It’s silly season in Sacramento.
Judging himself wiser than Gov. Jerry Brown on matters of law and presidential politics, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed Senate Bill 27. The bill, called the “Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act,” is designed to troll President Donald Trump and annoy his 2020 reelection campaign. Brown vetoed it last year.
SB 27 purports to require presidential candidates to release five years of their tax returns before they can appear on the California ballot. In reality, it will likely be shot down on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution does not require anyone to release their tax returns in order to run for president.
In addition, Newsom’s signature on SB 27 may open a Pandora’s box of political crisis by inspiring legislatures in Republican states to take actions designed to keep Democratic candidates off the ballot. At a time when American politics is extremely divided and our democratic institutions are under attack, the last thing we need are more cynical ploys to disenfranchise voters.
By signing SB 27, Newsom has put himself on the same level as governors in Republican states who have signed anti-democracy bills to make it harder for people to vote. While the bill is unlikely to keep Trump off of the ballot, it will certainly energize Trump’s few California supporters and make them feel like they have been stripped of their right to vote for their chosen candidate.
Newsom has also handed Trump a terrific talking point: Trump can now say, truthfully, that California is attempting to rig the election against him. So, California’s governor just handed Trump the one thing the 45th president sorely lacks: credibility.
Of course, there’s no rational argument anyone can make to shift the thinking of a politician desperate for attention. Confronted with problems like skyrocketing homelessness and big campaign promises he seems unlikely to keep (like building 3.5 million new housing units by 2025), Newsom has no doubt grown hungry for the national spotlight. By signing the bill on the day of the Democratic presidential debate, and leaking the news to a former staffer who runs an influential Twitter account, he’s obviously pining for cable news hits.
That’s understandable. Playing a resistance hero on TV is a lot more exciting – and easy – than dealing with the serious problems voters elected him to solve.
So, enjoy your hit times, governor. California’s very real and intractable problems will still be waiting for you when the buzz fades.