Gov. John Carney promises racial justice, better future for Delaware in inaugural address

Sarah Gamard Via Delaware News Journal

During his inauguration address on Tuesday, Gov. John Carney recognized the sacrifices that the state has made during the pandemic and promised to respond to the call for racial justice and fulfill promises put on hold last year due to the virus.

Carney cited the protests that erupted over the summer in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In June, lawmakers responded to the protests with an eight-item list of law changes and study groups to address racial injustice and police accountability.

"Of all the lessons this year has taught us, perhaps the most important had nothing to do with the pandemic," Carney said. "We cannot continue to ignore the injustices faced by our brothers and sisters of color. We cannot return to the old normal, even to the normal of just last year."

During the 30-minute broadcast ceremony that was held virtually, Carney and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long addressed the toll that the pandemic has taken on the state while also promising that the state will bounce back. The officials also urged people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 this year.

"Getting vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do this year to help protect yourself, your loved ones and our state," Hall-Long said.

The state is still in the early phases of the vaccine rollout, with health care workers, long term care workers and long term care residents being the first in line. The state recently began vaccinating the next group, which is people over age 65 and front-line essential workers such as police and teachers.

During the inaugural speech, Carney cited promises he made last January that had been postponed due to budget constraints last year, which he said he will still fulfill. That includes the "largest infrastructure program" in state history, as well as investing tens of millions of dollars in clean drinking water infrastructure and building a new school on the east side of Wilmington.

Carney also promised to help businesses recover if they have been hard-hit by the pandemic, and reminded the state that he has kept the promise he made four years ago to keep the state's finances stable.

Carney's fiscal strategy for the last four years has been to avoid long-term spending increases while also putting revenue surpluses away in savings for less fortunate years. That proved useful last year when the state was able to dip into those coffers to avoid drastic cuts.

"Unlike so many states around the country, Delaware is not facing a budget challenge this year," Carney said, adding that it gives the state a better opportunity to rebuild after the pandemic.

Carney will unveil his proposed budget for next fiscal year to lawmakers later this month.

During his speech, Carney said multiple times that the state will "build back better" from the pandemic, echoing the slogan used by President-Elect Joe Biden one day before his own inauguration in Washington, D.C.

The virtual ceremony included filmed testimonies from Delaware residents about the sacrifices they've made during the pandemic and how they stayed resilient. Business representatives also offered testimony praising Delaware's resources and low barriers allowing them to grow.

The ceremony also included comments from educators about the benefits of the $75-million-per-year "Opportunity Fund" for low-income students and English language learners in public schools, which was one of Carney's biggest priorities during his first term and something he hopes to continue during his next term.

Hall-Long, who is chair of the Behavioral Health Consortium, said the state is still committed to curbing the substance abuse epidemic.

During her speech, she said that social isolation during the pandemic has made it even more difficult for people in recovery, as well as those suffering with behavioral health challenges or substance use disorders. She took a moment during the swearing in to remember those who lost their lives to substance abuse and offer condolences to their families.

The ceremony comes more than 10 months after the COVID-19 first came to the state, leading to a spring of closed businesses, limited daily life and economic turmoil under Carney's state of emergency orders that were put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus and prevent deaths. In November, Carney won re-election against a Republican opponent who promised to do away with his restrictions that have required unprecedented financial and emotional sacrifices from people across the state.

During his speech, Carney tipped his hat to medical workers and National Guard troops for treating and testing people across the state, along with essential workers like child care providers and officers who went to work every day despite the risk of the virus. He also praised residents who got tested and sacrificed something during the pandemic to keep people safe, from a sports game to a classroom.

"While an inaugural address normally lays out what the next four years will look like, this last year has made crystal clear that none of us knows what the future holds," Carney said. "But regardless of what lies ahead, I promise to continue working hard every single day to support the causes you care about, to fight for what’s important to you and to make life better for every single Delawarean."

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