Tom Vilsack — the Democratic presidential candidate — dedicated a portion of his "Condition of the State" speech to Iraq. Vilsack urged the Democratically-controlled Iowa legislature to pass a resolution denouncing President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq. Vilsack said that would make a bad situation worse.
"I ask you to use your collective voice to pass a resolution urging our president and our congress not to make this tragic mistake for those who will unnecessarily die," Vilsack says. "this may not be part of the agenda. This may not be part of what you planned to do. But I ask you today, and throughout this general assembly, to look deep down inside your heart and yourself if you’re doing all you can do to make sure we do not make a big mistake even bigger."
Vilsack hailed his political partner of the past eight years. Vilsack says Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson has "added her voice to those who have little voice and she has stirred us to action" on issues including mental health parity, affordable housing for people with disabilities and a tour of the state to promote art and the important role it plays in our lives.
Vilsack also recognized his wife, saying Iowa’s First Lady Christie Vilsack, has helped bring books to more than 200-thousand Iowa children, visiting more than 500 libraries statewide during the past eight years. Vilsack says his wife has helped "raise the profile of all of our First Ladies and the contribution they have made to our collective history" with a new exhibit in the Governor’s Mansion, Terrace Hill.
There was also a sort of "Just Do It" message for legislators on Iowa-level issues, as Vilsack urged lawmakers to ensure every Iowa kid can attend preschool and ensure every Iowan has health insurance benefits. Vilsack also suggested it was time to get rid of teacher compensation that’s tied to longevity and instead pay teachers based on their performance.
Vilsack addressed state legislators, who just opened their new session on Monday, beginning their work as he finishes his term. Vilsack says he’s worked with many of the legislators and knows they’re dedicated and caring Iowans who hold in their hearts what’s best for the state and they’re committed to doing good work.
Vilsack says he led his family on a tour of the state capitol recently, taking them all the way to the top of the gold dome, a place he’d never been before. He says at first he focused on the gold detail of the dome but then he reflected on the work done over the past eight years and the people who’d made it happen.
Vilsack says the landscape has changed and so have the residents of the state. He says we’re more tolerant and welcoming now, with the opening of New Iowan centers to welcome people from all over the world to Iowa. Vilsack says he’s proud of the work that’s been done to protect and preserve Iowa’s waterways. He says we’ve been reversing decades of decline on our water resources and we’re more cognizant of our environment.
Vilsack says the future looks very bright for Iowa "but only if we accept the challenge and opportunity that change presents." He says Iowa’s seen much progress in making our water cleaner, but says more needs to be done with a multi-year Vision Iowa-like program for water resources.
Vilsack also urged legislators to devote more money to education, particularly to preschool programs. He says "Let universal preschool in this state be the change that allows and enables every child in our state the chance, the opportunity to start school ready to learn, able to learn and excited about learning. Let us be the first state in the union to make that unqualified guarantee to every single child."
Vilsack called on legislators to raise teachers’ salaries. He says Iowa needs to be the leader that delivers a new and improved compensation system and shows teachers they’re respected and they’ll be paid accordingly. Vilsack says legislators need to strive to do more to improve the health of Iowans, and to see that all residents have health care coverage. Vilsack wants accelerated efforts to end childhood obesity, to expand efforts to stop teen smoking and drug abuse, and lift the ban on "nuclear cell transplants."
Vilsack talked about the war in Iraq and the Iowans who have died. Vilsack linked the war to a call again for the school anti-bullying bill. Vilsack says: "Let us dedicate ourselves to making diversity, in whatever form it may come, a reason to love and not to hate. A reason to accept and not reject. A reason to celebrate and not to fight. We can start by making our schools safe for all our children by passing the anti-bullying bill. Do it for us. Do it for them, and do it now."
The governor finished with another thank-you. "I owe a thank-you to the people of Iowa for granting me a privilege that few have ever had, the opportunity to serve them as governor," Vilsack says. "While challenges clearly remain, we have built a state better prepared for what lies ahead. I have given it my all, and I have done my best. But as I leave, I am confident. I am confident that Iowa’s best is yet to come. Starting right here and starting right now. God Bless you all."
An hour before the speech, Vilsack told about two dozen reporters at the statehouse that the last eight years had not been easy, but Vilsack claimed to have moved the state forward against powerful odds.
Vilsack’s term officially ends on Friday when Governor-elect Chet Culver takes office.