The 2012 General Assembly Session got under way on January 11, 2012, at 12:00 noon. Delegate David J. Toscano gave his first floor speech today as the new House Democratic Leader. Below are his comments. You may view the speech here.
“I rise today with a new role in this chamber, but not with a new perspective on politics. That perspective is grounded in 12 years of service in local government and 6 years in this chamber. It is a perspective that rests on the principle that I think all of us share — that we should represent our constituents to the best of our ability. But, it is also broader than that.
Often times, we can get too parochial in our positions down here. In my view, we should also try to represent our regions, and, perhaps even more importantly, our entire Commonwealth. We are called a Commonwealth for good reason. We are one of only four states with such a moniker and it is my hope that we will remember what the name actually means.
A Commonwealth, simply put, is a political community organized on the concept of promoting the common good. It is not organized based on ideology, narrow self-interest, or class warfare. It is organized to develop and promote – in a balanced way – the social, political, and economic ‘common’ wealth of our society. If we look at what is happening in Washington, Mr. Speaker, most of us would agree that we are at risk of losing our balance. We cannot let that happen in Virginia.
Mr. Speaker, I believe, and I hope many of us will agree, that to be a true Commonwealth, we should work to create jobs and promote economic opportunity for the broadest cross-section of the public as possible. That is what the Governor referred to in his inaugural speech, labeling Virginia as a ‘Commonwealth of Opportunity’.
Fortunately, our nation’s economy is finally showing signs of recovery. But that does not mean that our work is done. While we need to support, recognize and celebrate our many businesses which create jobs by investing, we must remember that what we do here is key to their continued success. We must remember that we help set the stage for economic activity. Our public sector builds and maintains the infrastructure – the roads, the rail, the schools, the public amenities – that businesses consider as they decide whether to expand or even come to Virginia. And our government creates jobs in the form of teachers, firefighters, and police to support that infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, we can have the lowest tax burden in the country, but businesses will not invest or expand unless they can get their goods to market. And we can have the fewest regulations in the country, but businesses will not invest OR expand unless they have a quality labor force and know that our educational system will continue to provide the workers of the 21st century. Make no mistake — with the decisions we make in this chamber, we all become ‘job creators’ in the truest sense of the word.
Mr. Speaker, to be a true Commonwealth, we will need to invest in educating our children and our citizens, whether it be through Pre-K, K-12, or higher education. It is very difficult to out-compete the Chinese in traditional manufacturing these days – their wages are simply too low. But we can out-compete them in terms of our mindpower, and America has shown its strength in doing that over the years. The key to maintaining our critical edge in that area is education, and we neglect it at our peril. It is for that reason that those of us on this side of the aisle will be fighting hard to expand funding for education at all levels, and we hope that our friends on the other side of the aisle will join us in that effort.
Mr. Speaker, we also cannot have a Commonwealth without being fiscally responsible, honoring our promises, and sharing our challenges.
That is why those of us on this side of the aisle are committed to restoring the VRS to full solvency and to maintaining a balanced approach in our budgeting process.
We hope our friends on the other side of the aisle will join us in these efforts.
Mr. Speaker, building a Commonwealth also requires focusing on the future – embracing the innovation and the science that will help us compete in the 21st century. That is why many of us on this side of the aisle will continue to support our scientific research and our institutions of higher learning. Historically, the United States has educated more students, educated them better, and utilized our research capabilities and technological innovation to drive economic growth. Supporting scientific inquiry and scientific results has never been uniquely democratic nor republican, and we hope to keep it that way.
And, finally, Mr. Speaker, building a Commonwealth means protecting those most in need. Whether they are citizens who seek nursing home care at reasonable costs, or workers who are thrown out of work through no fault of their own, we have an obligation to assist those in need. That does not mean that government must always provide the service, but it does mean that government needs to catalyze the effort.
During this session, our side of the aisle will serve the role of the ‘loyal opposition’, to tell, as Paul Harvey used to say, ‘the rest of the story’. We will probe, prod, engage, and embrace, as Jefferson said, ‘the noblest purposes of debate.’ We will do this not out of a desire to embarrass, humiliate, or surprise, but out of a search for the truth that leads to good public policy. So, let us debate, raise critical questions, find common ground where it is present, and advance the progress of our citizens.
Mr. Speaker, some people say that America’s best days are behind it. They decry a lack of civility and are pessimistic about our courage to change. And while we have had our moments of incivility in this chamber, I remain, as too should all members of this chamber, genuinely optimistic about our ability to work together and bring results – oriented change in a balanced fashion – so that we may build a genuine Commonwealth of Virginia.”