What a week.
Thanks to your support and friendship over the many years, I now have the great privilege to serve as the 56th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, shortly after Noon, my colleagues in the House of Delegates unanimously elected me as their Speaker. I wanted to share with you the following remarks I delivered after being sworn in to the office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Donald W. Lemons.
Address to the Virginia House of DelegatesSpeaker Eileen Filler-Corn
~As Prepared for Delivery~
The Virginia General Assembly has been in operation for 400 years, and today we begin the 401st.
Today, we set out to accomplish the job the voters sent us here to do. And we anticipate these next 60 days will be busy and successful.
A new torch has been passed. One that ushers in a modern era, representing all Virginians, learning from our shared experiences and moving forward in our collective prosperity. A new day for our Commonwealth brings new challenges, new history to be made, and new opportunities. But some old things endure.
Like the peaceful and orderly transition from one leader to the next. That is not new. It does not happen in many parts of the world. It is an important American tradition. I want to thank Speaker Kirk Cox. Speaker Cox is the first public school teacher to serve as Speaker of the House, and I admire his commitment to bringing students into the legislative process. I appreciate his friendship and look forward to our continued work together.
I also want to thank Delegate Herring for nominating me, and also wish her congratulations! You are making history as the first woman and first African American Majority Leader. I value your continued leadership, our partnership, and most of all, your friendship.
Additionally, I want to thank Delegate Ware as well for his kind words. You work hard as a legislator, and I truly admire your career as an educator too. You have dedicated your life to public service, and I am proud to serve in the House of Delegates with you.
Congratulations to Suzette Denslow! Suzette has had a distinguished career in government, at both the state and local levels. Many of us have relied on her expertise and sound judgment over the years. Now we will rely on her in a new role. We will be fortunate to have her serve as Clerk of the House and Keeper of the Rolls. Suzette’s election will mark one more historic first on this day.
I want to acknowledge Paul Nardo. He has administered this House with skill and good humor, and he has made the business of legislating easier for all of us. Thank you, Paul.
Thank you, Rabbi Aft, for your years of friendship and guidance to me and my family. And thank you for your inspiring words when providing the invocation today.
And to my family: My wonderful husband, Bob; my fabulous children/young adults, Jeremy and Alana; my parents and my mother-in-law; and the many other family members who joined me today. I thank you for everything that matters most. I love you very much. (And if you need me any time soon, I will probably be at the Capitol!)
To my impressive colleagues in the House of Delegates, it is an incredible honor to stand beside you everyday to shape Virginia into an even better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. I look forward to working with all of you during this Session. We aren’t always going to agree on every policy and every issue that comes before us. But I’m confident that we can all agree to work together in a spirit of mutual respect, with the goal of making the Commonwealth of Virginia even stronger.
Sometimes, how we work, and how we conduct ourselves, can be just as important as what we do. I urge us all to get to know each other. To reach across the partisan aisle. I know we will find we have more things in common than we have differences. This is vitally important in today’s political environment. We were the country’s first legislature, and I strongly believe that Virginia can lead by showing the country the rewards that collaboration can bring.
We can show the next generation and the country that Virginia is a home for robust debate where we also work together and get things done in a respectful manner.
I must acknowledge the tremendous honor I feel at being the first woman Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. I know that being the first is a privilege, and it comes with responsibility that I take with great seriousness.
This session brings many firsts. We have the first women of color leading committees, and we have a historically diverse group of committee chairs and vice-chairs.
And these leaders are members of the most diverse House of Delegates in Virginia history. This House is not only diverse in terms of race or gender. The Members of this House represent a wide range of experience, thought, orientation, religion and background. We are truly a body that represents ALL the people. This is the foundation of the future we are building, one that will be more than just the labels we all represent.
It is meaningful that we represent groups that haven’t always been heard in the halls of power. We bring their experiences with us here.
Let us appreciate our differences, respect where we all come from and join together to build a new Virginia. The people elected us to do that, and they expect results.
History and the role we play in Virginia’s story have been on my mind in the weeks leading up to today. We know that Virginia’s history has many triumphant highs, from bringing democracy to this country, to maintaining the oldest continual law-making body in the Western Hemisphere. Our Commonwealth has been fallible too.
We see much history in the paintings that adorn every nook and cranny of this historic Capitol.
But that’s not all of Virginia’s history. These paintings serve as a silent and critical reminder of where we have been, and how far we have to go to reach the promise of equality on which this nation was founded—in large part by the words and the deeds of Virginians, both for good and for ill.
During this first week of our 401st year, we begin the process of taking strides to honor our history, and also to right wrongs and create a safer, more inclusive, and more prosperous Commonwealth for all of our citizens.
And one day, future leaders will look back on us. What we do here will affect the people of Virginia for generations to come. That was true for all the men in those paintings too. We have an opportunity today to reach new heights and think beyond just right now. I want to seize that opportunity.
We have so much to be proud of in our Commonwealth—from world-class colleges and universities, to our strong K-12 schools, to our amazing natural resources that shape our quality of life.
Our Commonwealth is strong, but we can’t let that be an excuse to stand still. If the voters said one thing the loudest, it was this: They demand action.
It is our responsibility to be good stewards of the assets that have made Virginia strong.
Virginia has a well-deserved reputation as an impeccably-run state legislature and government. We have had a AAA bond rating for 90 years, and we rank number one for business. And I reject the notion that a state that’s good for business must be bad for workers. A thriving state can do both, and we will.
We can do this, and at the same time grow more open and transparent for the 8.1 million Virginians that we serve.
We can be both fiscally responsible and respond to the issues important to Virginians. We can meet our promises to our constituents and also our commitment to excellent stewardship of this Commonwealth. The people demanded we act on many areas where Virginia has lagged behind.
This House WILL pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
And we WILL address discrimination in our laws.
We WILL take common sense measures to prevent gun violence and keep Virginians safe.
And, we WILL address the threat that climate change poses to our entire Commonwealth, especially our coastal communities.
In this new legislature, we will address these issues and much more. The public expects us to build a safer, more equal, more prosperous, and more inclusive Virginia. And that is exactly what we will do.
Virginia gave the nation and the world a vision of equality and democracy. As we all know, it was a Virginian who laid it out in the Declaration of Independence.
We will continue our work to make this vision a reality for everyone, no matter where you come from, the color of your skin, the language you speak, the religion you practice or not or who you love.
I look forward to seeing what heights we can attain when we all work together. I pledge to reach for a more just and prosperous future for ALL Virginians.
And to everyone in this Chamber, I pledge to be a partner, to serve with fairness, and to welcome diverse perspectives. Because the people have elected each of you to serve in this House.
Thank you for the trust you have placed in me.
I look forward to beginning the work that so many before us undertook: to promote equality, representative democracy and a true Commonwealth.