August 11, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Pensions, Prisons Give Governor Jerry Brown ‘Nixon-To-China’ Moments: Elias:

Political landmarks that can properly be labeled “Nixon-to-China” moments are rare, usually occurring only once in a career, if ever.

But his actions on prisons and pensions gave Gov. Jerry Brown two of them this summer and fall.

The term Nixon-to-China stems from President Richard Nixon’s 1972 opening to what was then called Red China, where he sipped tea with Mao Zedong after spending a career vilifying others for “losing China” and otherwise blasting Mao and his fellow Chinese Communists. Had a Democratic resident done the same thing, Nixon and his Republican Party mates would have labeled it traitorous. This was something only a Republican could do.

So a Nixon-to-China moment comes when a politician makes a move counter to his previous type and one that someone from the rival party probably could not so much as attempt.

Brown’s latest such moment came, when he proposed a package of public employee pension changes the state Legislature’s big Democratic majorities would automatically reject if it had come from a Republican. Even coming from a Democratic governor, Brown’s plan has drawn skepticism from legislative leaders.

This proposal would give new state workers something akin to the 401(K) retirement plans common in private business, while still keeping elements of a traditional guaranteed pension system. Brown seeks to raise the age at which new state employees can draw full benefits to 67, rather than today’s 55, and to have many current employees boost their pension contributions. This would put state, city and county pensioners nearly on a par with people on Social Security.

When Republicans proposed similar items months ago, they were virtually ignored. For parts of Brown’s plan will need legislative approval and other portions can’t happen without a vote of the people, both of which would take Democratic support.

Brown also wants an end or limit to double-dipping, which sometimes sees people draw two pensions or go back to work with full pay for the very agencies from which they’ve retired. And he’s targeting “air time,” where employees can raise their retirement benefits by paying to add as many as five fictitious years to the time they actually were in the public employ.

Republicans habitually blast Brown as a creature of public employee unions, since he granted them new bargaining powers during his first term as governor in the 1970s. Unions were the leading contributors to his campaign last year, but some will fight his new proposals.

“We are disappointed that the governor is proposing pension changes that will undermine retirement security for public employees,” griped Dave Low, chairman of a union coalition called Californians for Retirement Security. He sounded a bit like Republicans who complained about Nixon’s China trip.

Brown’s other Nixon-to-China moment came when he signed a bill now shifting tens of thousands of non-violent convicts from state prisons to county jails. This draws loud beefs from local officials who claim it will break their bank accounts, even though they are getting state subsidies.

Brown made this move both to help balance the state budget and to comply with federal court orders to ease overcrowding in state prisons within months.

The outfit taking the biggest cuts as this happens might be the state prison guards union, 26,000 of whose members are now receiving pink slips like those that have gone to schoolteachers in several recent years. Notices of potential layoffs went not just to guards, but also cooks, janitors and counselors. Almost certainly, the number of actual layoffs will be much smaller, but any loss of membership will reduce the bargaining power and political clout of a union that has been a huge force in California since ex-Gov. Gray Davis granted its members a fat raise just after they backed his reelection in 2002.

“Every (prisoner) that goes to the local level should be seen as a threat to the guards’ union,” Frank Zimring, a prison expert and UC Berkeley law professor, told a reporter.

Republicans made Davis’ concession to the guards a major issue during the election to recall him one year later, but it’s highly unlikely any GOP governor could have gotten Democratic lawmakers to okay a prisoner shift doing the union potential harm. Brown did it, despite Republican charges that he’s “owned” by that union and others.

It adds up to the kind of independence Brown promised when he ran for the third term that no other California governor since Earl Warren has won. Now it will be up to Republicans to decide whether they’ll vote for a considerable change in public employee pensions, even if it doesn’t give them everything they’ve wanted.

Brown’s pension plan falls far short of the ideal for both unionists and conservatives who like to blame them for many ills. But there’s no doubt it will help ease the state’s financial troubles. So one question now is how many legislators will let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

in Opinion
Related Posts

SMa.r.t. Column: Ode to the Future of My City

August 8, 2022

August 8, 2022

How sad it is to journey to Santa Monica and I can’t find it.The open blue sky hides behind canyon...

SMa.r.t. Column: Why Native Gardens?

July 22, 2022

July 22, 2022

Voltaire said it best at the end of his 1759 novel  Candide: “We must cultivate our own garden”. This simple...

SMa.r.t. Column: We’re All Wet – Not!

July 15, 2022

July 15, 2022

Don’t you think that if you heard, or read, statements from controlling government agencies that said you were threatened by...

Affordability Answer: A New Tax on Housing Speculators?

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist The TV commercials and online ads are fast becoming ubiquitous: “We’ll buy your house as is,”...

SMar.t. Column: Has the Promenade Turned a Corner?

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

In large complex systems with dynamically balanced forces, it’s paradoxically often hard to tell when something has actually happened, For...

Column: Groundwater Law Has Not Stopped Subsidence

July 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

By Tom Elias Drive almost any road in the vast San Joaquin Valley and you’ll see irrigation pipes standing up...

SMa.r.t. Column: It’s Time to Look at the Facts of Santa Monica’s Housing History

June 30, 2022

June 30, 2022

The Narrative: Santa Monica’s decades-long housing construction “shortage”  The Narrative endlessly repeats the refrain that for decades Santa Monica has...

SMa.r.t. Column: The Mansionization of Santa Monica

June 17, 2022

June 17, 2022

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in print in 2016.  In the 1980s, Santa Monica’s single family zoning code was...

OP-Ed Response to DTSM Board Chair Barry Snell and Plea to City Council Regarding Safety Ambassadors and Ambassador Program

June 14, 2022

June 14, 2022

I am responding to the OP-ED (dated June 7, 2022, Santa Monica Mirror) by City-appointed DTSM Board Member and now...

SMa.r.t. Column: Wheeling Electrically

June 9, 2022

June 9, 2022

A recent weekend visit to Dana Point, on the Orange County coastline, revealed a curious scene: dozens, if not hundreds...

Population Loss: New Era or Pandemic Glitch?

June 3, 2022

June 3, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist The numbers suggest a major change is underway in California. It would take a Nostradamus to...

SMa.r.t. Column: The Sound of Silence Is Big & Tall

June 3, 2022

June 3, 2022

All too often these days we find ourselves wondering how we could have been so correct about so many planning...

OP-Ed: DTSM Chair Barry Snell on Safety Ambassadors

June 2, 2022

June 2, 2022

By Barry Snell Chair, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Board of Directors  The Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) Board of Directors...

Affordable Spaces for Small Business

May 27, 2022

May 27, 2022

Los Angeles County recently proposed a program providing financial incentives for certain “Legacy” family businesses in their original historical location....

​​Doubt Removed: Oil Refiners Gouging Us

May 23, 2022

May 23, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist There was some room for doubt back in February, when gasoline prices rose precipitously: Until the...