Acceptance Speech by Michael Villines

Thank you very much. Let me begin by thanking the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for this incredible honor.

And to Caroline Kennedy, thank you, and yes, I do believe you now that this is true.

I have to share with all of you I didn't believe it was even her that called me at first and was sure it was a prank.

I also want to acknowledge my wife and best friend, Chris, for allowing me to do this work that I love

And our Children: Conor, a budding historian; Allison, a singer and actress; and Joshua, the funniest and happiest boy I know.

I also want to acknowledge my college roommate, my other best friend and my Chief of Staff, Ivan Altamura...I am lucky to have you and Alisa, his wife, in my life.

And finally, to my parents who are so excited and proud for this day. My dad is home with my mom who can't travel, but they gave me permission to say that even though they have both voted Republican since 1968, the first President they could vote for and did vote for was President Kennedy.

President Kennedy inspired generations to give of themselves and follow their conscience.

I am humbled - and still don't feel deserving - to receive this very prestigious award that bears his name and symbolizes his call to public service and his belief in the power of individuals to make positive and lasting change.

It is a privilege to be honored alongside some of the most noble public servants we have known, whose leadership has changed the world.

It is still hard for me to see how my contributions can equal that of great leaders like President Gerald Ford, the Peacemakers of Northern Ireland and all other past recipients of this award.

But I do see a common thread among us. None of us allowed what was politically or personally advantageous to get in the way of following our conscience.

And we didn't let our differences blind us to seeing what was possible by working together.

These leaders showed on the world stage, and I think we showed in California, that there are no limits to what can be achieved if we set aside our differences and join together to do what's right.

It is my hope that leaders in politics will learn from what we've done and realize that working together isn't always the easiest way, but it is the best way to solve our pressing issues.

It’s the only way to get through the challenges that governments inevitably face.

It's the only way to help our economy recover in these tough economic times.

And it's the only way to build a stronger America.

I also think we need more humility and wisdom in all of us, especially today and especially in our government and industries.

In fact the great WWII General Omar Bradley while reflecting on the war said in a speech right here in Boston in 1948: "we know more of war than peace, more of death than life and more of power than wisdom."

Each of us has been or will be tested at some point in our lives.

Most of us will reach a defining moment, where we gain a new level of understanding and learn a lot about ourselves.

It is in this window of time - this window of uncertainty - when we need to shed fear and sustain ourselves with faith.

In fact, Robert Frost said it best: "Freedom lies in being bold."

My moment came when I was faced with the challenge of making budget decisions that affected the lives of 36 million Californians.

These were not just numbers on a piece of paper or statistics in a book. These were real people, whose livelihood depended on the tough choices we had to make.

Now there were many who argued that doing nothing was the best option – letting the state “go off the cliff" was the “fiscally responsible” position.

Doing nothing would have lead to:
California becoming insolvent, which would add billions in future costs and debt,
not issuing refunds due to taxpayers,
not paying small businesses, state vendors and employees,
early release from prison,
and the struggling among us going without health care, without dialysis in some cases and even food on the table in some cases.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that, “In any moment of decision, the best thing to do is the right thing, the next best thing to do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

For me, there was nothing more fiscally or socially irresponsible than inaction...especially when we knew the facts.

I was determined not to let California fail and to the best I could to solve the problem

And so I worked with Dave, Karen, Darrell and Governor Schwarzenneger to craft a budget compromise.

It wasn't easy. Our budget was one that we all disliked.

But in the end, we believed it was practical, fair, and the only way to get California on the road to recovery.

It was not until I faced this moment that I learned a great deal about politics and myself.

I learned there can be a big difference between practical truth and ideological truth.

I gained a new understanding of what it means to make choices that are not black and white.

I learned that courage is taking the hard road even when there is an easy way out.

And I gained a real understanding of what politics should be – putting the interests of the people ahead of what's easy or best for my career.

Frankly, I learned that it isn't about me.

Not everyone agreed with the decisions we made. And that’s okay.

People have different points of views, different priorities and different levels of understanding.

But this was more than disagreement.

Politics has always been personal but it has now become too negative in my opinion. It seems to almost be a sport.

Last year, I saw good and decent public servants savaged for the crime of doing what they thought was right.

I think that needs to change. We must all strive to be better.

As John Adams said to Ralph Waldo Emmerson in 1825 from Peace field, "I wish to God that we had more ambition in America today. By ambition I mean the old, noble kind...the kind to excel."

I believe California and our nation needs reform.

It will not be easy. And there will be those who will fight it every step of the way.

But steady progress is important and can lead to great things.

Steady progress is what lead to a revolution in America of thought and governing.

President Adams said that, "the Revolution was effected before the war commenced."

He wrote that, "The revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people...this radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."

I’d like to see a Revolution in California.

A revolution that brings together bright young minds, ready to set aside their biases and prejudices to evaluate problems rationally, propose solutions practically, live within our means, and always strive for the greater good.

If we can take away one positive thing from our experience last year, it is my hope that future generations will look to us and realize that real leadership is not easy,

But it can inspire, it can change the world and ANYONE can do it.

Thank you very much.

Remarks of Assemblyman Mike Villines on accepting the 2010 Profile in Courage Award, May 24, 2010 -- As Prepared for Delivery