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Lenny Mendonca

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California is Different and a 2011 Harbinger

Posted: 11/30/10 12:06 PM ET

There has already been, and will be much more written in the wake of the 2010 mid-term elections. Behind the many plot lines that played out at the national level -- the rise of Tea Party activism, Democrats retaining the Senate, and the Republicans taking back the House -- there remains the troubling state of the State of California. Yes, California is different, but not just because we elected only Democrats to statewide office, but because our structural challenges are a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the U.S. unless we choose to engage and change them.

With the election behind us, the individuals who we now call "incumbents" face daunting local issues that were not necessarily made better by the election. Yes, the first step to rationalizing the state budget process with a majority vote provision is in place. Still, the state's revenue, pension, education, and other deeply troubling questions remain. A new governor, new legislators, and more constitutional tinkering does not move the needle enough in light of the stark, fundamental, and structural challenges facing the Golden State.

While the election shouting may be over, or at least subsiding, the hard work of finding and applying innovative solutions to California's challenges remains. As 2010 winds down, we now must look to 2011 as a time to establish a reform agenda with an appeal that is as wide as it is real.

2011 is important because it's the first non-election year in some time. This fact affords some breathing room to build robust solutions and coalitions among the state's leading reform efforts, many which have been in the works, but are not quite yet solidified. With that in mind, 2011 holds the promise of rationalization, alignment, and refinement of agendas necessary for the next and critical steps on the hard road to sustainable state finances and meaningful growth.

The announcement by Nicolas Bergruenn "to give at least $20 million to a group of Californians who long to restructure state government so it is more responsive to voters, more responsible with public funds and ready to reposition the state to meet the challenges of today's economy," is an outstanding example of new and necessary steps in this direction. The Bergruenn commitment to the state's future is another reform high water mark that ought to inspire others to apply whatever resources and energies they have to the repair of California and other state and local institutions. With his actions, Bergruenn joins the ranks of organizations like California Forward, The New America Foundation, the Bay Area Council and others working to directly engage Californians to advance smart, pragmatic, and much needed choices for the state.

And yet with this call for a redoubling of reform effort alignment to build on the positive momentum, there remains a real risk to avoid. The various groups seeking reform must not splinter their efforts. Failure to avoid division will create a cacophony of noise rather than the clarity Californians seek and require. This places a premium on coordination and conversation that will undoubtedly give rise to inspiring movement and impact.

2011 will be the 100th anniversary of Hiram Johnson's inauguration and the progressive reform movement. It will also be the inauguration of Governor Brown as the first three-term governor since Earl Warren. What better time to catalyze a 21st century reform movement.

An exciting energy for government innovation is happening in our state. New, serious, and welcome resources and voices are joining together. As this conversation continues and grows providing both hope and the real results we seek, I encourage you to learn more about and become involved with the groups leading the transformation California so desperately needs and deserves. To that end I ask: Who else is working on smart, bi-partisan and non-special interest reform in California or elsewhere that inspires you?