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Assembly Democrats: Quality education must take center stage

As we prepare to embark on the 2006 legislative year, some commentators and
elected officials are calling on the partisans in Sacramento to bury the
hatchet after the divisive and costly special election we have endured.

I don’t think so. Rather than burying the hatchet, we should mount it on the
wall, as a vivid reminder of the bloodshed we’d all like to avoid in the
coming year.

In the months past, we heard the powerful judgment of the voters, who made
it unmistakably clear that they do not accept the characterization of
teachers, nurses, cops and firefighters as greedy special interests. And
like those voters, we will resist any attempt to balance California’s budget
by eviscerating the civil servants and first responders who are crucial
components of our social fabric.

But Gov. Schwarzenegger, we also heard what you had to say throughout the
year. We agree that California suffers from debilitating partisan gridlock
and we are willing to do our part to forge consensus on the critical issues
facing our citizens. As long as we can uphold the central values we stand
for — including justice, equity and opportunity — we will meet you half way
on any issue.

We are firmly committed to this idea: principled compromise is not
capitulation. Even in an election year, when rational voices will be harder
to hear, we pledge to place the interests of all Californians above the
interests of politics. And we expect that you will do the same.

The issues are clear. And public education is No. 1. Unless we make adequate
investments in education, we risk becoming the first generation of
Californians to leave our children worse off than we were. To do so would be
unconscionable.

We’re delighted to hear that the governor’s proposed budget — as we had
advocated — now will include about $129 million more than he had originally
planned for the University of California and California State Universities,
thereby avoid another round of fee increases for college students and their
families.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s flexibility on this issue demonstrates a shared
commitment to a common goal: an affordable college education for every
California high school graduate who elects to pursue higher learning.

Our commitment to the welfare of average Californians also compels us to
ensure that people must not be made to choose between refilling their
prescriptions or putting food on the table. Despite last year’s rejection of
competing ballot initiatives and vetoes of legislation, we have a unique
opportunity to find common ground on ensuring that seniors can afford the
medicines they need to stay healthy.

We must also redouble our effort to make sure every child gets the health
care he or she needs. We will again put legislation on the Governor’s desk
to provide coverage to more than one million California children.

And although we opposed the misguided redistricting proposal on the November
2005 ballot, that does not mean we oppose reforming how political boundaries
are established. We fully believe in an independent, bipartisan commission
that will draw boundaries after the 2010 census. While that may not be soon
enough for some, as a long-term reform of California politics, it would be
historic.

Moreover, a permanent repair of the system for crafting districts ought to
be accompanied by campaign-finance reform that will further help level the
playing field and inject healthy competition where it is lacking today.
Everyone should understand that 2006 will be a contentious political year.

That’s how democracy works. But even in an election year, we believe
principled compromise on critical issues is both necessary and possible.

Californians are sick and tired of what looks to them like a sick and tired
government — including the Governor and the Legislature. We must inject a
healthy dose of civility and comity into our work so that we can restore the
public’s confidence in their elected leaders. To do any less is to abdicate
our responsibility to the people of California.


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