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Upbeat Kulongoski focuses on kids

SALEM - Calling the opening of the 2007 Legislature a "great moment of opportunity for Oregon," Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Monday urged lawmakers to put aside their partisan differences and improve education and health care for Oregon's children.

Kulongoski, delivering his inaugural address to the Legislature, said Oregon has bounced back from "the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression" and is in a position to make major reinvestments in its people.

"Our economy is strong. Our confidence is renewed. Our belief in the future is redeemed," said the 66-year-old governor, who won a second term by defeating Republican contender Ron Saxton in November.

Later Monday, Kulongoski was honored during a ceremony in front of the State Capitol featuring a flyover of four F-16 jets and what was supposed to be a 19-gun salute. It ended up being an 11-shot salute after one of the Howitzer cannons malfunctioned.

"We owe the governor a few rounds," Maj. Gen. Fred Rees, who commands the Oregon National Guard, joked after the cannon malfunction.

The miscue didn't seem to faze a smiling Kulongoski. He clearly was enjoying the first official day of his second term with a Legislature now controlled by fellow Democrats and with Oregon's economy continuing to provide new revenue for the state.

In his inaugural address, which was interrupted 15 times by applause, Kulongoski said lawmakers must make it a priority to fully fund education, from pre-schools to colleges and universities, while building a reserve fund "that will shelter us from the storm of the next recession."

He also urged lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax by 84 cents a pack to give health insurance to the state's more than 100,000 uninsured children.

Noting the partisan divisions that have bogged down recent legislative sessions, Kulongoski said Democrats and Republicans must work together to take advantage of Oregon's economic revival to improve people's lives.

"Before we are members of political parties, we are Oregonians," he said.

The tone of Monday's speech was considerably different from the one Kulongoski delivered four years ago when he first took office.

At that time the state's economy had tanked - and state revenue along with it - and Kulongoski was facing a divided Legislature, with Democrats running the Senate and the House controlled by conservative Republicans.

In his January 2003 speech, the incoming governor vowed to work across party lines to tackle the state's deep economic problems.

On Monday, Kulongoski sounded very much the progressive Democrat as he urged lawmakers to take advantage of Oregon's economic rebound by funneling much of the new revenue into programs to help people - especially children.

He sounded a philosophical note as well, saying lawmakers of both parties need to work to build a brighter future for every Oregonian based on shared opportunity and shared responsibility.

"Our people know that we are each other's keeper, and that we have a shared responsibility to look out for our neighbors, to teach tolerance, to be good stewards of the environment, and to do in President Lincoln's words 'right as God gives us to see the right,' " Kulongoski said.