Will California’s leader lead in 2008?

As the post-mortems continue to characterize the year just past and prognosticators speculate on what will be the year to come, it is clear that California is in for a bumpy ride over the next several months, if not years. With a projected $14 Billion short-fall (with many estimating the number may reach much higher), there is no question that the times call for some courageous leadership. But in today’s political world, where cynics and superficial pundits abound, it is difficult for real leadership to emerge and be given the space to articulate and implement that necessary vision, courage and know-how to make the necessary changes we desperately seek and need.
Commentators proclaim that little was accomplished in the year past—no major health care reform, no real water policy emerged to deal with our state’s chronic but moving toward acute problem, little real movement to develop a massive but necessary investment in transportation infrastructure, including our roads, bridges, ports or public transit, sewer systems, schools, etc. The bottom line is: we haven’t seriously or effectively addressed these needs. Our massive prison system is crumbling under its own weight, while federal judges determine whether we are complying with basic legal and human rights while we warehouse more and more people and spend greater and more scarce resources in doing so.
There are many who study our state’s political institutions and systems and declare the state ungovernable, observing that we are too dependent on special interests who fund campaigns; suffer from public initiatives generated from out-of-state business or ideological interests who are using our state as a guinea-pig; a tax system that is arcane and heavily-weighted in one direction or another. Also factored in is simply the massiveness of our state, with one out of every eight Americans living within our borders. So where is the leadership to deal with all this?

With a term-limited legislature, we have truly limited the ability of our law-makers to develop expertise, historical memory and the wisdom necessary to envison change and see it through. Although it is arguable that the current effort to limit/extend those terms is not the answer, there is little question that the upheaval the current term-limits system has generated has contributed to the lack of accountability or effectiveness in our legislators today.
This is also why the governor seems so popular to many Democrats as well as Republicans. He presents himself as a man of big vision and big dreams for the biggest state in the nation. He claims he has the independence and personal courage to overcome the many institutional limits (such as the 2/3 vote to get a budget or increase state funding) that have somewhat paralyzed or even crippled our state and its ability to address fiscal and social issues as they arise in any state, given the inevitable ups-and-downs of the economy. But he has not truly emerged above the fray to do what is necessary to accomplish the enormous change that this state requires to overcome adversity and thrive as the great and innovative state that we have been and must continue to be.
Of course, dealing with an ideologically intractable party that won’t even work with him on compromise makes it extremely difficult, but with his popular appeal, this governor should be dragging his party with him, whether they come kicking-and-screaming or not. It is in great measure, this right-wing ideology that is hampering the state’s ability to do what needs to be done. The Governor loves to be seen as larger-than-life, to be the great Terminator of his films, to “blow-up the boxes” to effect change and put the state on its proper footing. Unfortunately, he’s been playing his cards like any current day politician instead.
Rather than call for the wealthiest among us to help those who lack the basic necessities, rather than call to close the enormous tax loopholes for the multi-national corporations that take from California, but give little back, rather than demand from Washington they return a reasonable portion of the billions they take from this state but don’t give back in services, medi-care reimbursements, etc., the Governor is truly avoiding a discussion with the people of this state on what really needs to happen.
Let’s hope in the coming weeks and months, we see real honest, open and courageous leadership in dealing with this state’s fiscal mess, it’s enormous potential to live up to its legacy of being the state that invents the future and the needs of its people to assure we all have the opportunity to live the best of the American Dream. Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Will anyone step forward? We’ll just have to wait and see.