Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Jerry Meandering

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Jerry Brown: once and future governor

The calendar may say that California is between gubernatorial administrations, but that doesn’t mean the media can’t engage in speculation about what kind of governor Jerry Brown will be — which they’ve been doing since . . . well, since before he earned back his old job.

Making sense of Jerry Brown and predicting his next move is fun. And it’s complicated.

Methinks it’s also a waste of your precious time.

Few modern California politicians have been as quizzical. Few have shown the same willingness to shed their past political skins for a new persona — futuristic governor, anti-establishment presidential wannabe, tough-love mayor, wiser-but-older governor-elect.

What to know who Jerry Brown really is? Pop in an Isaac Hayes cd and listen to what he said about another 70’s icon: John Shaft.

“He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.”

Maybe you expecting an earlier stanza?

“Who’s the cat who won’t cop out, when there’s danger all about?”

So now we enter wait-and-see mode with the past and future Gov. Brown. And, boy, are there a lot of questions waiting to be answered.

1) How’s he going to confront what’s left of the $25 billion deficit that’s the subject of a legislative special session?

2) Where is he prepared to draw the line when the usual suspect from the Democratic power base — public employees, teachers, environmentalists and civil-rights activists — all come looking for a favor (in the case of public-employees union, payback)? The ability to be “Dr. No” is crucial to Brown’s ability to bring real change Sacramento — and afford the same pitfalls that contributed to  Gray Davis’ political demise.

3) What’s the plan for economic growth, other than taking a swig from the green kool-aid jug and touting the virtues of clean tech and combating global warming?

4) If he plans to put a tax increase on the ballot, what’s Plan B when (not if, but when) voters reject that strategy (“government” and “money” being poisonous words on the November initiative slate)?

Just say (Dr.) No . . .

So many unknowns, and only six weeks before the fun begins.

And, for me, it begins with one threshold question: is Jerry really going to throw himself into this challenge? If so, how long will the job keep his interest?

Figure it this way: for most politicians, becoming governor of California is the culmination of a long climb up a pyramid. Do the job well and there’s a chance at one more promotion: national office (the U.S. Senate is a lateral move, at best).

Yes, this is a culmination for Brown in that, at age 72 it’s likely his last elected office. And that’s my concern.  In a lifetime of politics built upon the notion that, in the back of his mind, there’s always another move, this version of Jerry Brown — the one about to become California’s 39th governor — is also a man at the end of the political line (not that the governor’s office is to be mistake for Death Row).

At some point — maybe sooner that you think . . . like, in a year, after he tires of dealing with a stubborn Legislature and an impatient media — what’s Jerry’s thought process? Will he still see himself as a fixer and reformer on a four-year (or eight-year) mission. Or does he start the countdown to 2015 and getting back to Oakland full-time? If next year’s presidential primaries bring with them a liberal challenge to Barack Obama, is an older, more mature Jerry Brown capable of withstanding the allure of national politics (not running, mind you, but sticking in his nose where it doesn’t belong)?

There are two schools of thought, here. One is that Brown, always the contrarian, will turn out to be a pleasant surprise. The other: the man with the wandering eye can’t help himself, and will struggle staying focused on the day job.

In “Shaft”-speak, a “bad mother” . . . or a bad governor.


Written by Bill Whalen

November 15, 2010 at 8:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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