Government gridlock; summit solutions

Jeff vonKaenel

California has some big problems. A huge deficit, crumbling infrastructure, water shortages, an ineffective and an underfunded educational system—just to name a few. And to make matters worse, our federal and state governments, which should be working to solve these problems, are hopelessly gridlocked.

Seeing this sad state of affairs, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, California Forward, called for a California Economic Summit. This summit was held, Friday, May 11, in Santa Clara, Calif., with the goal of presenting common-sense practical fixes to implement regionally.

The basic idea was that the challenges we are facing are so critical that we cannot wait for the federal and state governments, but must work regionally on these problems right away.

At the summit, which drew hundreds of well-informed business leaders, economic-development types and academics, reasonable and practical solutions were presented for the problem areas of regulation, infrastructure, workforce development, innovation and acquiring capital.

There were proposals to reform the cumbersome California Environmental Quality Act; to prioritize workforce training efforts to support growth; and to develop privately financed initiatives to work on public transit, water and energy. The list goes on and can be seen at

The summit was incredibly wonkish. It was sort of like a Star Trek gathering of Vulcan policy experts. I love this stuff. And it was fun to discuss the issues with knowledgeable people who sincerely want to create change.

In the morning session, columnist for The New York Times and three-time Pulitzer-winner Thomas Friedman spoke with California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The two co-chairs of California Forward—Democrat Laura Tyson, who was the chairwoman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, and Republican George Shultz, who served in numerous cabinet positions under various presidents—both articulated the importance of the work. They shared a bipartisan understanding that if nothing is going to happen at the capitals, we should try to work locally.

I thought they were overstating the gridlock, but the afternoon panel featuring state legislators convinced me that I was wrong.

I didn’t know much about Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway until the summit. Even though I am cynical about politicians, I was still shocked. Her “no-tax” pledge not only cuts off much-needed revenue, but also makes it impossible to reform tax loopholes. At the same time, she promises to protect education and public safety. Conway then wonders why solutions cannot be found.

This week, Conway removed two moderate Republicans from her expansive leadership team at the very time we most need moderate voices to help the different parties work together.

With politicians like Conway in place, it’s no surprise that we’re left looking for solutions to our problems in summits as opposed to the capitals. Good luck reaching across the aisle, Conway. We’ll have to start fixing the state without you.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.