Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
July 4, 2015

  • When civic leaders are effective, government functions well
  • Los Angeles is trying to re-establish civic cadre
  • San Francisco has one; other areas trying

Civic leadership is one of those intangibles whose existence is difficult to define, much less prove.

When a city, a county or a state is functioning well – providing vital public services at reasonable cost, educating its children, balancing its budgets with prudent reserves, prospering economically and culturally – one can infer that it has a effective cadre of civic leadership.

Politics is, after all, a reactive business, and the efficacy of those whom we elect is largely determined by the civic leadership standing behind them.

Call it a “power structure,” if you must, or even more ominously, a “shadow government.” It may not fit our high school civics notion of democracy and can be, of course, corrupt and oppressive.

But it needn’t be. It can be progressive and positive, looking after the longer-term interests of the larger community as it serves its members’ enlightened self-interests – a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce writ large.

Like those groups, it generally draws members from the dominant economic activities of the community who are invested in its civic well-being.

The vital role played by civic leadership is implied by its absence.

California as a whole has a weak civic leadership structure, vis-à-vis those of other states.

The state has no dominant economic sector, is very large and populous, and has a very diverse, constantly evolving, cultural and demographic matrix.

We Californians tend to see ourselves as residents of a particular region or even city, rather than of the larger state, and our regional rivalries are countless and immutable.

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