California is a very large state – in terms of both population and land mass – as well as a very diverse and complex one, but governors typically don’t spend much time immersed in its reality.
They tend to spend most of their time in the Sacramento-Los Angeles-San Francisco triangle and treat the rest of California as flyover territory, as brief stops on the campaign trail, or as “photo ops” when some disaster has occurred.
A notable exception was George Deukmejian, who actually spent some time acquainting himself with corners of California the others ignored. He may have been the last governor to visit Alturas, for example.
During his first gubernatorial incarnation, Jerry Brown was even less visible outside the triangle than other recent governors because when he wasn’t tending to business in Sacramento, he was campaigning for re-election, the White House (twice) and the U.S. Senate.
Now back in the governorship, Brown is lamenting that he must deal with hundreds of “these damn bills” and says that when he’s done with them this weekend, he wants to spread his wings a bit.
Brown told Bee reporter David Siders, “I want to visit more prisons. I want to understand the highway system. I want to understand this water system better.
“The governor is the leader of all that,” Brown added, “but most of the time you’re doing something else. You’re reacting to new desires, called bills, you’re responding to contributors or you’re raising money, or you’re trying to make news.”
His aim, Brown said, is to “think and imagine and come up with things.”
It was, in a sense, a rather startling admission – that he ran for governor as someone with unmatched experience and proposed major changes in schools, prisons, water delivery and transportation, but really doesn’t know as much as he should about the vast state he governs.
Nevertheless, Brown should be given credit for his candor and his evident willingness to fill in the gaps of his knowledge about California.
However, he should also spend some of his sojourn for knowledge on aspects of California that are not state government programs, but the reality of Californians’ day-to-day lives.
He should, for example, seek a fuller understanding of the state’s $2 trillion economy – what’s working and what’s not and why. The Capitol’s politicians often appear to take a prosperous economy for granted and not understand how the policies they adopt positively or negatively affect it.
Brown should also spend some time in red California – the rural and suburban communities that feel increasingly alienated from the big cities and coastal enclaves that returned him to the governorship and elected big Democratic majorities in the Legislature.
After all, Brown is supposed to be the governor of the whole state – including the folks in Alturas.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.