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Bill Whalen: Big Business gives Gov. Brown a free pass

The news broke in early September, so technically it wasn’t an “October surprise.” Still, word that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters instead of his Republican challenger, Carl DeMaio, in California’s 52nd Congressional District in San Diego County raised an eyebrow or two.

Begin with the fact that the chamber, which fashions itself as a mega-business group, rarely is in the business of backing Democrats. Of 260 candidates who have received the chamber’s blessing in 2014, only four are Democrats. The other head-scratcher is that if Peters wins, he likely will still be in the minority in the House. Supporting DeMaio, on the other hand, would make nice with another California Republican who just happens to be the second most powerful individual in the chamber – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The funny thing is, this isn’t the only funny business going on between Republicans and the business sector in California in this election year. And that leads us to the Golden State’s quizzical governor’s race.

Last week, Republican challenger Neel Kashkari dropped off 6,500 paper bags in the Capitol mailroom, all meant for Gov. Jerry Brown and signifying the number of new hires lost when Tesla chose Nevada as the home of its new battery factory – the fault of a governor more concerned with banning plastic bags than fighting for jobs, Kashkari would have you believe.

That campaign stunt occurred alongside a lackluster forecast from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Unemployment continues to fall, but California is still a million jobs shy of where it should be. In non-economic terms, meh.

One might expect California’s business community to give a little money to Kashkari’s cause, if for no better reason than to give him a puncher’s chance on the airwaves – and to fire a warning shot across the governor’s bow that he should not be resting on his recovery laurels.

And that’s precisely the problem: California Big Business dares not rattle Brown’s cage. Like any politician who’s lasted this long, he has a memory that likewise is long – and he doesn’t forget slights.

That means Kashkari will be hard-pressed to collect five-figure checks from titans of California business. If his campaign is planning on the business crowd to underwrite a potent independent expenditure against Brown, it might start thinking about a Plan B.

This isn’t to suggest that corporate interests are asleep in this election. Just take a look at Proposition 46, which would raise the damages cap in medical negligence lawsuits. Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, a compendium of medical lobbies and assorted commerce chambers, has raised more than $37 million to kill that effort.

What it amounts to is business as usual, in a California election year, for the state’s business community. That means biting the tongue if and when Gov. Brown signs the plastic bag ban, while hoping he “makes good” by vetoing other so-called “job killers” currently in the bill-signing queue.

It’s not as if there’s an expressed quid pro quo between the governor and business, but there is a pattern – the last election year being a good example. In 2012, Brown wanted the tax-increasing Proposition 30; California’s business community backed off. Legislatively, six of the California Chamber’s “job killer” bills landed on the governor’s desk. Four were signed into law; the other two (meal breaks for domestic workers, and new regulation for state overtime) were deep-sixed.

That may sound like the short end of a deal – two steps forward for every four steps back – but it’s a better arrangement than in many a progressive-dominated blue states. Assuming Brown is willing to do the same dance for another four years, he won’t catch any static from the business crowd.