Dan Morain is editorial page editor and political affairs columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Before taking part in a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation panel discussion in Sacramento entitled “Is the Central Valley Finally Embracing Its Urban Future?” he spoke in the Zócalo green room about country music and archetypal Californians.
Do you have a favorite 20th-century U.S. author?
Steinbeck. He told the California story so well, in so many different ways.
Is there a less-known work of his that should be read more?
The Harvest Gypsies was a non-fiction piece that led up to The Grapes of Wrath, and it’s pretty cool. It’s journalism, which is what he was, basically, and it told the story in short order that he told in longer form in fiction.
What person present or past would you most like to sit down and have a beer with?
I don’t think he would drink beer, but I think George Shultz is a fascinating guy. He lived such a fascinating part of the 20th century. I’ve talked to him a few times, but never in great depth. He was such a transformative Secretary of State at a transformative time in U.S. history. And I love that he’s a Californian.
Maybe Steinbeck, too?
No doubt. I would be intimidated, though.
Was there a teacher who changed your life?
Howard Seeman, a journalism professor at Humboldt State. Down-to-earth guy, cared a lot about journalism. I was trying to find what to do, and he encouraged me.
What’s your favorite season here in the Valley?
Fall, because it’s not too hot and not too brisk. I hate the wind; it’s like living in a blow dryer when it gets windy, and the fall is generally less windy than the spring.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
Well, being the editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee ranks way up there. I’ve been doing journalism for 40 years. Before that my first job was working for a vet, cleaning out dog kennels. That was kind of the grossest job, but there I was in junior high school making a little money on Saturdays.
Who’s your favorite Rolling Stone?
I’m not a huge Stones fan, but Sympathy for the Devil I think is a great song. And of course Mick Jagger is a force of nature. I go more toward Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
If you could time travel to any period, which would you choose?
I think the time leading up to the Civil War is really fascinating. I’d like to see that. I don’t think we’re heading toward Civil War now, but we’re living in a pretty acrimonious time, and it just makes me think about how bad it must have been to actually draw arms and shoot one another. I don’t think that’ll happen again, but I think there are certain parallels.