California has become wretched state of affairs

As Blue Angels pilots and their fans found out last weekend, in precision acrobatic flying, there’s just not a lot of room for do-overs.

That’s why we can applaud the Navy aviators for giving it a go Sunday after clipping their own wings and canceling a much-anticipated Fleet Week show Saturday that left tens of thousands of fans with a head-shaking question.

The mighty, manly Blue Angels won’t fly because of a little fog over the Golden Gate Bridge? Some nonsense about points of orientation and cloud cover? My, how quickly high-flying reputations can take a nose dive. And the fly boys took so much ribbing from the excited spectators that they would have been stripped of their jumpsuits if the fans had any say about it.

I was among many at a rooftop party wondering whether there was a mechanical malfunction — or worse — after the best pilots in the world disappeared from view because of a little Left Coast mist. And I can assure all involved that the Navy’s “elite” aviators had people discussing their gravitas, especially those poor souls who were sent streaming into some of the worst traffic jams in San Francisco since, well, last year’s show.

It reminded me of so many things we count on that no longer work. You know, local institutions such as the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers — ever since the York family took control of the team — and the [fill in your city and county] council and board of supervisors and that little entity we call the once-great state of California.

And the reason I was reminded was because The Examiner’s editorial board had a chance last week to meet with retired Florida Sen. (and former governor) Bob Graham, one of the most astute and effective politicians in recent memory. He headed the Senate Intelligence Committee before President George W. Bush made it impossible for any American to use the terms “foreign” and “intelligence” in the same sentence.

Graham — who’s touring the country touting his new book, “America, the Owner’s Manual,” on the roots of the country’s apolitical leanings and the need for more public civic engagement — noted that one of the requirements for statehood was that each agreed to have a “republican” or representative form of government. That may still appear to be the case on paper, but the runaway initiative process in California has placed a vice grip on the state’s lawmaking and budgetary process.

Graham said he’s not sure if a federal judge would rule in favor of a legal challenge to California’s adherence to its original statehood charter, but it does point to the problems that have prompted a number of observers to say that the once-great state is rapidly failing.

Last week, for example, the governor threatened to veto nearly 700 bills if legislators couldn’t reach agreement on spending plans to fix California’s crumbling water system — a critical issue that partisan lawmakers have been unable to deal with for decades.

The tactic caused some political leaders to throw temper tantrums and worse: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was booed and called many bad names at a Democratic Party soiree in San Francisco to which he was invited. The governor ended up signing hundreds of bills, saying progress with the water talks put him in a better mood.

Never mind that many of the same lawmakers are responsible for creating the legislative logjam with such silly measures as trying to create a new law to limit the number of nonsterilized pets a person can own. We can all acknowledge that there are crazy cat people among us, but not to the point where we need to pass laws to control them.

But “troubled” doesn’t even begin to describe the Golden State — it’s closer to being on life support. The unemployment rate has jumped to more than 12 percent, the highest level since the Depression. California has slashed billions in funding for essential service such as health care and education as a way to offset its annual budget deficit. And fighting about fiscal policies has essentially paralyzed the Legislature.

For a state that once boasted the best public university system in the world, California’s schools are now ranked 47th in the U.S. And for the first time in decades, the state is losing residents because of a lack of jobs, out-of-control taxes and a business climate that has seen enterprises like the NUMMI auto plant shut down.

There are groups working to change the California Constitution to fix some of the problems, but it’s fair to say that the lack of a sense of urgency among our elected officials has pushed the state to the brink.

We need some big ideas and saviors — as much as the Blue Angels need blue skies.

Bay Area Newsken garciaNews ColumnistsOp Eds

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