An informative history of troubles and triumphs in the Golden State.
Journalist and editor Zacchino (co-author: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman, 2008), a Californian since she was 4 years old, has been reporting on the state since the late 1960s (including 31 years at the Los Angeles Times), when Jerry Brown, now governor, took his first elective office as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees. Since then, she has followed his “meteoric rise,” which included becoming secretary of state in 1970 and, four years later, California’s 34th governor, the youngest in more than 100 years. By the time he again took office as the 39th governor, in 2011, the most populous and ethnically diverse state in the country had evolved from being “the seductress of the Wild West” to a state facing severe economic, social, and political problems. “The financial meltdown had walloped” California, where the bursting housing bubble resulted in unprecedented foreclosures, and the recession brought high unemployment; state government, “collapsing under a crippling deficit, began issuing IOUs to pay its bills” and cut spending for education and health care. Under governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, California had drifted “stutteringly rightward,” endorsing deregulation and slashing environmental protections and social services. Some Californians looked to Texas as a model of the benefits of limited government, since that state enjoyed a boom during the recession, due to its oil industry. Zacchino, however, contrasts the two states to highlight California’s progress, notably under Brown’s second governorship, defined by liberal pragmatism and responsible policies. As Texas’ growth flagged with the drop in oil prices, California outperformed the rest of the country, while “raising taxes to pay for schools, investing in infrastructure,” and actively addressing climate change.
Although income inequality, overcrowded prisons, drought, and traffic continue to challenge California, Zacchino persuasively portrays the state as vibrant, farsighted, and civic minded.