Bill Whalen: Jerry Brown does have a real political rival – Rick Perry

Years ago, after ordering the National Football League’s “Sunday Ticket” of every game available, I made two discoveries. Corneas burn out quicker than liquid crystal displays, and on any given Sunday, there are few genuine rivalries in professional football.

The same can be said about California’s governor’s race.

Jerry Brown and Neel Kashkari don’t have a past (it’s Kashkari’s first race), or much of a present (Brown won’t engage his challenger) or anything of a future (assuming Kashkari loses and runs again in 2018, it won’t be against a term-limited Brown).

Though Kashkari has made his attacks personal of late by accusing the governor of living in “a cocoon that his father built for him,” that sounds more like throwaway locker-room talk than real bile. In this regard, Californians are being shortchanged. Sore feelings in a political contest equal raised temperatures, higher spending and a more visible choice for voters. But we’re not getting that in this race – heck, we’ll be lucky if Brown bothers to debate Kashkari just the one time.

Brown does have a genuine rivalry but not with anyone in California.

It’s between Brown, the leader of America’s biggest blue state, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, leader of the biggest red state. Brown is America’s oldest governor, Perry currently its longest serving. They differ in style (Brown tosses out Latin phrases to underscore his intellect; Perry dons designer specs to look more cerebral); they clash in substance over issues we’ll get to in a moment. And while Perry seems almost certain to again seek the presidency in 2016, one gets the sense that Brown would as well – if it weren’t for a couple of women: Hillary Clinton, and his common-sense wife, Anne Gust Brown.

So here’s my proposal, given that we’ll be lucky to get Brown and Kashkari together on a debate stage more than once: Hold two debates with a cast change: Brown and Perry. Do one in California and the other in Texas on these topics:

1) The economy. Perry spends his time looting California for jobs; Brown spends his days convincing the electorate that the Golden State is still a worthy place to invest. So let the two governors slug it out over the economic well-being of the two states (with the understanding that there’s a limit on praising the wonders of Tesla batteries).

2) Immigration. In 2011, Perry ran for president as a soft-liner supporting education benefits for border-crossers; in 2014, he’s called up the Texas National Guard. Brown sees California as a sanctuary state. To be discussed, the depth of border-state compassion. (A recent Associated Press-Gfk poll found Americans split on this issue: 53 percent say the U.S. has no moral obligation to offer asylum to those escaping political persecution or violence.)

3) Crime. Texas has executed 510 inmates since 1982, to California’s 13 since 1992. However, there’s a bigger discussion to be had over sentencing reform, reducing recidivism and curbing state costs with more rehabilitation. Throw in a question about the Second Amendment and it’s a fascinating debate about the two states’ approaches.

4) Religion. Perry was baptized in a Texas river; as a teenager, Brown once missed his birthday party because he was out late observing Holy Thursday in as many churches as possible. Just last week, Brown invoked the “religious call ... to welcome the stranger” in addressing the Texas border crisis; three years ago, Perry said running for president “is what I’ve been called to do.”

From signing legislation allowing teachers to say “Merry Christmas” in school (Perry did it in 2013) to granting parents a right to exempt their children from vaccinations on religious grounds (as Brown did in 2013), the timing’s right for a conversation about the power of government and an even higher power.

Sadly, the odds are slim that we’ll see anything this ambitious from the governors of America’s two most populous states. The closest we might get to any kind of real-time interaction between Brown and Perry is if the Texas governor dares to return to Sacramento, as he did in June when trying to lure Tesla’s business to the Lone Star State. That would be ironic in at least one regard: two governors bickering over where to manufacture a car battery, when it’s the very engine of government and its interaction with society that’s a more pressing concern.