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Matt Blunt sworn-in as Missouri's new governor.

January 10, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Matt Blunt was sworn in Monday as Missouri's new governor and pledged to answer what he called a mandate for change by improving education, trimming government programs and bridging the divide between the two parties.

Blunt is Missouri's first Republican governor in more than a decade and the first to pair up with a Republican-controlled Legislature in more than 80 years.

"It will be my great purpose to lead Missouri in a new direction," Blunt said. "I promised change in our state capital. Missourians mandated change in both the tone and priorities of our state government.

"Over the next four years, we will be bold. We will be willing to experiment. We will not fear failure," Blunt told a crowd gathered under a gray sky at the south steps of the Capitol. Raindrops began falling near the end of his brief speech.

Blunt did not take the opportunity to discuss any specific policy plans. Instead he laid out a series of priorities for his administration similar to those he voiced during his campaign.

Blunt promised to meet the educational needs of every Missourian and hinted that he would cut the size and spending of state government.

"Government is not the author of progress, nor the first source of wisdom, nor the creator of our freedom, nor the wellspring of the values of faith, family and freedom that make America the greatest nation on Earth," Blunt said. "Government is the people's tool. It should be the servant, not the master."

Blunt also invoked America's founders in a call for his fellow lawmakers to put aside their differences and work together.

"We must transcend partisan division," Blunt said. "We must meet Jefferson's standard for enlightened government. We can no longer drift from the vision embraced by the Founders and our Constitution."

At the age of 34 years and two months, Blunt becomes the youngest current governor in America according to records provided by the National Governors Association. He is also the second youngest governor in Missouri's history. Only Republican Kit Bond was younger. Bond, now a U.S. Senator, was 33 years and 10 months old when he became governor in 1973. On Thursday, Bond served as the grand marshal in the inaugural parade.

In an exclusive interview with St. Louis radio station KMOX, outgoing Gov. Bob Holden said he wished Blunt well facing the problems before the state. But he added that it was time for action.

"Now the words have been spoken. It's time to see the deeds," said Holden, a Democrat. "We have to make sure that government is efficient but it also has to be focused on being effective in those vital interests that I think we all share."

Still reeling from a election that pushed their party even further from the levers of power, the mood in the Democratic quarters of the Capital struck a somber note when compared to the party atmosphere brimming in Republican offices.

The Senate minority leader, Maida Coleman of St. Louis, said she was optimistic about the prospect of working with Blunt. However, she said she remains skeptical that his administration will work in the best interest of all Missourians.

"There were no surprises in the speech," Coleman said. "I think it was a message to those who feel corporations should reap the benefits and not the people."

Coleman also criticized Blunt's choice to label his 2.9 percent election victory over State Auditor Claire McCaskill as a mandate from voters and questioned if someone of Blunt's age was prepared for such an important office.

"Was it a mandate? No. The agenda is not a mandate," Coleman said. "He was sent here because the majority rules."

"I look at my 33 year old son and I think, okay, I don't think he's the type of person who should be governing this state," Coleman said. "But if Matt Blunt can do it, more power to him."

The Democratic leadership has yet to meet with Blunt, according to House Minority Leader Jeff Harris. The Columbia representative said he was looking forward to finding out more about Blunt's plans during the annual State of the State address.

The inauguration ceremony began at 11:30 a.m. with the national anthem and a public prayer. Blunt, Holden and their wives were the last to walk down the statehouse steps to the platform. Blunt and Holden shook hands at the top of the stairs before descending.

Blunt was sworn-in using two Bibles. One he said he reads every day and the other he plans to give as a gift to his son. His wife, Melanie, is expecting their first child in March.

The day began with a prayer service at the James River Assembly of God in Ozark, followed by a parade through the streets of Jefferson City.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder were also sworn-in to office. Carnahan takes over the position vacated by Blunt and becomes the highest-ranking Democrat in the state.

Also in attendance was McCaskill and John Ashcroft, a former Missouri Governor who recently resigned his post as U.S. Attorney General.

An open house was held at the Governor's Mansion from 2 to 4. The night was capped off by the inaugural ball in the rotunda at 8.

Blunt's inaugural committee said they expect to spend less that $250,000 on Monday's festivities, one-quarter of the $1 million spent by Holden on a lavish party four years ago. That figure does not include the price of security and other services provided by the state.