Courage for the New Year

Where are the leaders? This blog asks the same question nearly every day. Where is the Democrat who will take us from the wilderness, bring about world peace, balance the budget and make kids smart again? Where are the Republicans who will remember Everett Dirksen, care for the poor and have a weakness only for an extra martini and a restricted country club rather than rolling through another desert dictatorship?

Living in California, we know certainly that leaders are not lining up to take on the real issues that have turned this state from a beckoning eldorado into a bristling cauldron of hope. For the New Year, let's have a governor who will tell the truth and then demand that we fix the problems that impede our future. What if we had a governor of courage willing to stand up and say:

California IS the golden state. We have the brains, the work force, the blueprint for infrastructure, the wealth and the natural endowments to lead the world. But somewhere along the line we got lost. We simply cannot have our state and eat it too. Eventually, something gives. Over the last thirty years, we have gone from being number one or two in per student spending to number 47. Since 1990 alone, Los Angelenos spend not one work week but three work weeks a year stuck in traffic . Our prisons are brimming with inmates, but we cannot afford to build the new prisons current laws demand.

Fewer than 30% of us trust those who govern in Sacramento, but we don't seem to have any real idea for how to make change. The last time we faced a chance to vote directly on a bunch of ballot initiatives, we said no in a resounding voice. In fact, since 1980 or so, we have spent over $2 billion in campaigns on various ballot intiatives, but the situation in the state has gotten worse, not better.

In 1978, faced with crippling property taxes, we voted overwhelmingly to roll back property taxes. While some good was done by that allowing people to live their dream in their own house, as soon as they leave their yard they face schools that are broken, streets that aren't paved, a society they don't recognize. We keep voting on various proposals that big companies and others put on the ballots, but we still have an annual budget deficit that could choke a horse and no means in site, other than the luck of a good economy or fees, to stay solvent.

It's time to talk about the hard choices. That's what leaders do. It's time to talk about what this state can be and how get it there. We can have the best public education system in the world again, as we had in 1965. We can have an open, accessible economy that provides high wage jobs and mobility, as we did in 1970. We can be the most energy indpendent state and even build entire industries around such independence. We can maintain and strengthen the natural beauty of this state that makes us all happy to be here. We can again afford houses and not have to commute hours a day.

To do that, we have to fix on goals and then bring them to live. They will not happen through a hodgepodge initiative process that allows corporations with money or someone with a big name to buy the signatures for an initiative that then forces funds to go into specific programs, no matter how good they sound. We cannot lead if our politicians are so term limited that by the time they find the restroom, they are thining about the next election. And the lobbyists probably showed them the bathroom door becuase they are the only ones who remember where it is from term to term.

To lead, we have to be ready to lose. We have to look at the tax structure in this state and figure out how to give homeowners a fair break but make sure that businesses pay their fair share too. Right now, too often, they do not. Our governor should be willing to say that he or she will make California number 10 in per capita school spednign by yedar four is his or her terms. And he should explain what he needs in order to get that done.

He should appoint a sort of Tsar to create energy indpendence that also builds on our states strengths to fashion a sort of Manhattan Project to develop a mass production hydrogen car by the fifth year of his term.

THere is no limit to what a creative leader who is ready to lose for the right reasons can accomplish. The electorage will follow that leader because they will see that he speaks and acts as one. No big promises, just clear statements of where we are and where we need to go.

I'd vote for that Governor. ANd I'd look for fewer ballot intiatiaves and more legislative initiatibrs. That's govbernemtn, no?

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