Let's Make Sesquicentennial Special

John M.W. Moorlach is vice president of the California Sesquicentennial Foundation, and is Orange County's treasurer-tax collector

Gov. Pete Wilson's ill-advised directive to not cooperate with Democrat-controlled investigatory panels created awkward newspaper accounts of the activities of the Sesquicentennial Commission and Foundation. It was irresponsible for the panel to imply impropriety. No funds were misspent or misappropriated, and all tax returns have been filed.

Wilson issued the executive order establishing the "Gold Discovery to Statehood Sesquicentennial" (150 years) in 1994. Noted historian Sylvia Sun Minnick spearheaded the project. The celebration started on Jan. 24, the day of gold discovery at Sutter's Mill, and will run through Sept. 9, 2000, the date of statehood in 1850.

No seed money was provided other than our own personal contributions and some assistance from state parks personnel. We were charged with raising the funding for a commemoration for a state with 33 million people. California funded the centennial commemoration with several million dollars, equivalent to some $25 million today when adjusted for inflation.

We pursued incorporating, creating a logo, legislation to issue a sesquicentennial license plate and other things.

The original 14 members of the official commission were not installed until March of 1996. The delay was the result of the governor's failed bid for the presidency.

The Assembly passed license plate legislation, which in Iowa provided almost all the funding for its sesquicentennial in 1996. However, Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), chairman of the Transportation Committee, refused to release the legislation to the Senate floor. He cut off the most natural public-private funding source, resulting in lost revenues of more than $2 million. It was a tragic failure.

Kevin Starr, the state librarian, showed leadership by contracting the foundation for services in the amount of $350,000. These funds were used to pursue the tasks outlined. Unfortunately, funding and patience ran out. In spite of this, the state staff was properly utilized to organize, compile and publish sesquicentennial events around the state. Within days of a significant financial involvement with Dayton-Hudson, the parent company for Mervyn's California and Target stores, an investigation was launched. Now Dayton-Hudson has backed off, with the potential loss of funding in the range of $3 million to $5 million.

Together, the elected Republicans, Independents and Democrats in Sacramento have hindered a wonderful and special commemoration. The sesquicentennial should be a memorable occasion. In spite of the limitations and the high personal costs, none of the commission or foundation members have resigned.

We're dedicated to the cause. With committed bipartisan effort, we can make this event something special. Sacramento, let's show some leadership.

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