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After eight years of being little more than the president's sugar daddies, Southern Californians can be proud to have a new occupant of the Oval Office who values us not just for our generous campaign contributions but for who we really are: providers of priceless media exposure.
President Obama is making a sojourn to the Golden State today and Thursday to promote his economic recovery plan, a trip that will include a stop in Burbank to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." This has set tongues wagging in the capital not only because it's the first time a sitting president has done such a thing -- although late-night TV appearances are common for presidential candidates, Obama's predecessors have considered them beneath the dignity of the office once they were elected -- but because it's combined with a snub of the Beltway media elite. Even as he bypasses the press to take his message straight to Leno's 5 million viewers, Obama is ditching Washington's movers and shakers by skipping the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner on Saturday. He's the first president to do so since Grover Cleveland.
All of this is rich in political symbolism -- Obama the populist goes into a rage over the bonuses paid to AIG executives, then he shows what a regular guy he is by appearing on the Leno show and dissing the insider aristocracy. But the symbols don't end there, and Obama is visiting California for another reason that shouldn't be ignored. There is no better place for him to put across a central message of his economic plan: Green growth is good for both the environment and the economy.
While conservatives grumble about the high cost of weaning the nation off fossil fuels, California demonstrates that doing so can pay off. The fact that the state led the nation in energy-efficiency regulation, for example, means that Californians pay lower residential power bills, on average, than residents of most states, even though power here is more expensive. A 2008 UC Berkeley study estimated that this efficiency has created more than 1 million jobs since 1972. Meanwhile, the state's green technology business is booming. According to a recent study by the Palo Alto research group Next 10, the number of "green" jobs in California (solar panel installers, clean-energy research scientists and so on) jumped 10% between 2005 and 2007, while statewide job growth over that period was just 1%. California leads the nation in green-technology patents and venture capital investment, factors that will bring rich dividends in years to come.
On Thursday, Obama will tour Southern California Edison's Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, which has been working on electric car development since 1993. Such facilities are vital for the future of California, and of the world.