Dan Walters

Jerry Brown has two paths for 4th term

There’s virtually no doubt that Jerry Brown will win re-election to a record fourth term as governor on Nov. 4.

He’s so confident that he’s spending little of his campaign treasury and ignoring Republican challenger Neel Kashkari.

Saying Brown is near-certain to win is not the same as saying he should.

The latter hinges on whether he’s content with half-measures or if he truly intends to revive effective governance, as he promised.

It appears that Brown has a personal checklist he believes will earn him a better place in the history books than did his first eight-year stint that began with his election 40 years ago.

Brown 1.0 was an ambitious young politician in a hurry, running for president twice and the Senate once and displaying only occasional interest in governing.

Whatever other motives he may have had for seeking the governorship again, building a better legacy was certainly one.

Brown 2.0 has been much more engaged in governance, but his record to date contains unproven and/or partial solutions to problems they purport to address.

Will, for example, diverting more state aid into school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students actually improve their academic accomplishments?

It’s an untested theory that could be nothing more than a feel-good gesture – checking “education reform” off Brown’s list without having a concrete impact, particularly if extra money is not tightly focused on the kids it’s supposed to help.

That’s also true of Brown’s moves on public employee pensions, workers’ compensation, water management and prison overcrowding.

All are, essentially, works in progress with cloudy outcomes, as are his pet bullet train and water tunnel projects.

Then there’s the state budget that Brown, seeking the governorship in 2010 after a 28-year absence, pledged to balance.

Yes, the budget is currently balanced – if one ignores some pesky debts such as retiree health care – due largely to an improved economy and a voter-approved tax increase. Brown has been tighter with a buck than his fellow Democrats would like, but even so, general fund spending is up 25 percent since 2011.

Meanwhile, the tax hike is temporary, another recession could strike as the global economy slows, and Brown’s Proposition 2 is a tepid response to chronic fiscal volatility.

Then there are issues that Brown has skipped, such as a deteriorating highway system and the nation’s highest poverty rate.

He’s talked about fostering job creation, but enacted only questionable and costly subsidies for movie and aerospace industries.

If Brown intends to spend political capital on difficult, long-festering governance issues, he deserves four more years. If he intends, however, to merely check a few more items off his bucket list, that’s another story.

Only he knows which path he would travel.

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