As I reflect back, I am reminded of what I said as I stood before this body in January of 2006, having just been elected Speaker of the House for the first time.
I referred to a speech written by President John F. Kennedy, quoting the phrase: "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
What I recognized as wise words at the time, I now know to be an absolute truth.
Every single day has been a learning experience. And I have each and every member who I have served with to thank for that.
In fact, I have come to realize that the term "leadership" can be quite deceptive.
Each piece of legislation is unique, and as it makes its journey through the complex legislative process - every step of the way, at any given moment - there is inevitably an individual member who I look to....To take the lead.
I have found an essential part of being Speaker of the House is recognizing the experience and passion that each of you bring to the table - and when an issue arises that peaks your interest, touches the specific needs of your constituents - relying on your leadership to guide me.
From the very beginning, I have urged principle above partisanship
.. Ethics above opportunity
.. Putting the people's interests above the special interests.
I have found my open-door policy to be extremely rewarding and the free and open debate refreshing and productive.
Of course I owe a lot to each and every member who took the lead and worked tirelessly to maintain an open, inclusive process.
I need every member's input and I can't tell you how much I have valued it over the years.
I also believe that now, more than ever, it is essential that we continue to work together, to stand together.
We must be pragmatic in dealing with the challenges our state faces, working with all our colleagues, on both sides of the aisle.
We are united in a desire to improve this state and work toward a better future.
This isn't Washington, thank goodness. We know West Virginians don't want gridlock; they want progress.
Voting "no" at every turn – or pushing off earnest attempts at real solutions, until we reach the edge of a "cliff" in order to avoid difficult votes – will not work.
West Virginians cannot afford, and should not tolerate, losing ground to political gamesmanship by either party.
Let us dedicate our energy to meaningful measures that bring positive change.
In fact, let's pause for a moment to reflect on some of this Legislature's accomplishments
But after reflecting on what we have done, I believe there is so much more we can do...
In preparation for the session, I have appointed nine delegates to serve on a bipartisan panel that is delving into the Governor's Education Efficiency Audit.
The education system in West Virginia is on the brink of an overhaul, and it is important that all members of the House of Delegates are up to date and knowledgeable of what the audit recommends and what is needed to improve upon our education environment here.
I want each of you to make an informed decision, and to use this panel as a resource.
We can build common ground now and hit the ground running – to do what it takes to make the West Virginia public education system the best.
Recently, I made the decision to elevate the House of Delegates Health Committee to a major committee to address West Virginians' many health concerns.
I know we all want to improve health care accessability and affordability, in particular for our growing senior population.
We can continue our fight to make our mines safer and keep our miners safe.
Even one death, such as the recent tragedy in Harrison County, is one too many.
We have to continually stretch our tax dollars.
As we balance the state budget and ensure the payments of our long-term debt, we can seek to better determine what tax incentives the state offers to businesses and how to accurately track their effectiveness in bringing jobs to West Virginia.
We must be careful stewards of taxpayer money, and that means taking every step to determine the costs and benefits of every piece of legislation.
Together, I know we can accomplish so much.
I am reminded yet again of the words of President Kennedy, who said at his inauguration:
"So let us begin anew, remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."
If we all move forward in that spirit, I am confident the entire House of Delegates, and the Legislature as a whole, will have a productive, very successful session.
And in the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting with each of you, learning from you .... and following your lead.