Peter Schrag's last regular column ran in the Sacramento Bee today. It won't be the last we hear of Peter, but this a great occasion to honor his achievement. In addition to editing the editorial page of the Bee for nineteen years and writing a column for twelve, Peter has written several influential books about California, including Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future (1998).
I read that book when I started at the Public Policy Institute of California, where Peter served on the advisory board. It made a big impression on me. In it, Peter argues that the state's demise began with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. Having capped the stablest source of public revenue, the state moved toward less reliable sources of funding (sales tax, income tax, fees, lotteries, etc.). The result has been a fiscal roller coaster and the steady erosion of public services, including education.
But Peter's influence on me went beyond Paradise Lost. Early on at PPIC, I asked Peter what I should read by way of background for my new job. Everything by Carey McWilliams, he said. That was excellent advice, and when I decided to write a book about C-Mac, I asked Peter for more. Those conversations changed the trajectory of my so-called career, since the McWilliams book led to the San Francisco State gig, my involvement with the California Studies Association, and eventually my Ramparts book.
Peter mentions McWilliams in his column today, but someone else should point out the obvious: namely, that Peter has carried on McWilliams's work as the state's shrewdest observer.