CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin started his only four-year term Monday by pledging to give West Virginia schoolchildren a better chance in life.
Tomblin has served in some capacity as governor since November 2010, when he became acting governor. He won a one-year term in 2011 and a full four-year term last fall.
Tomblin was one of eight statewide officials to take oaths at 1 p.m., though each formally assumed their titles at midnight. For the first time in 80 years, one of them was a Republican attorney general -- Patrick Morrisey, who defeated long-time incumbent Darrell McGraw.
Newcomers Walt Helmick, a former Democratic state senator, became the state agriculture commissioner, and Republican Allen Loughry joined the five-member state Supreme Court.
Justice Robin Davis, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Treasurer John Perdue and Auditor Glen Gainer, all incumbent Democrats, began new terms. State Chief Justice Brent Benjamin administered the oaths office over various bibles of sentimental value to the oath takers.
Tomblin's speech was thin on specifics, something he may be saving for his State of the State Address next month to the Legislature. But the governor did preview a widely expected attempt to overhaul the state's education system.
"We have hard-working teachers," Tomblin said. "Per capita, our education funding ranks among then nation's best. But on our most important metric -- student achievement -- we're falling behind."
Tomblin said the key to the state's success is making sure children are prepared for this century's economy.
"That means focusing to ensure our youngest get started out on the right track, with meaningful programs designed to make sure that, by the third grade, children have the key building blocks for a lifetime of learning," Tomblin said during a passage that may be the governor's most complete public statement on education to date.
"That means making sure our vocational training programs are responsive to the needs of today's economy. That means making sure our institutions of higher learning have programs designed to prepare our teachers to teach in today's world. That means making sure that our teachers have the support they need in the classrooms. That means making sure our students are guaranteed the instructional time they need to excel.
"That means making sure our school systems have the ability to be innovative. And that means making sure parents become more involved in their children's education and learning and stay behind them."
Tomblin, 60, remains the 35th governor of the 150-year-old state of West Virginia.
As he has in the past, Tomblin talked about the work officials have done over the past three decades to shore up the state's once-shaky finances, including saving up a massive "rainy day" fund, and improving the state's infrastructure. Challenges remain, including a few hundred million dollars in budget shortfalls in coming years and an aging road system, which Tomblin did not mention.
Tomblin's speech also touched on old themes like putting "West Virginia first" and standing up to federal environmental regulators on behalf of the coal industry.
But he also conceded systemic problems, like education.
"Now, make no mistake, I remain concerned for our future," Tomblin said. "All of our hard work will be for nothing if jobs are not available and if our children are not prepared to thrive and be productive citizens in our workforce."
Among the problems are the state's rampant substance abuse problems.
He mentioned the recent shooting of 20 children at an elementary school but suggested no policy changes that might prevent such a thing from occurring again.
Despite sitting in the Governor's Office for two years now, Tomblin has always worn an uneasy crown.
First, he was an un-elected "acting governor" by virtue of being state Senate president when Joe Manchin left the Governor's Office for the U.S. Senate in November 2010.
In spring 2011, Tomblin had to fend off other prominent Democrats to win his party's nomination. Then, he faced Republican Bill Maloney in the October 2011 special election for a one-year term.
After only narrowly beating Maloney last fall, Tomblin had to face him all over again. The back-to-back face offs, which amounted to one 17-month-long political marathon, were nearly identical in tone and substance, which often seemed slim. Tomblin again won.
All told, this meant two years of Tomblin in charge but always under the threat of defeat.
Tomblin was first elected to represent Logan County in the state House of Delegates in 1974 while he still was studying business at West Virginia University.
In 1980, he won a seat in the Senate. He was immediately in leadership. By 1995, he was elected Senate president, a post he held longer than anyone in state history.
Charleston lawyer Tom Heywood, who has led the Tomblin campaign steering committee, was the master of ceremonies Monday, as he was at Tomblin's inagural in 2011. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, former Sen. Carte Goodwin and Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and Nick Rahall all attended the ceremony. Former Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise were also in the crowd.
Tomblin paid tribute in his remarks to Rockefeller, who announced Friday he would not seek a sixth Senate term. Republican Capito declared in late November she would seek his Senate seat, now Democrats like Goodwin and Rahall are among the candidates who will also seek to replace Rockefeller, a former two-term governor himself.