Is (Governor) Brown ‘The New Black’?

ALPERN AT LARGE - After decades of California bemoaning the legacy of Jerry Brown’s last gubernatorial term, an older and wiser Governor Brown appears to be leading our state through some difficult times,
and while it’s wise to reserve judgment on Sacramento it does appear that Mr. Brown is the only person able to lead us right now—and as a new fashion (“the new black”) of a liberal Democratic Governor—for some harsh but accurate reasons:   
 
Governor Brown is a Democrat, he has more hands-on “street cred” as a former mayor of Oakland, and he wants to leave a better legacy than his last one. 
 
While the first two reasons are quite easy to defend, the last is more intuitive—why would anyone want to jump back in the gubernatorial hot seat unless it’s to articulate a legacy, particularly since it’s quite the likely the last public office that Jerry Brown will ever hold? 
 
Yet whether it’s by hard work, design or by luck, Mr. Brown now runs a state that is now fiscally in the black.  
 
In part, the greater fiscal solvency is because Governor Brown extracted cutbacks by a Democratic Legislature that would never have been allowed for a Republican Governor (remember Brown’s “Man Up!” declaration?).  The Democratic Legislature is still too apt to spend like drunken sailors, but they’ll listen to a Democratic Governor.
 
In part, the solvency resulted from long-overdue pension/benefit reform to the state’s public sector workforce (although by no means this process is even near completion) and in part it’s due to the large windfall of income and capital gains taxes resulting from the income shifting and withdrawal of investments prior to tax hikes just passed by Washington.
 
Not exactly reasons for anyone to jump for joy—those fawning over Democratic leadership might talk up the recovery in our state and nation, but at best we’re holding steady during a very long recession (some might call it a Second Depression), and Washington hasn’t yet addressed future fiscal cliffs of budget cuts and the debt ceiling that could dramatically and negatively impact California. 
 
But Governor Brown, in part because he’s our elected leader and in part because he might be the only one truly able to fix our state right now, has achieved a tax hike and enjoyed a surge in revenues that can be credited to his past efforts to reform Sacramento, his promise of future efforts to further reform Sacramento, and the ability to thereby achieve a vote of confidence by the voters to increase taxes in order to help Brown get our state back on track… 
 
…a vote that passed only by 54%, however.  If the recently-approved Measure 30 were an education-related revenue measure (requiring a voter approval threshold of 55%), it would have failed.  So at best, the “vote of approval” for Governor Brown was hardly a mandate, no matter what spinning might occur from a given partisan pundit. 
 
But Governor Brown has a shot—and a shot he was willing (to his ongoing credit) to take by then focusing on one of the most odious and crippling shackles the federal government has imposed on California—mega-expensive requirements for not only fixing but gold-plating a prison system whose inmates enjoy health benefits that many tax-paying California residents don’t even have. 
 
By declaring that “the prison crisis is over in California”, Governor Brown has repeated what Republican Governors have previously stated—that federal judges and highly-paid prison attorneys are too harsh and controlling for the state to properly run its own operations. 
 
And for a federal judiciary and much of the Democratic Establishment in Washington, as well as a press too liberal to ever presume that a Republican Governor could be sincere, caring and accurate, the same message from a Democratic California Governor with a strong progressive past will probably enjoy much greater credibility than ever a GOP Governor could achieve. 
 
Furthermore, as Governor Brown maps out major changes in California’s budgeting processes, he’ll be able to state the obvious and get things done in ways that Governor Schwarzeneggar never could (even what that latter individual was popular with the voters). 
 
Of course, after Governor Schwarzeneggar was proven right when his reforms were shown to be necessary (and which are now being implemented), and was proven wrong when his bond and budgetary gimmicks failed (and which are now being rejected), it’s certainly easier for Governor Brown and a more sober and chastened California public to do the right thing to fix our budget mess. 
 
Governor Brown isn’t saying anything new when he states that the state’s public university systems are “bloated and inefficient”, or doing anything new by cutting the state’s court and prison systems’ budgets and fighting for a more appropriate and efficient method of funding our public schools.   
 
Governor Brown also isn’t doing anything much different than any other governor would do if he/she complied with the federal government’s new Affordable Care Act, but the need to keep costs down for both the short- and long-term is critical to the fiscal viability of that health care coverage initiative.  
 
As a liberal Democrat, he’ll both have the chance to pursue a progressive legacy and to demonstrate the liberalism need not equal fiscal irresponsibility. 
 
Governor Brown will also (as he’s done in the past) work with Republicans in Sacramento (yes, they still exist as much as Democrats still exist in the House over in Washington) to achieve a balanced budget should some spend-happy Legislative Democrats threaten to restrain themselves from raising taxes and funding new unsustainable programs.
 
With both Democratic and Republican governors throughout the nation scrambling to ensure the fiscal viability and economy of their states at a time when Washington is more interested in spin and posturing than compromise and shared sacrifice, it’s hoped that Governor Brown will be an example of what true leadership can be—a pattern of leadership that emphasizes both a heart and a brain.  
 
And with our city, county, state and federal governments in too short a supply of leadership, and with concerns about our economy persisting for the indefinite future, a new fashion of governor (even if he is an older governor with a previous legacy) is quite probably what this state needs right now.
 
Maybe Brown is “the new black” when it comes to what a liberal governor should be.  
 
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
-cw
 
 
 
CityWatch
Vol 11 Issue 5
Pub: Jan 15, 2013