My son was born in Los Angeles, five weeks early and 2,300 miles from home. We returned to the East Coast days later, but for a barely five-pound bundle who slept most of the time, he managed to leave surprisingly deep roots behind. California has always held a skeleton key to his imagination; he feels an affinity for its Pacific skies and a kinship with the surfers, skateboarders, and creative schemers who animate its scenes. I’ll be surprised if, sooner or later, he doesn’t live there for a stretch.

But which California will it be? The state leading the way to a dynamic, multiethnic, environmentally sustainable future that the world will follow? Or the one committing, as an article in Forbes said recently, "economic suicide"? The nation’s largest state has large problems, including a structural budget gap of $20 billion and a costly prison system that siphons too much money from its schools. The housing market is still in the dumps, recession-weary residents have fled, and Silicon Valley is not the dynamo it was. California’s legislature is the governmental equivalent of Ozzy Osbourne — so shockingly dysfunctional it’s almost cool. Yet despite the litany of woes, the state still has the world’s eighth-largest economy — nearly equal those of New York and Texas combined — and exerts an unquantifiable gravitational pull. It’s been said that California is to America what America is to the world. Even with its government unsteady and its economy unhinged (for now) from prosperity, something about the place remains sweetly sticky in the soul. Some have given up on the California Dream. But I know one teenager who still believes.