Tomblin sworn in; emphasizes education reform
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sworn in to his first full four-year term Monday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin reiterated his pledge to "put West Virginia first" during a 17-minute inaugural address that emphasized public education reform.
"If our children are to succeed, they must have a world-class education, and must grow up in a community free from the temptations and problems associated with substance abuse," he told a crowd at the south steps of the Capitol.
"Per capita, our education funding ranks among the best in the nation. But on our most important metric -- student achievement -- we're falling behind," Tomblin said. "It doesn't need to be this way -- and it must stop."
Outlining what is expected to be the cornerstone of his 2013 legislative agenda, Tomblin said reforms must include ensuring that by the third grade, children have mastered the key building blocks for learning; to provide vocational training to meet the needs of today's workplace, to ensure that teachers have the classroom resources they need, and to guarantee that students receive the instructional time they need to excel.
"That means making sure our school systems have the ability to be innovative, and that means making sure parents become more responsible for their children and their learning," Tomblin said. "It won't happen overnight -- but we must give our students a better chance."
Tomblin devoted nearly one-fourth of his address to education reform. By contrast, the only other initiative addressed in the speech -- continuing to improve the state's job climate -- was covered in a single paragraph.
However, that issue drew the loudest applause of the speech, when Tomblin stated, "Unfortunately for me, that means in many instances fighting the federal government to get off our backs and leave us alone."
During his tenure as governor, Tomblin has frequently been critical of federal regulations that he believes are overly burdensome for the coal industry.
Afterward, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he is awaiting to hear specifics of the governor's education reforms, which likely will be in the State of the State address in about a month.
Lee said it is not clear whether Tomblin will propose real reform of the educational system or will "dance around the edges."
"Teachers want reform, but they want reform that is fair," Lee said.
Although re-elected governor in November, Monday's inaugural address was the third such speech Tomblin has given in the past 26 months.
He gave an investiture address in November 2010, after becoming the acting governor by virtue of his position as Senate president. A year later, he gave an inaugural address, after winning a special election that October to fill the unexpired term of former Gov. Joe Manchin.
Tomblin opened the address Monday by thanking Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who announced Friday he will not seek a sixth term in the Senate, for a lifetime of service to the state.
"Sen. Rockefeller championed many efforts for our families, miners, military members and veterans, as well as laying the groundwork for some of our state's most valuable growing business relationships," said Tomblin, who stopped to shake hands with Rockefeller, seated at the podium.
Tomblin also reviewed legislative accomplishments of the past quarter-century, including efforts to privatize Workers' Compensation, reform medical malpractice laws, stabilize funding for public employees' pension systems and retiree health insurance, and to invest billions of dollars in new schools and infrastructure.
"The road we have traveled has not always been easy, but we have done it the right way -- and that is by working together with business, labor, Republicans and Democrats, to solve our problems," Tomblin said.
In addition to Tomblin, Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin administered oaths of office to three new office-holders, Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Justice Allen Loughry, as well as to incumbents Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Auditor Glen Gainer, Treasurer John Perdue, and Justice Robin Davis.
The Governor's Office provided souvenir fleece blankets to many of the several hundred spectators, a nicety but not a necessity on an overcast but (compared to past inaugurals) relatively warm 40-degree day.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.