There is one immutable fact here in California: There is no place like it on the planet.
Although there are many reasons why we live here–the weather, opportunity, our value of hard work and hard play,among so many others, California is very much a state of mind as well. The California Dream embodies the belief that life is a series of endless and limitless possibility which is why California is an amalgam of the world’s greatest optimists, dreamers, fools and risk-takers. It is this mindset that makes us so attractive to those who come here and yet, it is that very same willingness to experiment that has created such challenges and instability in the political structure we have today.
We took the model of American Democracy in the early 20th century and added the Initiative and Referendum to our electoral system to take big money and corporate influence out of the legislative and decision-making process.
We elect our judges, even though we know so little about them.
We created Prop 13—which has significantly impacted the ability of government to function.
We have advanced the status of minorities,workers and women through first-in-the nation legislation in civil and employee rights.
We established what was the best and largest public higher education system in the country.
We created term-limits that have de-stabilized our legislative process.
While at the same time, California is home to people from all parts of the globe who speak every conceivable language and follow a diversity of religious and cultural practices that require us to be open-minded and tolerant of our differences and individuality.
We honor and appreciate hard work, enterprise and originality and we have a deep sense that today’s failure may be tomorrow’s success–and vice versa. To students of California’s history like Kevin Starr, “California is the state that invents the future” and thus it is no surprise that the public’s opinion of our future can turn from glum to rosy almost overnight.
As noted in the new poll conducted by the highly regarded Public Policy Institute of California,optimism has returned to our state. According to its published findings, over half the voters who cast ballots in the November election feel that the state is heading in the right direction compared to only 1 in 4 after the Governor’s ill-conceived special election just a year ago. Does the Governor get the credit for this dramatic shift in confidence? Did the passage of the largest bond package in the state’s history help restore that optimism—or the so-called “bipartisan” love-fest that accompanied this election season? It’s hard to say, but one thing that is clear is that the California Dream does not die easily.
Our very essence as a state requires the unabashed sense of limitless possibilities that the Dream represents.. As an experiment in diversity, open-mindedness and innovation, we must continue to welcome and foster all kinds of thinking and ideas within our state. The unbridled optimism and sense that anything is possible in California has been the spring-board from which just about anything and everything has been tried here. Nowhere is this more evident than in the political arena.
How many states can claim a hoofer (Senator George Murphy), a B-league actor most known for pushing Borax cleaners on television before his rise to Governor and then President,(Ronald Reagan) and now a body-builder turned Hollywood “action-hero” with minimal acting talent at all (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) as its state’s leaders? And of course we don’t blink at the notion, either. We like dreamers in this state. We like to see the unlikely do the impossible.
But like most dreamers and optimists, when our dreams are shattered, we become cynics and naysayers.
For the past decade or more, we’ve believed that government and its policies have destroyed our dreams and reduced them to folly; that California no longer holds the alllure or the keys to the future. Of course, much of this has been for good reason–overcrowded schools and freeways, foul air and water, inadequate housing and healthcare services, just to name a few.
But now, the pessimism of the past few years has been replaced by that unrelenting optimism of unlimited possibility.Whether justified or not, that confidence must be preserved and pursued. We have much to do in California to justify and restore the peoples faith in its institutions and promises—-whether it be education, transportation, healthcare or governance itself.
For many of us, the optimism is due in great measure to the changing of the guard in Washington,D.C. as well.
Regardless of the source, this governor has made many promises to the people of California that have, according to the PPIC poll, lifted up our sense of optimism yet again.
As the coming year unfolds, we will be watching carefully to see whether he can deliver on the expectations that carried him back into office or whether we will have been the victim of Hollywood Hype and smoke-and-mirrors.
We may be dreamers in California, but we’re not stupid. It’s time to restore the Dream to all Californians. We expect and deserve nothing less.