Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Has Jerry Brown found secret to governing California?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 - 12:30 am

By happenstance, the 10th anniversary of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sensational election as governor coincided, almost to the day, with the moment his successor, Jerry Brown, became the state’s longest-serving chief executive.

Bodybuilder and movie star Schwarzenegger, it could be said, was the consummate political outsider, while 75-year-old Brown, with more than a quarter-century in office – plus three bids for the White House – under his belt, is the grizzled insider.

Both, tellingly, came into the governorship with promises to govern a state that many had concluded, with good evidence, had become ungovernable.

Schwarzenegger, who had promised “action, action, action,” wasted little time making good. Just minutes after being sworn in, he rolled back an unpopular, multibillion-dollar hike in property taxes on cars that had contributed mightily to the historic recall of his predecessor, Gray Davis.

However, that first act also turned out to be, at least in retrospect, his first big mistake because it exacerbated the state’s chronic budget deficits.

Schwarzenegger’s learning-on-the-job governorship was not successful. He squandered the huge momentum from his re-election, and turned out to be, despite his action-movie image, somewhat wishy-washy, wandering all over the ideological map. So, one might conclude, it was a mistake to elect an inexperienced amateur to the governorship of the nation’s most populous and most fractious state. Yet, Davis had also failed after winning the governorship on his claim of unmatched experience – including a stint as Brown 1.0’s chief of staff.

So experience didn’t succeed, nor did naivete and hubris. Perhaps the Davis-Schwarzenegger era proved that California was, indeed, ungovernable no matter whose name was on the office door.

Then Brown reappeared after a 28-year absence, defeating another aspiring amateur, Meg Whitman.

The one-time wunderkind of American politics, who had undergone several makeovers of image and ideology, recast himself again as a wily political centrist who could succeed where others had failed.

By Brown’s own account, he has succeeded in balancing the budget (thanks largely to a voter-approved temporary tax hike), reducing prison overcrowding, reforming school finance and workers’ compensation, and pushing landmark water and high-speed-rail projects.

It is, however, still much too early to declare Brown 2.0 a success. We don’t know what will happen to the substantial new spending on schools and “realignment” when the temporary taxes expire. School reform is too new to judge, and no one knows how Brown’s pet water and bullet-train projects will be financed.

We still don’t know, in other words, whether he has discovered the secret to governing California – or even if there is one.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter@WaltersBee.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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