Bill Whalen

Sexual harassment scandal won’t change the state Capitol. Jerry Brown is one reason why

From left, Tina McKinnor, Sadalia King, Amy Thoma Tan, Jodi Hicks and Sabrina Lockhart have come forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment at the state Capitol.
From left, Tina McKinnor, Sadalia King, Amy Thoma Tan, Jodi Hicks and Sabrina Lockhart have come forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment at the state Capitol. Los Angeles Times/TNS

Here are two predictions for next March. A Hollywood beset by scandal will turn the Academy Awards into four tedious hours of self-righteous apologies laden with crocodile tears. And you won’t be hearing much about sexual harassment in the state Capitol.


It’s not that the problem is going away anytime soon, despite some good newspaper reporting that’s brought male misbehavior to light. In the long march of California politics, men behaving badly is as synonymous with Sacramento as Delta breezes and losing NBA teams.

The culture inside the Capitol likely won’t change because much of what the public would deem outrageous and sickening has a hard time escaping the Sacramento bubble. And for that, you can partially blame Gov. Jerry Brown and his predecessor.

The second Brown administration is fueled by a media starvation diet. Brown selectively engages with what’s left of the Capitol press corps when the purpose suits him (passing ballot initiatives, framing spending and legislative debates). Rarely does he go hunting for cameras – not that there’s a plethora of television cameras to be had.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to Los Angeles in 2011, Sacramento’s media circus folded its tent. Even if Brown wanted to raise his profile, he’s simply not as entertaining as the Governator.

California governors also lack the advantage of running a smaller state – say, Massachusetts or Georgia, where the capital city is also the state’s population and media hub. It may be a short drive from Sacramento to the Bay Area, but it’s an alternate universe. Last week, when the higher state gasoline tax went into effect, the news was buried deep in local broadcasts behind crime and weather.

But let’s cut Brown some slack. Supposing he did want to be front and center in the sexual harassment conversation, Brown would have to travel to Los Angeles and the heart of the matter, invite Gloria Allred and a few wronged starlets and pitch something pithy like a “Harvey’s Law” elevating serial harassment to a felony offense. In California, sex sells, but when it involves celebrities more so than politicians.

In January, Brown delivers his last State of the State address. Stories will note how the state has changed since 1975 and Brown’s first year on the job. For instance, California’s median home prices have increased twelve-fold over the past four decades. The state’s budget has swelled nearly thirteen-fold.

One area where California hasn’t kept up – politically, that is – is technology. The California Channel, our version of C-SPAN, first went on the air in 1991; chances are your cable provider carries it. Talk radio and a few stellar podcasts also fill the non-print policy void.

But in 2017, there is no media outlet with the power or presence to keep state politics on the front burner. If there were a sexual harassment scandal in Congress, Fox News or MSNBC would trot out a nightly parade of the aggrieved until the predatory lawmaker was driven from office. Not so in California.

As the most popular statewide politician and soon to be retired, maybe Brown should consider a crowdfunding venture: Build a news network devoted to government’s failed ways – preferably without Gloria Allred hogging the camera.

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