Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Golden State's Sterling Guy

I've met Kevin Starr, California's now former State Librarian several times. He's brilliant, enthusiastic, and a rare mix of unapologetic CA booster and pulling-no-punches analyst of CA's current "intellectual impoverishment." In short, he's my kind of guy -here's Peter Schrag on Dr. Starr:

Why, he asked the other day, is there no grand vision? Where are the Clark Kerrs, the Earl Warrens, the Phil Burtons, the scholars, the visionary writers, the people who, in this period of crisis, can "rebuild the California narrative?" Why is "the Democratic Party (his party) brain-dead?" As a poor boy growing up in San Francisco a half-century ago, he "struggled for the optimistic view of life," a view that was nurtured by "the larger California impetus." Now, he says, he's less optimistic about California than he used to be - finds fewer people to share or sustain his optimism.

Yet almost in the same breath, the tone changes. There are the writers Richard Rodriguez and Gregory Rodriguez (no relation), who are thinking about California's new demographics and its emerging culture in new ways. There is the political maturity of a new generation of Latino politicians who - contrary to the warnings of anti-immigration nativists - are not irredentists seeking to retake lost Mexican soil. And, of course, there's Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . .

Now there's a "fatigue among Americans about the cost of programs," a mood that calls for a reconsideration on how the money is spent and whether the spending accomplishes the things it was supposed to. But that thought, too, leads to broader vistas: Los Angeles as "the epicenter of a new Mexican-American civilization"; the pride that, as state librarian, he saw among Californians in their local communities. And, reflecting on last year's devastating fires in Southern California, he recalled a Latina TV reporter interviewing a fire chief who also happened to be Latino and an emergency room physician (ditto) - all performing like anyone else in the same jobs - "the old genes inhabiting new people."

By the way, if you aren't familiar with Gregory Rodriguez, and you're at all interested in California politics, policy, demographics, or pretty much anything that effects the state, and thus the nation, start reading. He's a fellow at the New America Foundation and is frequently in the LA Times. He's one of the few leading Latino voices with whom I agree more often than not. If he is one of California's new visionaries, which I think he is, then we may make it after all.

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