08/13/2015  by Ed Coghlan

Swearengin: California is remarkable but faces challenges

(Photo Credit: Angel Cardenas/CA Fwd)

Political gridlock in California has been significantly reduced. Political districts are no longer gerrymandered to be safe for partisans, the top-two primary makes it hard to blame the other side of the aisle and term limit reform is causing legislators to start to build the relationships and develop the expertise they need to be successful.

But more needs to be done at all levels of government to continue to improve governance and, importantly, to restore the people's trust in their government.

To do that will take bipartisan cooperation. California Forward is launching what will be a series of bipartisan conversations in front of public audience. The first will be held in San Jose on August 19. A second is scheduled for Clovis in the Central Valley on September 29.

The event is entitled: "Money, Schools, Jobs and You--A Bipartisan Conversation"

Four thoughtful Californians will lead these conversations: two Republicans and two Democrats. Democrats Chuck Reed, the former San Jose Mayor, and Marshall Tuck, who is Educator in Resident at the New Teacher Center; Republicans Pete Peterson, who is the director of the Davenport Institute at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and Ashley Swearengin, Mayor of Fresno.

CA Fwd has been interviewing these leaders in advance of the events. Today, we're sharing our interview with Mayor Swearengin:

CA Fwd: Why did you agree to participate in these "bi-partisan" conversations?

Ashley Swearengin: "California is truly a remarkable place with so much to offer its residents and our nation, but we also face huge challenges as a state.  These challenges are deep and daunting – hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure and financial deficits, strained public education systems, an economy with rapidly disappearing middle income jobs, and historically low levels of civic participation.  I believe Californians are up to the task of facing these challenges, but it’s going to take a lot of intense work and bi-partisan cooperation to advance the kinds of long-term solutions that will produce lasting results."

CA Fwd: Who do you hope will participate?

Swearengin:  Anyone who believes it’s time to put aside the typical political bickering and focus on long-term solutions for California.

CA Fwd: A lot of stories on California politics play up a fight between groups. Can California become a model for collaboration? How can that happen?

Swearengin: "Yes, of course, but I think it takes leading by example, which is what Mayor Reed, Marshall Tuck, Pete Peterson and I are trying to do.  It may be a small start, but our hope is to encourage a conversation about bi-partisanship around the state." 

CA Fwd: Seems like one area of concern or emphasis is how we get more people paying attention to participating in the electoral process--How can we improve that?

Swearengin: "We need to make sure people truly understand just how important their votes are.  There are so many elections around the state and nation that are decided by a very small fraction of the population.  Even if voting is the only way in which a person chooses to be involved civically, that alone is a major contribution to the future of their neighborhood, city, state and nation."

CA Fwd: Of the other issues you expect to discuss in addition to increasing public participation--issues like having the triple bottom line approach to job creation, the state's fiscal sustainability and government accountability--we tend to look at them issues separately. How are they all connected? 

Swearengin: "Well, I look at it this way – private sector activity fuels the public sector and provides for infrastructure, schools, public safety, and other elements needed in society to advance the common good.  So, the public sector depends on the success of the private sector to provide essential public services.  At the same time, the private sector needs the public sector to operate in an effective and efficient manner, which requires fiscal sustainability and accountability to the public.  The public and the private sectors truly need each other to perform well in order to advance a healthy and vibrant state.  Like it or not, we need each other!

CA Fwd: What do you think should/can come out of these conversations?

Swearengin:  "My greatest hope is that people will be challenged to set aside partisanship and really think about lasting solutions for their neighborhoods, cities, regions, and state."

To see the other interviews and other information about CA Fwd's coverage of bipartisanship in California, click here.

To register for the event on August 19 in San Jose, click here.

To register for the event on September 29 in Clovis, click here.

Categories: Community Services, Democracy, Bipartisan Conversations, Civic Engagement, Elections, Fiscal Reform, Budget Reform, Economy, Creating Jobs, Accountability, Civic Engagement, Education, Elections, State Budget, Transparency

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