Jerry Brown, California’s 73-year-old governor, has been showing signs lately of becoming a grumpy old man.
In comments to reporters, in speeches and in bill veto messages, Brown has complained about the quantity (too much) and quality (too little) of legislation reaching his desk, about the intransigence of Republicans on taxes and about the influence that anti-tax groups wield on those Republicans.
The responses are obvious, to wit:
- The Legislature generated less than half as many bills this year as it routinely did during Brown’s first governorship three-plus decades ago.
- While many of today’s bills are merely half-baked notions, symbols and trivia, so were many of those during his first stint, including some he sponsored.
- Yes, Republicans are generally more conservative today than they were in the 1970s and thus more opposed to raising taxes, but the Democrats are also markedly more liberal and less willing to make permanent spending cuts or reduce the “wall of debt.”
- While those anti-tax zealots to whom Brown refers do have heavy influence on Republicans, their clout is no more paralytic than what public employee unions wield on Democrats, as Brown discovered when he tried to fashion a bipartisan budget deal.
- Brown would have known all of this if he had been paying attention to the Capitol’s evolution during his 28-years from the Governor’s Office, but apparently he wasn’t.
- Finally, no one twisted his arm to run for governor again.
Brown’s pitch to voters last year was that he could break the Capitol’s gridlock on the budget and other issues — most of which date from his previous governorship, incidentally — because he was an experienced politician.
He implied that his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, failed to change the Capitol’s moribund ways because he was an inexperienced outsider and that electing Republican Meg Whitman would have been another adventure in impotent amateurism.
Brown, however, has been no more successful, at least so far, than Schwarzenegger, which provides more proof — as if we needed it — that changing the name on the governor’s suite doesn’t truly change anything.
We have a systemically dysfunctional state government. Until it is changed — radically — to align it with our 21st-century reality, it will not and cannot deal effectively with California’s major issues.
Instead of whining, Brown should lead on empowering those we elect to make decisions and then, importantly, holding them accountable.
Schwarzenegger at least tried to make reforms. If Brown really wants a legacy for the history books, he would revive that crusade.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.