By Eleni Kounalakis | Special for CALmatters
California is the magnet of todo el mundo.
What attracts people from around the world is not only the state’s natural beauty and strong economy, it is how we channel innovation to address current challenges and create new opportunities. And aside from our natural and material attributes, we also have heart.
That might sound a little funny to say. But enriched by the diversity of our communities, California represents a set of human values that nurture and free our minds and our economic system. And the world knows it. That’s why now, more than ever, the world is knocking on our door.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom answered the call. By executive order, he established a road map to expand the role that California plays globally and advance the innovation and values that have made California the world’s fifth largest economy.
As California’s lieutenant governor, a former U.S. ambassador and now Gov. Newsom’s representative for international affairs, I’m proud to partner with the governor to elevate the role of our state on the world stage.
The timing for our effort couldn’t be better. In the current political climate, nations around the world are looking for direction, partnership and leadership. They are also looking for stability, security and rational approaches to chronic challenges and rising opportunities.
What countries cannot find right now in Washington, DC, is alive and well in California. Yet it is fair to ask, what can we do as a state when we don’t have the full authority of a sovereign nation? The answer is, a lot.
- First, trade. California has more to gain or lose than any other state when it comes to the nation’s trade policy.
We have the largest port complex in the country. Fully 40 percent of imports to the U.S. and 30 percent of exports flow through them. We’re the country’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment. We welcome more to create good paying jobs in California.
Although the power to regulate trade rests with the federal government, California can develop relationships and programs to promote trade and investment with our partners worldwide. We will continue to assert ourselves in the global conversation over trade, which is essential to the livelihood of millions of Californians.
- Second, when it comes to climate change, California has never stopped leading the way on addressing this existential threat.
Faced with the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, our voice is more critical on this issue than perhaps any other.
Our investment in alternative energy, statutory mandates that will reduce carbon emissions, and innovation around carbon recapture establish California as a standard bearer in the world. We will continue to forge partnerships with other subnational and national governments to combat climate change and promote green technologies.
- Third, a substantial part of international diplomacy is keeping open doors of communication, and investing time and effort in relationship building. California provides a welcome place for our traditional allies, and other global partners, to recommit ourselves to shared values of democracy and human rights.
- Fourth, while some banish the words “nation of immigrants” from government websites, here in California we’ve doubled down. We know that immigration is our strength and a model worth touting. A full 27 percent of Californians are foreign born. Our diversity makes us better as a democracy, as a center of innovation, and as the world’s fifth largest economy.
- Finally, cultural, intellectual and educational exchanges are a hallmark of healthy international relations.
The University of California and Cal State University systems are already engaged in robust international activity, and there is much more we can do in sharing best practices, partnering and participating in programs at a government-to-government level.
California is, as the governor often says, “America’s coming attraction.” Our leadership and impact is felt far beyond our borders. Bienvenido!
Eleni Kounalakis is California’s 50th lieutenant governor. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.
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