Commentary: Panetta's view on California's budget issues should worry state

After accepting President Barack Obama's request that he serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta offered his friends out here a pithy and prescient view about the daunting task ahead.

He would be leaving his Carmel Valley home, various boards, an institute he and his wife founded, and an important post as co-chair of California Forward, a nonpartisan organization advocating for reforms of this state's dysfunctional government.

Why give that up? He was, after all, 70. Simple.

" 'It may be easier to find Osama bin Laden than it is to fix California,' " James Mayer, California Forward's executive director, recalled Panetta telling board members as he wrapped up his duties in January 2009.

Turns out Panetta was right. For the past week, the nation has been riveted by everything bin Laden, beginning with Obama's address to the nation last Sunday in which he said that upon taking office, he told Panetta to "make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al-Qaida."

So many details that have emerged are the stuff of history: how CIA agents located bin Laden, how Navy SEALs trained for the assault, how Obama and his advisers gathered in the Situation Room to watch as Panetta, in his office across the Potomac River in Langley, narrated real-time details of the assault on the Abbottabad compound and the terrorist's final moments.

Panetta's place as a national figure is solid, deservedly so. But take a look at where he has been. Then consider his view of the state of the state of California. It ought to alarm those of us still here.

To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.