Bill Whalen

How will Gov. Brown have Republicans’ back?

Brown: All of us have a role in defending democracy

Gov. Jerry Brown reflected on his great grandfather’s immigration to close out his final State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2018.
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Gov. Jerry Brown reflected on his great grandfather’s immigration to close out his final State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2018.

It doesn’t have the comedic value of “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union speech), but I do wonder what Gov. Jerry Brown was getting at in last week’s State of the State address when he assured legislative Republicans: “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”


Does Brown envision a series of supermajority votes requiring Republicans to make Faustian bargains? That’s not the norm at the Capitol, where simple majority votes generally render the GOP minority irrelevant.

Is he signaling a financial incentive for Republicans who buy into his agenda? That can break the bank. Last year, state Sen. Anthony Cannella voted with Democrats for the new state gas tax. His reward: $500 million in infrastructure improvements for his Central Valley district.

Or is Brown suggesting he’ll do Republicans a legislative solid? Don’t count on it, though I would suggest he invite GOP members to the bill-signing ceremony should he agree to bipartisan measures extending the statute of limitations for sexual harassment and misconduct claims, and preventing the use of taxpayer money to pay settlements of sexual harassment cases.

There is one service Brown could provide to California Republicans – a road back to relevancy. And construction might already be underway.

Brown knows what it’s like to be out of fashion. Rejected by voters when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982, it wasn’t until 2006 that he returned in triumph to Sacramento.

Republicans have learned the hard way what it’s like in the political wilderness. It has been 28 years since voters elected a non-incumbent Republican in a regularly scheduled gubernatorial election, 24 years since the last time a Republican was elected attorney general or state treasurer, and 40 years since the last GOP lieutenant governor was elected.

Put in another ugly context: In 2002, three Republicans lost statewide contests by less than 5 percentage points; in 2014, with the lone exception of the attorney general’s race, every GOP statewide candidate lost by at least 12 points.

And the hits keep coming: In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won 66 of 80 state Assembly districts, with an average margin of victory of 40.3 points – better than even Barack Obama in 2012.

So how does a Republican renaissance in California begin? With the gift of a few time-bombs Brown will leave to his successor.

Give voters a few more years of the fallacy of high-speed rail, then add an economic downturn in which the state’s rainy-day fund runs dry. Couple that with taxpayers getting no tax cuts or rebates despite years of surpluses. And throw in a return of higher crime rates thanks to Proposition 57 and the early release of prisoners.

Brown anticipated the latter in his State of the State remarks: “I urge that instead of enacting new laws because of horrible crimes and lurid headlines, you consider the overall system and what it might need and what truly protects public safety.”

How insulting to crime victims. By that logic, the murder of Polly Klaas 25 years ago didn’t merit a legislative response when in fact it was the symptom of a larger social pathology.

Maybe this is why Jerry Brown is so brusque when reporters ask about his legacy. Too many times in politics, what’s past is prologue.

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

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