Growing up in California in the 1960s, it was impossible not to believe you lived in the greatest place on earth.
California had spectacular coastlines and mountains, luxuriant valleys and stretches of perfect weather that carried on unbroken for months at a time. Natives who ventured from the state -- to other parts of the country or the world -- invariably returned to say it was a mistake to ever leave.
In that not-so-long-ago era, a pioneering culture still gripped the Golden State. People came to California not take things from government, but to make things of themselves.
The first European settlers to arrive in California were Franciscan priests from Spain, who traveled to the far edge of the world as they knew it not to enslave native peoples, but to bring them Christianity. They were followed by hardy souls who crossed an entire continent to reach the Pacific. When these pioneers arrived, they built magnificent things. The Franciscans built churches. The gold-seekers ended up building the city of San Francisco around one of those churches.
Because it almost never rained during the growing season in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, where the soil would grow almost anything, the people built massive dams in the Sierras and directed water from there to channels that crossed and irrigated farmlands that otherwise would have been summertime deserts.
A group of California counties collaborated in raising private money to build a bridge across the Golden Gate -- and they did not build just any bridge, they built the most beautiful bridge in the world. Then they paid off its construction costs with tolls assessed only on people who crossed the bridge.
Not a single taxpayer in Massachusetts or Montana every paid a penny for the Golden Gate Bridge -- unless he freely crossed it and paid the fare.
As America's population grew and prospered in the 20th century, California outpaced its sister states.
From 1900 to 1910, her population grew by an astounding 60.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau. In the remaining decades of the 20th century, it grew by 44.1 percent, 65.7 percent, 21.7 percent, 53.3 percent, 48.5 percent. 27.0 percent, 18.6 percent, 25.7 percent and 13.8 percent.
After each Census, California won additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and gained greater influence over the nation's political destiny.
Then came the population count of 2010. Last week, the Census Bureau announced that for the first time since California became a state in 1850, it would gain no additional seats in the House.
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