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Emeg vs. Moonbeam March 29, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Uncategorized.
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Ed Kilgore has an informative account of the California Governor’s race. Here are some highlights.

He begins by questioning why anyone would want the job.

California’s bad case of political self-loathing goes beyond a terrible economy, the state’s chronic monstrous state budget deficits, and the endless gridlock over virtually all major decisions in Sacramento. On the structural level, California’s permissive ballot initiative system has inserted voters—or, to be cynical about it, the special interests backing initiatives—into matters normally left to governors and legislators, resulting in constitutional limits on property taxes; excessive reliance on recession-sensitive income taxes; a crippling two-thirds vote requirement for legislative enactment of a state budget or for increasing taxes at any level of government; and a variety of spending mandates. Polls consistently show that a majority of citizens oppose tax increases and most spending cuts (they do favor cutting spending on prisons, which are operating under court rules and stuffed with inmates who have run afoul of the state’s many mandatory sentencing laws, some imposed by initiative). “Waste” is where Californians seem to want lawmakers to look for the massive savings necessary to balance the budget. Too bad California already ranks near the bottom among states in per capita state employees and infrastructure investment, and below average in per-pupil spending on education.

He goes on to characterize the two main candidates for this highly sought after position:

The second GOP candidate, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, is running far ahead of Poizner, floating her campaign on an extraordinary sea of early money. Three months before the June primary, and eight months before the general election, Whitman (or eMeg, as local political journalists often call her) has already spent $46 million, mostly from personal funds on her campaign, and has threatened to spend up to $150 million if necessary.

EMeg’s strategy is to buy the election with her almost limitless personal fortune.

Whitman’s ads mainly convey, with numbing repetition, her claim to offer a fresh start for the state, delivered by a rock-star business executive committed to cuts in spending, tax cuts, and education reform.

And how is this to be accomplished in a state in which the population routinely says no to spending cuts and taxes?

She’s also bought herself grief by refusing, until very recently, to answer press questions or elaborate beyond the happy talk of her biographical ads about her positions on various issues. All in all, she’s in danger of earning the reputation of being something of a robo-pol like her political mentor, Mitt Romney.

So far there are no ideas coming from EMeg and no experience in government either. That sounds like “Governator” redux to me.

On the other side of the aisle we have Jerry Brown, known as “Governor Moonbeam” 30 years ago for his unorthodox style. He has experience in spades:

…Brown was first elected to statewide office 40—yes, 40—years ago. After a term as secretary of state, he was governor for eight years, and later state party chair, mayor of Oakland, and currently attorney general of California. He also ran unsuccessfully, and somewhat fecklessly, for the U.S. Senate once and for president three times.

But, although the anti-politician sentiment is raging, Brown may not be handicapped by it.

You see, Jerry Brown is a tough challenger because he is hard to confine to the standard political and ideological boxes. His long political career may be a handicap in some respects, but it has also helped him defy typecasting and create unusual coalitions. Long an ally of Democratic liberals—in the 1990s, he had a show on the lefty Pacifica radio network—Brown governed California as a fiscal hawk in the wake of the property tax-slashing Proposition 13 (which he had opposed) in 1978. Similarly, as mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007, he became known for a strong law-enforcement record, and for his championship of charter public schools, including one controversial military school. He can be broadly characterized as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, which is a good fit for his state. But his leitmotif as a politician has always been unpredictability and a knack for anticipating and sometimes embodying the zeitgeist. […]

He seriously studied Zen Buddhism in the 1980s, underwent training for the Jesuit priesthood, and worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Not surprisingly, he conveys a certain aura of ironic detachment and self-control.

Indeed, over four decades of engagement in public life, Jerry Brown has developed a remarkable knack for displaying a sense of his own—and government’s—limits. He began his gubernatorial first term in 1975 with an off-the-cuff “address” that ran seven minutes; replaced the traditional inaugural ball with an informal dinner at a Chinese restaurant; traded in his gubernatorial limo for a 1974 Plymouth from the state car pool; rented a small apartment instead of living in the governor’s mansion; and reportedly slept on a mattress on the floor. (As governor, Brown was far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes and spending several times. His austerity, which created vast budget surpluses, prompted one Reagan aide to joke that the Gipper “thinks Jerry Brown has gone too far to the right.”)

How will Governor Moonbeam do this time around?

Short of having their own grossly rich and relentless attack dog in the race, Democrats are probably blessed to have Brown, who can be expected to shrug off Whitman’s certain assault on his record and land a few coolly delivered blows of his own. He’s already reminding voters that California hasn’t had a particularly good recent experience with “outsider” governors promising to come in and clean up Sacramento by sheer force of will. […]

And it’s not as though Jerry Brown is likely to present Whitman with an unmoving target. As protean as California itself and as wily as any other 40-year veteran of political wars, Brown nicely defined himself in an interview with Calbuzz just after officially announcing his candidacy: “Adaptation is the essence of evolution,” he explained. “And those who don’t adapt go extinct.”

Indeed, such adaptivity may be the only thing that can serve California’s needs right now.

I don’t know who will win. Californians have proven that they are willing to elect a wealthy, empty suit with a big mouth to run the state.

But one way or another, our next governor is likely to be a clown.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com