I became a news junkie by reading Giants box scores as a kid, and later following Watergate.
My first front-page story, something about a proposed freeway widening, ran in the Eureka Times Standard when I was a stringer at the Humboldt State University campus. I was hooked.
Now, 38 years later, I find myself in one of the great jobs in American journalism, editor of The Sacramento Bee editorial pages.
It’s humbling, given this newspaper’s place in California and the people who have occupied this position. It’s not an opportunity to squander, and I won’t.
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Our editorials will be fact-based, timely and clear, reflect the diverse region in which we live, have personality and, on occasion, be offbeat. I will value hard-edged reporting and editorial projects focused on problems in our city, region and state. We will seek to offer reasoned and responsible solutions.
I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But I know smart people and will shamelessly seek their help informing our decisions and writing for our pages. The goal will be to shed light on issues so an informed citizenry can better sort out our collective problems.
I promise not to bore you with personal stories. But by way of introduction, I started out working for small and rural papers in California and in Washington state. I arrived in Los Angeles at the now deceased Herald Examiner in 1979, and was assigned to the night cops beat, an eye-opener.
I met the girl of my dreams covering the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. She was a reporter for a suburban Seattle paper and I for the Her-Ex. Truth be told, we met briefly before that, but she didn’t recall. I did. We are fortunate to have three great kids.
Based in San Francisco for The Los Angeles Times, I wrote about the California Supreme Court during Rose Bird’s last two years as chief justice, helped report on the scandals of President Ronald Reagan’s administration and was waiting for an elevator at the U.S. courthouse in San Francisco when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. I never made it up.
I’ve been in Sacramento since 1991. I witnessed the execution of Robert Alton Harris at San Quentin in 1992, wrote about the Legislature and budget when Willie Brown was Assembly speaker and Pete Wilson was governor, covered Gov. Gray Davis’ administration, and wrote about the huge money that fueled the 2008 presidential campaign.
I veered for about nine months in 2009 by working as communications director for the plaintiffs’ bar, the Consumer Attorneys of California. Stuart Leavenworth, my predecessor, brought me back to the fold by hiring me in 2010 to write a column and editorials for The Bee. I am grateful for that, and for his help showing me the difference between straight news and opinion journalism, and for his friendship.
During three-plus decades as a news reporter, I made a point of keeping my opinions separate from my work. Jim Brulte, now California Republican Party chair, once said he couldn’t figure out my party affiliation. It was high praise. Now, I gather facts as before, but figure out what to think and share it with you.
My views are shaped by my surroundings and experience. My older brother got in a terrible car accident while coming home from work one night in June 1969, and suffered irreversible brain injury.
My mother, a nurse, thought she could care for him. She couldn’t. Nor could private board and care and nursing homes. My parents got him beds at Napa State Hospital, later Camarillo State Hospital, and back at Napa, until the state realigned him into a nursing home during the budget crisis of 1992. He had a hard life.
I don’t know all the civil servants who helped him. But I know a few. They were heroic, though they’d tell you they were merely doing their jobs. From them, I learned that government has a vital role of caring for people who cannot care for themselves. I feel obliged to help give voice to the powerless and hold people in power accountable.
The Bee is the hometown paper for the nation’s most interesting, influential state capital. At our best, we on the editorial board can help shape policy for the common good.
I’m optimistic about California’s future. But the state faces many challenges: How to fix the water system while protecting the environment; make our state as inclusive as possible and maintain middle-class opportunity; repair the tax system fairly; and educate and employ the next generation, while caring for the generation that built California.
With your help, I look forward to engaging in the debate.