Thus Spake MoDowd
Californians, rest assured: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has visited the Golden State, sat down with Gov. Jerry Brown, hobnobbed with a few swells in La-La Land, and has declared the guv’s budgetary cut-and-tax scheme the responsible thing to do.
A word of caution before you read her column. If you read her stuff, you’ll recognize some of it as typical Dowd-iness: she has to include herself in the conversation, has to tell you what she’s eating, has to drop at least one pop culture reference, and has to include at least one celebrity sighting.
That much, I can tolerate.
Nor am I not the first to notice this trend.
What’s irksome is her conclusion that California is doing the responsible thing, as opposed to other states (Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, etc.) where new or relatively newly elected governors are in very public, very messy — and, arguably very necessary — showdowns with vested interests.
Here are, imo, the errors in Ms. Dowd’s thinking:
1) The California approach is not commendable — not in the sense that, at its core, its gutless. Rather than carry out their responsibilities as elected officials and settle matters under the Capitol dome, the California approach is to have lawmakers ask voters for political cover in the form of a special election. To use a tired cliché from the last election, that’s not “manning-up”.
2) Rather than address our more immediate concerns (California’s boom-or-bust economy, a crushing pension burden, the conundrum that is public education), anything passed in June is but a band-aid — Sacramento’s way of buying time until a recovery occurs a few years ahead. Granted, pension reform might be part of the bipartisan equation for getting the plan on the ballot, but the smart money says it comes nothing close to what the nonpartisan Little Hoover Commission has suggested. That all but guarantees a bigger ballot fight down the right.
3) California’s in its current bind — we gotta get a deal together as soon as March 10, no later by month’s end, in order to stage a special election on June 7 — because Jerry Brown put us in this box. He didn’t want to pull a Phil Angelides (or a Walter Mondale) and make himself the candidate of higher taxes, so he found a clever way to sidestep the liability: promise he’d only raise taxes . . . with the public’s consent. The governor is a clever man. But he complicated things this year by opting for a less-complicated candidacy last fall. Shame on him for trying it; shame on us for not smoking him out.
4) Let’s suppose Brown scores two big wins in the next three months — he gets a bipartisan plan through the Legislature with enough Republican commitment to give it a whiff of bipartisan scent, and then gets voters’ sign-off. What comes next? There remains an A-Z of needed reforms in the Golden State. Where are the governor, Democratic legislators, loyal-opposition Republicans and California’s powerhouse special interests? The answer: all are stuck in neutral; none seems to have an Rx for ails California — other than to blame the other side and bemoan a dysfunctional political system. Call it what it is: a keen grasp of the obvious. In this respect, California is not a national role model. If anything, we’re fiddling while other states at least attempt to put out their fires.
Such is the problem, with the passive approach to managing a state. Too much fiddling . . . while the band plays on.