Nicolas Berggruen knows fixing to California's structural shortcomings won't be a short-term endeavor.
But the jet-setting billionaire says he's is not daunted by the long haul. He has pledged to invest at least $20 million of his own fortune into a new organization aimed at realizing a long-term vision for improving California's system of governance.
"How much time will it take? Years," Berggruen said in an interview with The Bee editorial board today. "Luckily we are still reasonably energetic, and so we will be at this for years."
The private investing company chairman has invited an ideologically diverse group of political power-hitters to join him on the "Think Long Committee for California," a new effort launched as part of his nonpartisan think tank. The panel's brain trust includes former Gov. Gray Davis, former Assembly Speakers Willie Brown and Robert Hertzberg, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, philanthropist and investor Eli Broad, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor executive secretary-treasurer Maria Elena Durazo and former U.S. Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz, among others.
Part of the group's mission is to put reform-oriented measures on the ballot that look beyond the state's immediate budgetary woes, either through the Legislature or the initiative process.
"The reason why California has issues today is not just because the economy is bad. It is structural... so we wanted to make sure we address short-term and long-term issues," Berggruen said.
Berggruen sees the Think Long Committee building upon proposals advanced by other groups committed to fixing the state. He said he plans to work closely with California Forward, joining forces on public education and outreach efforts in the coming year.
"California Forward was really an effort founded by a number of foundations which was really a research effort which went very deep in terms of what are the key things that California needs," he said. "What they were not set up to do, in my mind, was really to be action oriented."
Berggruen has something at his disposal the other groups did not when beginning to craft what he said could be "a basket" of initiatives: financial resources.
"If more money's needed ...I'll put in more money," said Berggruen, who said the majority of his business interests are stationed outside California.
The group's formation was announced late last month, though Berggruen's think tank has already been involved in some proposed structural changes behind the scenes. He was involved in organizing a working group to help broker a compromise on the rainy day fund changes approved for the ballot as part of last month's budget deal.
The committee has started divvying up work among several sub-committees in hopes of advancing initial proposals in the next six months.
A task force on tax reform will be chaired by Willie Brown and Gerald Parsky, a Republican who chaired the Commission on the 21st Century Economy. The group's "long term" task force, which will focus on proposals concerning global competition, investment in infrastructure and changes to the state budget process, will be led by Schmidt and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, former chair of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the group last month to discuss the rainy day fund measure approved for the ballot. Berggruen has yet to meet with Gov-elect Jerry Brown, saying he wished to refrain from appearing political by engaging with either candidate before the election was finished.
Berggruen, who was raised in Europe, does not own a home and prefers to live out of hotels. His official residency is in Florida, where he said he is a registered Democrat, but he said he has been drawn to California since his childhood abroad.
"California evokes something positive. It's a sunny place. I don't mean just in terms of sun, but in terms of spirit," he said.