February 2, 2014

Dan Walters: Lt. Gov. Newsom offers a better state of the state address

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom gave college officials a better take on the state of the state than the governor.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom took some razzing in the media for his verbose “introduction” of Gov. Jerry Brown before last month’s State of the State address to the Legislature.

“Nobody wants to hear me run my mouth,” Newsom said, before taking about five minutes to talk about the “whitewaters of change,” debt, the “merger of IT and globalization” and California’s need to re-establish itself as the “tent pole for job creation,” before finally introducing Brown.

The Brown and Newsom families have been intertwined for generations, but Newsom also was once a rival candidate for governor and Brown may have thought his political underling was trying to upstage him.

“Lieutenant governor,” Brown replied acidly, “I appreciate change, but I also value continuity.”

Five days later, Newsom delivered a much longer version of his remarks to a gathering of community college officials in Sacramento – in effect, his own take on the state’s condition – and it was, if truth be known, far superior to Brown’s.

Brown, as he later acknowledged, was primarily selling just one concept – the need to spend a revenue windfall prudently by paying down debt and building reserves, and not committing the state to big new spending commitments.

It is, no doubt, the platform on which Brown will be seeking re-election to his fourth term as governor this year, and unto itself is not an unworthy doctrine.

Nevertheless, it fell far short of a comprehensive appraisal of the state’s condition and plainly ignored vital issues such as a very high rate of poverty.

Newsom, however, delivered a cogent, forward-looking state of the state address to the college officials, reminding them that sweeping technological change presents a daunting challenge to education, politics, the media, business and other traditional California institutions and that if the state continues to ignore that fact and continues to function on pre-technological assumptions and processes, it will risk severe economic and social decay.

Newsom challenged community colleges, which handle the vast majority of Californians seeking post-high-school instruction and training, to attune themselves to a tech-savvy generation of students and to employers seeking more than conventional academic credentials. He also counseled them that they shouldn’t wait for Sacramento and its ossified political system to react, but should move on their own to adapt to the changing world.

He’s absolutely correct. California’s greatest challenge in the forthcoming years will be to maintain its hard-won, global reputation for innovation and mobility.

We should remember that 100 years ago, the Silicon Valley of its era, the epicenter of innovation and wealth-creation, was Detroit. It took its preeminence for granted and today is a hollowed-out, bankrupt shell of its former self.

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