So far, the most interesting thing about the formal entry of Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown into the run for governor has been the reaction of the two megabucks-Republicans now vying so avidly and expensively to be his November rival.
Both former eBay chief Meg Whitman and current state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner have called Brown an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal; yet neither was anywhere near California during most of Brown’s previous governor terms.
So they might not be familiar with Brown’s terms “small is beautiful” and “an era of limits” to describe what government should be. Or that he vetoed three bills giving state employees raises in one year. Or that he fought a raise for university professors by reminding them of their “psychic rewards.”
It was awful, griped Jon Coupal, the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, in a conference call set up by the Whitman campaign, that Brown saddled several new parcel taxes upon Oakland during his recent eight years as mayor.
“Are (Coupal and Whitman) saying the people don’t have the right to vote more money for police and schools if that’s what they want?” he asked incredulously. “Every one of those taxes was approved by two-thirds of the people who pay the tax… That’s fundamental to democracy.”
If other charges leveled at him this year prove as easy for him to fend off as those first ones, Brown will have fun this fall.
“I know I don’t need this job,” Brown has said. “But I would like to bring back a time when people worked together even if they came from different parties.”
It’s almost as if he’s saying he wants to clean up the mess made by his various successors. But can he or anyone accomplish much when Republicans who deviate from the party line risk either recall or getting knocked off in the next primary election? When Democrats who cast an anti-union vote often lose party support for their next campaign?
Brown thinks he can do it in part because he’s changed profoundly since leaving office in 1983. “I’ve seen a lot more, I’m more patient,” he said. “Being mayor of Oakland was an eye opener. Half the people in my neighborhood were below the poverty line, there were parolees just out of Pelican Bay. It gave me a real-life feel that has grounded me.”
Brown does not expect to resolve the ongoing budget mess instantly, figuring that will take at least two years. “We’ll have to hold spending down and develop a plan with everyone on board,” he said. “Starting in December, I’ll meet with every single legislator. The Republicans should say where they want to cut, too, and then we’ll work it out. Plus, I believe the economy will come back – it has every time we’ve had a recession for the last hundred years. Is California finished? That’s absurd. With a total economy of more than $1.5 trillion, our budget is less than 2 percent of the gross state product.
“The Republicans have not yet identified just how they would solve things. So you have to put the spotlight on them. Is there waste? Well, we’ve already cut $60 billion in the last three years. But one thing is for sure: California government can’t continue unless we pull together. And we can do it because I don’t believe the Republicans want to destroy California.”
That’s a speech the Jerry Brown of the 1970s and ‘80s could never have made.
So this time, it’s Brown who’s after a psychic reward, the satisfaction of restoring California’s luster. The bottom line: Even if he’s severely outspent by whichever ultra-rich Republican he faces, all indications are he will have plenty of fun this year, and maybe far beyond.
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