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BUDGET CRISIS

Time to Rethink Golden State

January 12, 2003|Kevin Starr | Kevin Starr is state librarian of California and university professor at USC. "His Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, the 1990s" is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf.

The refounding of the state of California must thus involve the de-intimidation of our elected officials. The budgetary process has become the single most relevant and compelling way that California is thinking through its future. Mere polls or plebiscites are incapable of such an intellectual challenge. Only individual men and women -- elected officials, such as those who met in Philadelphia in 1787 or those who gathered in Monterey in 1849 -- are capable of the nuances and subtleties, the trade-offs and compromises and the courage that such foundational thinking and action requires.

A people, the English poet and political writer John Milton tells us in "Areopagitica," gets the government it deserves in the long run.

What kind of people are we Californians? Do we see state government as something worthy of refoundation? Are we willing to back our elected officials when they are forced to make hard choices? Do we truly care that there is such a state called California: the product of time and history, a commonwealth embodying the best hopes of each of us, a sovereign entity within the larger sovereignty of the nation, but a sovereignty nonetheless, deriving its powers and authority from us, the people? Is the current ordeal facing state government merely something to read about in newspapers or catch sound bites about on television? Or is there something true and precious, and personal, at stake: the survival and sustainability of a public sector that speaks to our continuing hopes for a better life?

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