Monday, July 23, 2012

Peter S. Cooke for Governor: Bringing Pioneer Values Alive Today

One hundred and sixty five years ago tomorrow, Brigham Young sat up in his wagon at this very spot and declared his famous words – “This is the Place.” 

This place looks a lot of different today than it did to Brigham Young.   Thanks to our pioneer mothers and fathers the desert has blossomed as a rose.

As these pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley, and settled this whole state, they set to work.
They tilled the soil, planted grain and harvested the crops.  They built houses and churches and social halls.  They started what each generation is now tasked to finish – the transformation of this state into the best place to live.

Not only did those pioneers leave us this great land we now live in, they also gave us something even more important.  They left us their values.  What are those pioneer values they wanted us to have?

One is hard work.  It took hard work to pull a handcart across a thousand miles of plains and desert and mountains.  It took hard work to break the ground, plant the crops, milk the cows, mend the fences, and so on.

Another value was personal responsibility.   They didn’t wait for someone else to plow those fields, dig those irrigation ditches, or harvest those crops.   They did it.    They took responsibility for doing it.  They knew that building this great state was their responsibility, nobody else’s.

Another value was family.   Sometimes we forget that pioneers usually came here as families – husbands, wives, children.   Many of them didn’t make it.  They grieved over those losses as they buried their dead, wiped away their tears, and moved on.  They never forgot those spouses or children they left on the plains.  They worked together as families to settle this land.  Women, men, children.  They all had their chores to build the family business or run the family farm.

Still another value was the importance of the community.   The pioneers came together across the plains.  These weren’t individual mountain men or prospectors out on their own.  They came together because they planned to work together in this promised land to make a better tomorrow for themselves and their children.  Community – they understood what that meant.

And, finally, service.   They served each other by helping each other survive in a new land.  They helped build each other’s houses, planted each other’s crops, harvested together, and worked together to build communities for all.  They knew what they were doing.  They knew they were building communities not just for themselves or their families, but for generations in the future. 

I mention these pioneer values because at this time of the year, particularly, we need to remember what the pioneers have given us.  And we should take a moment to examine ourselves to see whether we are maintaining the values they gave us and whether we are passing them on to our children.

I want to focus specifically on the value of service.   Are we doing enough to foster service in our communities?  Are we doing the job we should to teach our children the importance of service?

Some recent trends make me wonder.

One basic service we all can give to the community is to vote.  Yet, Utah’s voter participation has dropped to disturbing lows.  In 1968, Utah had the highest voter turnout in the nation.  Today, we are near the bottom.

Also we’re not volunteering as much as we used to.  Volunteerism is dropping nationally, but also in Utah.  The percentage of Utah residents who volunteer has dropped from 50 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2010.  That is a faster rate of decline than exists nationally – 29 percent to 26 percent – over the same time period.

These are worrisome statistics.  That’s why I’ve come here to introduce new policy initiatives to turn this around. 

Recognition of Exemplary Service

One is the importance of recognizing those who serve.

I want to recognize individuals and businesses who promote community service.  I will do that through two awards.

One will be the Governor’s Innovative Community Service Award.  It will go to Utah businesses who innovate in community service projects within the state.  By recognizing these businesses, I will be encouraging Utah businesses to find new and creative ways to use their resources to serve their local communities.

I also will create a Governor’s Exemplary Community Service Award for individuals.   This will not be a Lt. Governor’s award like the current administration does.  It will be a Governor’s award. 
This award will recognize at least one individual in each county of the state who has been nominated by their fellow citizens as an exemplary citizen performing community service. 
It’s time we do that as well. 

Instilling the Values of Service

Another goal of mine as governor will be to emphasize instilling values of service into our young people.  Our high school students need to understand why involvement in the community and service to others is so important.  They also need to be taught how to make a difference in their communities so they feel confident in becoming involved.

To accomplish this objective, I will propose the Office of Education add a civics course requirement to the state high school curriculum.  This course will help high school students understand the importance of involvement and service, as well as be taught how to become involved in their communities to make a difference.  Right now this material is a small part of a U.S. government course.  It should receive much more emphasis.

Providing Opportunities for Service

I will make another recommendation for our high school curriculum.  I will urge all school districts across the state to create service learning programs and give graduation credit for participation in these programs.

Along those lines, I want to help college students gain real experience in community service.  That’s why I will initiate a Utah Service Corps.   This corps would be open to any Utah resident who is a college graduate.    After graduation from college, students would be placed as volunteers in schools, hospitals or clinics, non-profit organizations, or local government agencies for up to two years.  Whether they are accountants, engineers, or journalists, they would gain experience in working in behalf of the community.  This initial experience should put help them appreciate the value of community involvement and place them on a path of community involvement they will continue on throughout their lives.

In return for their service, they would earn credits towards payments on their student loans by a Utah Service Corps fund.

Where would this fund come from? Not the taxpayers.  Businesses and individuals would be recruited to be pioneers in helping promote volunteerism by donating to this fund.

These are initiatives I will undertake as governor to instill the pioneer value of service into 21st century Utah.   It’s time to exhibit the pioneer spirit of service today.  It’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel.

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