Panel discusses future of California

April 27, 2009 1:36:45 PM PDT
The future of California is at stake. That was the opening line this morning as a panel of futurists, policy experts and political organizers sat down to discuss the political and economic future of California.

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Governor Schwarzenegger is advocating major changes to state government which he calls broken. He is pushing for a constitutional convention.

It was a wide-ranging conversation the governor had with the president of the Bay Area Council. At one point the governor took the unusual step for a Republican of criticizing Ronald Reagan. He also suggested that efforts to protect the delta smelt were misguided, at the same time saying he would like to be remembered for his contributions to protecting the environment.

Schwarzenegger's principle message Thursday morning was promoting his ballot measures in the upcoming special election, but then he branched out talking about the need to rebuild the state's water system, starting with the delta.

"We haven't improved our water infrastructure, that's irresponsible," Schwarzenegger said.

He said everything needs to be done in an environmentally sound way, but then took a shot at efforts to protect the delta smelt from being ground up in the delta's water pumps.

"A federal judge comes in and says, 'oh, I think you have to protect the delta smelt, the little fish and I think the fish are more important that farmers,'" Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger says the state's government does not represent the people and there needs to be a constitutional convention.

"Come up with a narrow agenda and go off and fix the things that are holding the state back," Schwarzenegger said.

But at a panel discussion on the future of California's economy and politics, futurist and Stanford University Professor Paul Saffo said, in times of crisis Californians have been susceptible to what Saffo called some really stupid ideas.

"Our self-inflicted wounds are things like Prop 13, term limits," Saffo said.

Saffo says Prop 13 robbed public education and term limits left Californians with amateurs.

Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg says just the threat of a constitutional convention could be a motivator.

"And maybe with that constitutional convention out there, the folks will actually react and we can put a package on the ballot that will work," Hertzberg said.

Everyone on the panel was more optimistic about the state's economic future. Public Policy Institute President Mark Baldassare says the state has a head start in leading the rest of the country.

"We were among the leaders when it came to stem cell research and thinking about the opportunities in biotechnology," Baldassare said.

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