Bill Whalen

Which other jobs could Gov. Jerry Brown take on?

Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters after casting his ballot on Election Day in Sacramento. Bill Whalen says Brown is busy, but could take on even more work.
Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters after casting his ballot on Election Day in Sacramento. Bill Whalen says Brown is busy, but could take on even more work. The Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown has at least three challenges these days.

One is to choose an interim attorney general to fill the remainder of Kamala Harris’ term once she’s sworn in to the U.S. Senate.

The second is to defend Fortress California if and when the Trump administration takes on the state on illegal immigration, climate change, Obamacare and other progressive paragons.

His third challenge: What role does the nation’s most experienced governor play in a Democratic Party that just managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of presidential victory?

If the goal is the find an attorney general who thinks and acts as would the governor, why look any further than the mirror? Brown should appoint himself.

OK, it requires some legal and legislative tomfoolery. But consider the gravity of the situation. That stopgap “top cop” is more than an exercise in gender politics (State Controller Betty Yee is the only other woman holding a constitutional office). He or she or will be California’s first line of defense as the state inevitably goes to court to stop Trump dictates.

Does Brown, who served one term as attorney general before upgrading to governor, really want to risk someone who’s never held the job?

Besides, if the economy stays as is, Brown might be able to double-down on job titles. In this second gubernatorial term, state budgets arrive on time. Bill signing is voluminous, but thorny issues can always get shelved – or dumped onto the 2018 ballot. Special sessions? Lots of talk. Not always lots of action.

But why should Brown stop at only two jobs?

Some of the candidates for the next head of the Democratic National Committee are wretched; nothing says stale turkey leftovers like Howard Dean, who held the job a decade ago. The perfect choice to reorient the national Democrats from too coastal cool to more “flyover” sensible is Mr. “Paddle Left, Paddle Right” himself.

Again, there’s precedent. While Brown has never been national party chairman, he did skipper California Democrats in the dark days before the ascent of Bill Clinton. Brown quit that post to vie for the Senate seat made available by Alan Cranston’s retirement only to flake on that campaign to run instead for president in 1992.

There’s a fourth possible job for Brown, but sadly it probably won’t materialize. And that would be part of a larger, grander immigration fix.

At this point in the Trump transition, talk of immigration reform is piecemeal and confrontational. The president-elect wants to build a wall and crack down on “sanctuary” cities. Forget another Senate “gang of eight” bill that succeeded chiefly in killing Marco Rubio’s presidential aspirations.

In the spirit of let-the-states-sort-it-out solutions, Trump should empower a select few governors to come up with a blueprint for Congress to follow. Start with the 10 states with the largest Latino percentage of population: California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Texas. Of them, only California, Colorado and New York have Democratic governors.

There’s nothing stopping Trump and a Republican Congress from re-creating the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which lasted seven years beginning in 1990. Make Brown and New Mexico’s GOP Gov. Susana Martinez the co-chairpersons for bipartisan buy-in.

Would Brown accept such an offer? I doubt that we’ll ever know. The looming divide between Sacramento and Washington shapes up as World War I-like trench warfare: two dug-in armies, a dangerous no man’s land in between and, at worst, another four years of scorched earth politics.

Maybe a fifth career path is most appealing to Brown – retiring from public office and letting someone else solve the world’s problems.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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