Two years from today, should we be privileged to meet here again, my hope is that we meet here as friends. My hope is that we will be thanking each other. For sharing ideas. For working together. For putting Maine first.

With that future in mind, I am honored to serve as the 115th President of the Maine State Senate.

With so many people to thank, deserving friends and colleagues, I’d like to begin by thanking my family. My mother and father, Joan and Bill. My wife Rachael and our one-year old son, Jacoby. My in-laws, Deena and Jack.

And to all the families and friends able to join us today… Your love and support sustain us, your patience and sacrifice are a constant inspiration.

To my good friend, the Senator from Sagadhoc, Senator Goodall, I am honored by your kind remarks and continued support. Four years ago Senator Goodall and I were seat-mates when we first joined this body. We learned the ropes together, and now we have the opportunity to lead together.

To my dear friend, the good Senator from Cumberland, Senator Haskell, I thank you for your kind words, your support and guidance – I know we both share a deep and abiding love of Maine.

To the good Senator from Aroostook, Senator Jackson – Action Jackson as we call him in our caucus – your experience in the legislature, coupled with your career in forestry, bring invaluable perspective to the Senate leadership.

I thank the good Senator from Waldo, Senator Thibodeau. I know first-hand the challenges and opportunities of serving in the minority – and I look forward to working together.

I acknowledge my good friend, the Senator from Kennebec, Senator Katz. As the former Mayor of Augusta, and with your two years of experience serving on Appropriations, you bring immeasurable experience to our task.

I am honored that Governor Paul LePage joined us today. Governor, We stand ready to work with you . Maine needs us to all work together.

I also wish to extend a warm welcome to all of our Senators, both new and returning members. All of Maine is represented in this chamber.

We have a carpenter and a doctor, a realtor and a firefighter, a logger and a mill worker. We have lawyers, business owners, and more. Together, we embody the best of Maine.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my predecessor, the Honorable Kevin Raye. It wasn’t always easy, serving in the minority. But under Kevin’s leadership, it was always equitable – he gave every point of view a fair chance to be heard.

Senator Raye understands that a leader does more than stand by his party. A leader brings factions together, and helps broker the compromise that makes law-making possible. For your accommodating perspective, Kevin, my sincere gratitude.

There’s a footnote to this thank you, by the way, that goes back a generation to a second grade classroom at Eastport Primary School. My mother, Joni, was a student in that class, and Kevin’s mother, Frances, was her teacher.

Frances loved teaching second grade she told me – because that’s when children learn to take off their own coats and boots. By now we’ve also learned to roll up our sleeves.

A community, somebody once said, is people who know the same stories. Just as Kevin and I share an unexpected link through our mothers, everyone here shares a reservoir of stories and memories that connect us to Maine.

The flood of ’87, the ice storm of ‘98.

Seth Wescott and Joanie Benoit winning gold.

Ten year-old Samantha Smith, our ambassador of peace and goodwill to the Soviet Union.

The leaves turning red in October ‘04 with the Red Sox at long last winning it all.

Above and beyond personalities and politics, it is our love of this state that unites us – and calls us to serve.

Some say Maine is a divided state. And there are those who want to divide us. Divide us by age or by gender. Divide us by geography, or by how we make our living.

And of course there will always be those who define and divide us by what we believe – and to what we belong. The polarizing voices, all too often the loudest in the room, that try to tell us what to fear and whom to blame.

Even as we meet here today, there are those on both sides spoiling for a fight, and expecting the worst – a showdown in Augusta between the Blaine House and the legislature.

I say – let’s disappoint them.

Let’s show the people of Maine what can happen when we seek common ground. As we did when Governor LePage and then Representative Cain stood by women in the fight against domestic violence.

Let’s show the people of Maine what can happen when we listen to both sides of an argument, and care about all sides of an issue. As we did last session when we adopted standards-based education throughout Maine.

Let’s show the people of Maine what can happen when we work together. As with the many examples, in this turbulent economy, of workers and management coming together to keep the lights on and keep people working.

Keeping the jobs we have, creating the jobs we need. No issue is more urgent than economic security, and nowhere are Mainers relying on us more to work together.

Our first order of business? Rebuilding Maine’s middle class by getting people back to work. At good-paying jobs with promising futures – more than a life lived from paycheck to paycheck.

We have a mandate. Let’s begin by developing a blueprint for job growth, region by region. We need to connect the dots between industry, education, and the future of small business in downtown Maine.

We need to analyze current jobs to identify future jobs, and teach the skills required to fill those jobs.

Why should any Maine business ever have to look elsewhere for qualified workers? And why should any Mainer ever have to leave the state they love to find the job they want?

By closing the education gap in our workforce, we put Maine business in a position to succeed. And by adding strength to strength, we put Maine government in a position to use all of our economic tools – research and development, bonding initiatives, partnerships with the private sector – to optimize job growth in the 21st century.

You see, economic security is not a partisan issue. We all pay bills, buy groceries, seek shelter in a storm.

And as elected representatives, we share something else in common. In a state that’s like one big small town, we’ve all met with thousands of our constituents – at their homes, in line at the market, here in the state house.

And what do they all tell us? They tell us that they’re tired of the gridlock. Fed up with party politics. They tell us to reassess our priorities – and to start by putting their interests first.

Education, healthcare, energy, the economy. The issues haven’t changed in two hundred years. What changes is us – this 126th Maine State Senate – and how we choose to interact.

We won’t always agree, but why let our differences divide us? An honest debate is the crux of democracy – it can only make us stronger. “Labels,” as Ed Muskie liked to say, “are for jam jars.” What matters is substance.

So as we take off our own coats, and roll up our sleeves, imagine looking back at this moment two years from today. What did we accomplish? And whom did we serve?

To those voices telling us we are destined to clash, I offer these words in reply. To quote John F. Kennedy:

Let geography make us neighbors.
Let history make us friends.
Let economics make us partners.
And let necessity make us allies.

Coming together today is a start. An invitation to listen. To collaborate. To ask the selfless questions.

And it is a mandate: to answer the call to public service by putting Maine and her people first.

With that future in mind, let’s get to work. Together.