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Gov. Manchin begins 2nd term

January 19, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Expressing confidence in West Virginia's sound financial footing -- rare for states these days -- Gov. Joe Manchin began his second term Monday by asking his fellow citizens not to let the grim national economy stop the progress they've made in recent years.

The governor also repeated a commitment to more jobs, expanded health care, improved schools and West Virginia coal after he was sworn in for his new term on the snowy north steps of the state Capitol.

"We see good omens all around us," the Democrat told the crowd braving the cold January afternoon. "Signs of progress, signs of strength, and signs of new beginnings."

The state continues to lag behind much of the country in most economic categories. But income has risen and the number of jobs has grown at better-than-average pace since 2005. Unemployment also remains below the national rate, and the still-balanced state budget defies the pervasive trend among its peers.

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When adjusted for seasonal trends, the state's unemployment rate for December was 4.9 percent compared to the national rate of 7.2 percent.

"With hard workers, strong families, strong communities and the right investment, while others hunker down in the face of this economic storm, we'll be prepared to take it head on," the governor said.

Manchin touted the gradual tax cuts he's championed, and his efforts to make state government more responsive and efficient. But an energy boom has played a key part in the state's fiscal health, and he repeated his calls to keep coal in a diversified energy future.

"We have the opportunity to use coal, through a much cleaner process, to help our nation become more secure through energy independence," Manchin said. "West Virginia has the researchers with the knowledge to make it happen."

He also invoked the role the state's people and resources played in the Industrial Revolution and during the last century's world wars, to urge West Virginians to continue the recent momentum.

"I see a new West Virginia that once again draws people from around the world," Manchin said. "I see a new West Virginia that once again leads an energy revolution."

As one of 11 governors taking the oath nationwide, Manchin also said the state's progress will help it weather "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." He noted that "our economists tell us it may get worse before it gets better."

"We acknowledge these difficult facts; it would be foolish to deny them. But we are not discouraged by them," he said. "Four years ago, we set out on a long-term course for prosperity and growth. That journey may be rocky, but we're still on the right path."

Manchin has previously hinted at a second term focused on expanding health care coverage, strengthening schools and improving conditions for business. He's expected to outline more specific proposals for the upcoming legislative session during next month's State of the State address.

The governor took time Monday to note the November death of former Gov. Cecil Underwood, and the third anniversary of the fire that killed two miners in Logan County. Those deaths, and those of 12 more in that month's Sago Mine disaster, helped spur his administration's push for stronger mine safety and rescue rules.

"We have made progress, but we still have more to do," Manchin said. "We will not rest until we meet this sacred responsibility to our neighbors and fellow West Virginians, and most importantly, to the memory of those we lost."

Manchin, a former legislator, had been secretary of state when he was first elected governor in 2004. The wide-ranging coalition that aided his convincing win that year, with labor and business interests at either wing, remains largely intact and helped him attract nearly 70 percent of the 2008 vote.

The five other elected officials who make up the state's Board of Public Works were also sworn in Monday: Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass, Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Auditor Glen Gainer, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Treasurer John Perdue. All are Democrats, while Tennant is the sole newcomer.

Supreme Court Justices Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman also took oaths during the hourlong ceremony, though both were sworn in last month and began their terms on the bench last week.

Monday's winter weather kept several high school bands from traveling to Charleston for the inaugural parade, and likely helped keep Manchin's speech to 14 minutes. With a chilly breeze and the occasional snowflake, the number of officials and dignitaries packing the north steps appeared to rival the crowd seated below.

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