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Fuse It -- or Lose It

California badly needs to restore a spirit of creative bipartisanship. Four former governors show how it can be done.

November 16, 2003|Kevin Starr | Kevin Starr is University Professor at USC and state librarian of California. His "Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990-2003" is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf.

Each of these four governors wrapped himself in the fusionist flag of the Party of California. Winning support from the opposition, they reformed California (Johnson), saw it through a postwar boom (Warren), refashioned its social programs and public works infrastructure (Brown) and made its programs and revenues sustainable (Reagan). Although anchored in their respective parties, each as governor became something more than mere partisan. They rewarded party loyalists -- and appointed outsiders to key posts. Effective speakers, they frequently invoked the ideal of a better California through corrective political action.

Governors since Reagan also practiced fusion politics. Jerry Brown continued his father's habit of appointing qualified Republicans to the bench. George Deukmejian valued efficiency over ideology in deciding his appointments; and Republican Pete Wilson peppered his administration and judicial appointments with notable Democrats while maintaining good relations with the Democratic leadership in the Legislature.

Fierce partisanship has never been at home in California until recently. "By their fruits you shall know them," Scripture tells us. And by its fruits -- discord, legislative gridlock, mismanagement, hysterical and conflicting legislation, huge deficits, falling credit ratings -- we Californians know what fierce partisanship has wrought.

No governor in the history of this state comes to office with a more unusual profile than Schwarzenegger. Will his idiosyncrasy enable him to act according to a higher and more effective ideal? Will he bring back the Party of California?

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