As Gov. Matt Blunt stood on the Capitol steps taking the oath of office to become Missouri’s 54th governor Monday, Columbia resident Pat Tull couldn’t help but notice Blunt’s youth.
“He talked a lot of about the future,” said Tull, 76, “Well, he is pretty young and I am pretty old, so we will have to see if all that vim and vigor he has will make him successful.”
The governor’s wife, Melanie Blunt, stood by as he was sworn in by Missouri Supreme Court Justice Stephen Limbaugh.
Blunt took his oath of office on two Bibles held by his wife. One was his personal Bible. The other, he said, he plans to give to his son, who is due to be born in March.
“I’m grateful for the confidence you have placed in me,” Blunt told the crowd. “It will be my purpose to lead Missouri in a new direction.”
Higher education and education funding for Missouri’s public schools topped the list of priorities for Blunt, 34, in his first speech as governor before a crowd of nearly 4,500.
With state and national politicians in attendance — including his father U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield — the governor said fixing education problems in this state is something that transcends party lines.
“Missouri’s constitution declares that education must be our first commitment,” Blunt said. “Even if we were not legally bound, we would be morally bound to serve the children of our state and the families who have placed their confidence in us.”
Blunt also highlighted his plans to eliminate government programs that he considered a waste of taxpayer money. He said many of these programs, which he has not yet identified, could be replaced or improved through technology advancements or reorganization within the Capitol.
“Taxpayers deserve a government that harnesses technology to better serve the people,” he said. “It is within in our capacity to provide smaller, more responsible government.”
Continuing the theme of cooperation that both Democrats and Republicans have been echoing for the past week, Blunt once again said he was committed to working with both parties to accomplish his goals.
Departing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said after the inauguration that he was impressed with Blunt’s resolve to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. Ashcroft, Missouri’s 50th governor, said the state is in a position to get a lot of things accomplished.
“I don’t think you can ever make the House and the Senate work for you,” Ashcroft told reporters after the ceremony. “But Gov. Blunt has given a strong indication that he is more willing to work more with the legislature to get things done.”
Blunt’s inauguration marks the first time since 1922 that the Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. For Jefferson City resident, Tom Kolb, this is just the kind of start the state needed.
“We have been waiting for this day for 13 years,” Kolb said.
However, while emphasizing cooperation between the two parties, Democrats are still taking a more cautious approach in how they work with the new governor.
Columbia Rep. Jeff Harris, the Democratic minority leader, said he was waiting until the State of the State address on Jan. 28 to see what it is exactly that Blunt will do as he tries to reach his campaign goals and those goals he spoke about in his address.
Harris also said Democratic leaders would sit down with Blunt in the coming weeks to speak at length about the two parties continuing to work together, especially concerning education.
In his first official duty, Blunt selected Fred Ferrell, a farmer from southeast Missouri, as the state’s new agriculture director.
Also sworn in Monday were Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.