stable employment in a job with family-supporting wages and benefits. However, even with the reforms we have been able to put in place in recent years we have to acknowledge that Missouri’s welfare system continues to be one of the most inefficient in the nation.

When you look at the percentage of welfare recipients who are either working or engaged in training or schooling that will position them for employment, that number is a disappointing 13.5 percent. It’s a figure that ranks Missouri dead last among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It’s a figure that means we are failing tens of thousands of Missourians by giving them more of an incentive to live off of taxpayer dollars and less of an incentive to take the steps that will lead to steady work and true economic independence. It is a failure of government that we must work to end now.

Our goal is to make sure welfare is working in its proper role as a safety net for those who truly need help by removing those who are capable of earning a living wage on their own. By ensuring only our most vulnerable citizens are part of the program, we can then reinvest the dollars we save to further reform the system so that it works as intended, by helping those who are trying to help themselves. As President Ronald Reagan wisely told us, “We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.” That should be our goal as we work to reform our system.

Finally, we must focus our efforts on the things we can do as a legislature to support and encourage entrepreneurship and investment in our small businesses so that they can grow and prosper. I’m a firm believer that government’s role isn’t to produce economic development but it is our duty to create the kind of level playing field that will allow employers and workers to succeed if they work hard enough. We have seen how successful we can be when we work together toward this end. As part of our efforts to pave the way for job creation here in Missouri, this Republican-led General Assembly has worked together time and time again to create an environment that is attractive to employers.

Our efforts have resulted in 2,000 new aerospace jobs in the St. Louis area and hundreds of millions in capital investment by Boeing. On the other side of the state, we have seen Ford create some 4,000 new jobs and make a more than $1 billion investment in its assembly plant near Kansas City. These are the kinds of opportunities we have been successful in bringing to our state by creating an environment that is conducive to job growth. But our work doesn’t end here. We must always be looking for ways to effectively utilize the many resources at our disposal, like agriculture.

Missouri is uniquely positioned because it sits in the middle of the largest contiguous farm land in the world, and has numerous innovative research and development institutions in our urban areas. We will work to partner our higher education institutions with our farmers and farmland to make Missouri a worldwide leader in agricultural innovation, advancement, and opportunity to feed the world in the 21st century and beyond.

Missouri can and should be a premier destination for job creators, but that won’t fully happen until we acknowledge that we are not always competitive with our neighboring states. First, Missouri has received the distinction of being the number 6 judicial hellhole in the United States driving health care providers and job creators out of the state. We must take steps as a state to strike that balance that protect the rights of the individual without creating an environment that forces job creators and professionals to flee the state for a more friendly environment. Second, Missouri has labor policies, which more closely resemble the failed and antiquated economic models of the rustbelt. We must reform our systems to allow more freedom for workers and provide a more favorable environment for new, high-tech manufacturing. Finally, many of our neighboring states have fewer, and more streamlined regulations. Moving forward, we must go down a path that keeps government out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs and stresses the importance of allowing businesses to do what they do best, create jobs and produce economic prosperity.

These are basic principles of government that we will pursue this year in your Republican-led General Assembly. Together, we will govern with the best interests of Missouri families at heart. Each decision we make will emphasize the fact we believe government is at its best when it levels the playing field and then stays out of the way so individuals and businesses can grow and prosper through hard work and initiative.

Government should be there to remove the barriers to productivity and do all it can not to become a barrier itself. That means investing in families and young people rather than an ever-growing bureaucracy. It means empowering businesses and workers rather than government. And it means empowering people, not politicians. These are simple, common sense ideas for what your government can and should be. Ideas you sent Republicans here to turn into substantive reality because we all agree a smaller, less intrusive government is best and that decisions are best left to our families and job creators.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this time with you tonight. May God bless you and your family, and may God continue to bless the great state of Missouri.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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