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June 8, 2007

(Special to the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

PALO ALTO - State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) wrote the following op-ed for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“The irony is striking. To its credit, the Sentinel’s editorial page is set aside for the editors and the public to express their opinions on a range of matters, large and small.  Yet the Sentinel opposes letting California voters have their say on the most compelling issue of our times:  the war in Iraq. Last week a majority of the California State Senate, myself included, voted to place a referendum on the war on the State’s February 2008 primary ballot.  The goal is to give California voters a chance to express themselves on the conduct of the war in Iraq. If the California State Assembly and the Governor agree, we’ll have that opportunity.  But the Sentinel frowns on legislative efforts to place a referendum on the war on our next statewide ballot. The Sentinel argues that the war in Iraq is a federal matter, rather than a matter of state concern.  It’s a reasonable argument. Indeed, during my own career in state and local government, I’ve been cautious about weighing in on national or international issues.  But California lives and California billions make this a California issue.  The conduct of this war has had an undeniable impact on our state.  Young men and women from California have given their lives, suffered the wounds and been called away from their families.  Four years in, the California National Guard continues to serve.  In fact, this past week marked the largest deployment of the California National Guard since the Korean War.  Moreover, California taxpayers have contributed at least $40 billion to fund the war in Iraq –– funds I believe could have been spent more wisely and productively here at home. Indeed, the next time local residents are stuck in traffic, troubled by classroom cutbacks or frustrated by the high cost of housing, they might well ask if that $40 billion could have been put to better use here in California. As for the need to raise our voices here in California, consider the record of the past four years. When opponents of the war, myself among them, urged the President not to go to war, the President wouldn’t listen (see my March 10, 2003 letter to the President on my website). When critics of a failed policy pointed out the mismanagement of the war, the President wouldn’t listen. When the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (established by a Republican controlled Congress) urged a change in course, the President wouldn’t listen.       When the President’s own Generals urged a serious reappraisal, the President wouldn’t listen. And when members of the President’s own party in Congress urged him to consider the facts on the ground and change his policy accordingly, the President wouldn’t listen.  Nevertheless, the Sentinel argues that a statewide referendum on the war is “pointless”—in part, says the Sentinel, because “Californians’ disapproval of the war is already obvious to anyone who reads polls.” If only that were so.  When the polls shifted, and a state and a nation that once approved of the war made their growing opposition clear, the President still wouldn’t listen.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll listen to millions of Californians when they arrive at the polls.  Only time will tell.  But until that time, I must respectfully disagree with the view of the Sentinel.  And to the people I represent, I would offer this encouragement:  Your vote is your voice.  Let it be heard.” State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) represents the 11th State Senate District, which includes Santa Cruz. — Senator Simitian’s March 10, 2003, open letter on Iraq to President Bush, referenced above, is available on this site.

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