It is truly an honor to be here at the Kennedy Library and to join my colleagues in receiving this most prestigious of awards.
I have been trying to balance the incongruity of receiving an award on Monday for resolving $60 billion in budget deficits and then having to go back on Tuesday and help find solutions for an additional $20 billion deficit.
I think the answer may lie in a book on my desk in the State Capitol. It's a collection of Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. I think Senator Steinberg has one in his office, too. There is one cartoon in the book that depicts a "Crisis Clinic" -- a building on fire that's also about to head over a waterfall. And that's pretty much what it's been like dealing with the California budget crisis during this Great Recession. Because you try and keep the economy from going over a cliff one day. Then you have to put out a fire somewhere else the next. Then the roof caves in. But even though it may FEEL like the work will never truly be finished -- you have to keep going. Too many people, too many businesses, too many jobs depend on it.
Last night at dinner I talked about how it was 50 years ago this summer that John F. Kennedy was nominated for President in California, in my hometown of Los Angeles. Sadly California did wind up slightly going for Nixon that year, but we are still proud of having been an early outpost on the New Frontier.
I also recalled last night how Bobby Kennedy touched and energized so many people in Los Angeles during his amazing Presidential campaign there. I was one of them. I was 14 years old and it was the first campaign I was ever involved in. And that experience—and the overall upheaval of those incredible times—changed and shaped my life.
Those were certainly very trying times for us as a nation. But we got through. And I know we will get through the difficult times we are in now.
In California too many workers are still unemployed and too many families still face losing their homes. In Detroit, what was once a global economic engine is now being looked at in terms of bulldozing and starting over. In Louisiana--recovering from Katrina…struggling through the recession…and now they have a sickening blow to their environment and their fishing and tourism industries.
Throw a dart at a map of the United States and you'll hit a community facing enormous challenges.
What John F. Kennedy believed…what this award promotes…is that we can make things better.
That responsible government can be a force for good. That public officials can find the courage to do what's right. That we can come together when it counts.
At the 1960 Democratic Convention John F. Kennedy said "The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future."
There's a lot of cursing out there these days. But we can't be sidetracked by the politics of division. By the madness of manufactured turmoil. We have to pull together and stay focused until we get the job done. Until we help build a safer and saner future. For those who need a safety net. For those who create jobs. For those who teach and nurture our children. For all Americans.
To my colleagues—thank you for pulling together, thank you for your partnership and friendship in very difficult times.
Caroline Kennedy—thank you for keeping President Kennedy's idealism and spirit alive.
And to the Kennedy Library Foundation, thank you for this truly humbling honor.