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  • Jack Ohman johman@sacbee.com

  • William Whalen

Viewpoints: Forecasting state's changing political seasons

Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 17A
Last Modified: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 - 9:03 pm

Come Saturday, we'll know whether spring will arrive early or the groundhog's shadow portends another six weeks of winter.

Not to be outdone by Pennsylvania and Punxsutawney Phil, California has its own prognosticator: a desert tortoise named Mojave Max, whose leisurely emergence from his burrow – it can happen any time from mid-February to mid-April – marks the change of seasons.

But what of California politics, that one Sacramento pursuit that has no seasonal boundaries? Regardless of what Phil and Max encounter, here's an early forecast for the Golden State:

Six to eight minutes, six to eight days. The time it took Gov. Jerry Brown to shake hands and exit the state Assembly chamber following last week's State of the State address, and the time for that speech to vanish from the radar screen. Not that Brown fired blanks. It's just that he didn't say anything unorthodox or unexpected, thus making the big speech little in terms of a 2013 game-changer – in previous State of the States, the governor similarly lectured lawmakers on fiscal restraint and chided pessimists. A more relevant timeline would be …

Six to eight weeks. That takes us up to April, the closing days of the 2012 tax season, and a better fix on whether to break out the black or red Crayolas for the 2013-14 state budget. A healthy revenue surplus is a mixed blessing for Brown. It surely beats another round of agonizing cuts to schools and the safety net. Then again, if there's money in the bank, can California's miserly governor save the Legislature from its own spending excesses? That tension may play out for another …

Six to eight months. That puts us past the budget and well into summertime and the legislative high season. And that means another tango between two partners, both of whom want to lead: a Democratic Legislature that leans left, and a Democratic governor who moves left, right and center. Last year, Brown's legislative coup was coaxing liberal Democrats to stomach what they could on pension reform. This year, it's more cod-liver oil: Brown's desire to reform the California Environmental Quality Act. Will legislative Republicans have any role in the CEQA debate? Or are they destined for irrelevancy for at least another …

Six to eight years. The desert tortoise isn't the only endangered species in the state; so, too, is the California GOP. Hiring Jim Brulte as party chairman is a wise start – he's a sensible man who has his priorities straight: rebuild the grass roots, recruit better candidates. Add to that persuading a frustrated donor base to replenish the party's coffers. 2018 looms as a seminal moment, assuming both a termed-out Brown and a retiring Dianne Feinstein leave big vacancies. By then, maybe prospective GOP candidates will have forgotten what the political arena did to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman's reputations and bank accounts. But at least California Republicans won't have to wait another …

Six to eight decades. Or, however long it takes to complete California's high-speech rail – a.k.a. Brown's little engine that could. The problem isn't the need for "I think I can" optimism. It's what the rail project can't – give honest answers as to its cost, financing, ridership and land acquisition. It's a puzzle for a Brown biographer to piece together: why this governor, so firmly embedded in California political reality, is so enamored of a rail project with so many glaring flaws. But that's only so much water over the dam compared to an even longer wait …

Six to eight centuries. By then, perhaps final resolution to a California water "crisis" that pits north vs. south, rural vs. residential, and enviros vs. entrepreneurs. Brown likens the price tag for his $14 billion Delta water "chunnel" – two massive 35-mile tunnels to carry water south – to the cost of putting on the London Olympics. Without mentioning one difference: People like the Olympics. Assuming the Golden State hasn't seismically tumbled into the sea or fallen victim to the rising tides of global warming by then, look for this to be a centerpiece of California's 2613 State of the State address – delivered by a cloned Jerry Brown.

That, after we've trotted out another six to eight Jerry clones to save California from itself.

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Read more articles by William Whalen



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