Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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One Drought Ends, Another Continues

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Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown (l): down . . . and out?

On the same day that California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s drought, the state’s political press corps was fast writing the early obituary for the governor’s efforts to rig a special election to let voters sign off on state budget cuts and tax extensions.

Talk about an interesting turn of events: the state’s water shortage ends; its leadership shortage continues.

Here’s how I see it.

In 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide water drought. If only the political drought were that short. I take the latter shortfall — the failure of leadership in the Governor’s Office — back a decade ago to the second half of Gray Davis’ first term, when he began to take on water from the combined weight of a burst tech bubble, persnickety legislative Democrats, and rolling blackouts. Unable to tread such turbulent waters, Davis was recalled in October 2003.

Enter Arnold, who promised to part the waves and magically deliver needed reforms to Sacramento. Unfortunately, the Governator couldn’t walk on water. Crushed in a special election in 2005, Schwarzenegger ditched the reform boom that he carried into office.

And now, Jerry Brown. His selling point last November: as a former two-term governor, he knew how to navigate the same waters that Arnold and Gray couldn’t. But, if indeed the governor’s tax-and-cut strategy is dead (in the water), then it took not even 100 days for the latest governor’s aspirations to find . . . a watery grave.

I spent a good part of Wednesday talking to reporters about the obligatory “why” and “what next”.

The former, I think, is pretty obvious. Everyone’s to blame to this one, as George Skelton correctly notes.  Legislative Republicans with newfound leverage over-reached (seriously, guys, moving the state primary to March and funding state fairs?).

Legislative Democrats also take a hit: the same folks who think it’s every Californians’ inalienable right to vote for higher taxes don’t think pension reform and budget caps deserve the same sunshine.

Brown also deserves a visit to the woodshed. The whole concept of a special election is because he didn’t have the guts, in last year’s election, to call for higher taxes and leave it as that; instead he adopted for special-election/modified-limited hangout.

And there’s California’s dysfunctional political system — one that produces few pragmatic centrists. Then again, that system is driven by voters who don’t much pay attention to Sacramento — and rarely punish the ruling class for failing to do its job.

Where California goes from here isn’t so clear. There’s still the option of muscling the governor’s scheme through the Legislature on a simple majority (i.e., party line) vote. But that may not pass legal muster.

Brown could call for a November election. But, by that time, the same proposed tax “extensions” would instead be tax “increases”. Sounds minor, but it makes for a tougher sell.

I’m interested in Brown, the man, at this point. I want to see how he handles the blame game: does he single-out the GOP for being so stubborn, or does he chalk up the failure of Plan A to those aforementioned problems with Sacramento?

Moreover, as a candidate who ran on the concept that he had the experience, the patience and the lack of national aspirations to stick to the job of making California government once again work (translation: I can do better than Arnold ever did or Meg Whitman ever would), what does the impasse say about Brown’s credibility as a difference-maker under the Capitol Dome?

It took voters the better part of two years to realize that neither Barack Obama nor Arnold Schwarzenegger could live up to their hype. While Jerry Brown didn’t enter office with such eager anticipation, it’s sad to see the bloom off the rose after less than 100 days on the job.

Unless Brown recovers gracefully from this setback and reconnects with the electorate as a leader who’s above the misery-in-motion that is Sacramento, he risks becoming a very early, very lame duck.


Written by Bill Whalen

March 31, 2011 at 3:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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