Pete Wilson+Gray Davis

Former Gov. Pete Wilson, left, and Gov. Gray Davis with moderator Jim Newton at a Town Hall Los Angeles luncheon on Wednesday. (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)

By Cathleen Decker
April 19, 2015

Two former governors sat before a crowd of civic leaders last week, a serene 51 floors above the lunch-hour cacophony of Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis were doing what politicians do, debating the fine points of policy.

Hundreds of miles north, in Sacramento, the man who both preceded and followed the duo as governor was hip-deep in the drought. The following day, Jerry Brown would defend his plan to cut water use by 25%, declaring it “attainable.”

The men in the chairs at the Town Hall Los Angeles gathering had the luxury of critiquing Brown, and both suggested he was doing what he had to do and doing it well, though from that point they veered apart: Democrat Davis to the need for water recycling; Republican Wilson to the need for more storage. But in the gentle treatment they gave Brown, they also seemed to be a little relieved that they weren’t stuck with the latest California crisis.

The story of California is one of calamity begetting calamity, of destructive droughts giving way to destructive flooding, of economic collapse followed by earthquake collapse, of the manufacturing base imploding and then housing prices imploding.

It is uncomfortable change, most of the time, as though 39 million people were strapped to a roller coaster. The earthquake faults heave, the mudslides rumble, discontent and demographic movement and sheer massive growth breed political division, protests, rioting. It can be hard to find a foothold amid so much uncertainty, which may be why the state seems to careen more than putter ahead placidly.

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