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Tracy Westen '62 and Robert Stern '66 Win Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award

Tracy Westen
Robert Stern

Long before he was a CEO, Tracy Westen ‘62 was a KSPC radio jockey-philosopher who, in good faith, added a major segment of news, public affairs, and documentary programming to the College station’s line-up, believing that information had the power to affect change—even change the political system!—for good. Westen walked through Pomona College’s gates day in and day out and took careful note of the inscription: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."

“Believe it or not, the Blaisdell quotation always meant a great deal to me,” says Westen. “I would look at it every day as I walked to class. It seemed to me to be incredibly right, to sum up exactly what one should do with a liberal arts education. I still have that quotation near my desk.”

Just a glance at the long list of his accomplishments in service to the public, makes it relatively safe to assume that his desk is a big one.

Frustrated with his private law practice, Westen knew his call was for public service. “I decided that the most important thing I could do would be to try to fix California's campaign financing problems--the rapidly escalating flood of money into state legislative campaigns--which were distorting legislative decisions away from the public interest. After some thought, I decided the best way to accomplish this was to create a new blue-ribbon commission of leading Californians, who would study the issues, and then release a report.”

He founded the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) in 1983, creating innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments—by strengthening democracy and improving processes through civic engagement, research, nonpartisan analysis, strategic consulting and public information. He is the vice-chairman and CEO of CGS.

In 1983, before Robert Stern ’66 was dubbed the “godfather of modern political reform in California,” by the Sacramento Bee, Westen (whose brother Derek Westen’67 played badminton with Stern) made Stern an offer he could have understandably refused: A job with the brand-new CGS, guaranteed for only one year.

Fast-forward 27 years.

One, Stern still has that job: “We didn't sell our house in Sacramento until just five years ago, since I had assumed that we would be moving back to Sacramento after one year, two years, etc.,” says Stern, who is president of CGS.

Two, Stern and Westen are shared recipients of the 2010 Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes their professional success and public service through CGS.

Stern credits Houston Flournoy with getting him started in public service. Flournoy was a former Pomona College political science professor who jumped into the rough-and-tumble field of California government as a legislator, state controller and gubernatorial candidate. After class, Stern would go into Flournoy’s office and talk with him about politics and his experiences as a California legislator. When Stern applied for a counsel position with the California Legislature's Assembly Judiciary Committee and needed a Republican reference, it was Flournoy who supplied it.

Weston and Stern’s accomplishments through CGS make for a staggeringly long list. Among numerous achievements, CGS has:

  • Helped the Los Angeles City Council draft a new ethics and campaign finance law that was adopted by the voters in 1990
  • Developed the California Channel, a CSPAN for California, that provides television coverage of state government to six million homes
  • Developed DNET, an interactive website providing information to voters about candidates and ballot measures. DNET was sold to Grassroots.com, one of the few times a nonprofit organization has developed a project that was purchased by a commercial organization
  • Established the California Citizens Budget Commission, which made recommendations on how to improve our budget process
  • Created Video Voter, an award-winning system of presenting voter information in video formats

A sampling of what CGS is currently working on, includes:

  • Preparing a report on Prop. 14, the top two measure on the June 2010 California ballot
  • Preparing a report on the public financing programs of Albuquerque and Portland
  • Preparing a report on transparency of governmental websites
  • Working on the website HealthVote.org, which will provide information on all health care related ballot measures on the 2010 ballot
  • Working on an examination of voter information services provided by the 50 states to voters
  • Refining PolicyArchive.org, which now has over 30,000 public interest documents online

“At this point, Tracy and I have no intention of retiring,” says Stern. “It is too much fun doing what we do.”