Friday, November 19, 2010




All right, Jerry Brown, you’ve bucked the huge national Republican tide. After 28 years, you’ve won back an office that’s been in your family 16 of the last 52 years.

That’s got to be satisfying. But you said you did it because you’re convinced you’re the only fellow who can rescue California from its current malaise. And it is a malaise, as you’ve pointed out, not a truly serious disease.

This place remains the dream residence of many millions around the nation and the world. Its economy would rank sixth in the world if it were a stand-alone nation, with a better balance of trade than America’s as a whole. Its populace is still the most creative in the world. Ideas that originate here may eventually lead to manufacturing in other states and other countries because big corporations have convinced state and national governments they deserve welfare in the form of tax exemptions or free land (look at the electronics factories outside Boise, Idaho, as examples of the latter form of welfare).

So there’s plenty to work with. But there’s also plenty working against you. You vowed during the campaign to meet with every single state legislator and every major special interest in the state – even those who financed scores of scurrilous campaign commercials falsifying your record – while putting together your promised plan to solve the seemingly perpetual budget problem.

But you’ve got to do more. After months of fairly leisurely campaigning that nevertheless carried you to most corners of the state, you know there’s a poisonous atmosphere in California and America, one where almost everyone believe that those who don’t agree with them down the line are their potential enemies. Yes, they may tailgate together sometimes at football games, but you oughtta hear what they say about each other when one person posts a political lawn sign the other doesn’t like.

The great national consensus that social studies teachers in the 1950s and ‘60s talked about so confidently (“Politics ends at the shores of the oceans,” was one popular line they purveyed) is largely gone. That unity began to unravel during the war in Vietnam, continued through Watergate, was briefly but only temporarily restored after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, but is very hard to find today. Instead, many Republicans now in office believe there’s no such thing as a good idea from a Democrat, and many Democrats will tell you they’ve never heard a constructive idea from a Republican.

All that seven years of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vaunted “post-partisanship” have gotten him is a tag of “RINO” (Republican in name only) from his fellow GOPers. Whatever good ideas he had (and there weren’t many) were usually opposed by his own party.

So your work is cut out for you, and you demonstrated during the campaign that you know it by refusing to take the bait and respond in kind when Republican state legislators and right-wing bloggers repeatedly hurled the old “Gov. Moonbeam” tag at you. But you will have to take a vastly different approach to achieve any sense of being united in the cause of California’s progress and restoration than you ever did in your previous two terms, from 1975 to 1983.

Back then, you were convinced you had a monopoly on good ideas (some of them were good, like emphasis on solar energy and advocating for a state communications satellite) and were contemptuous of anyone who questioned you. “You won’t see contemptuous any more this time,” you pledged during a campaign interview, but time will tell how much you’ve really changed.

Last time you took office, you claimed to be hiring “the best and the brightest” from around America, and gave us Adriana Gianturco, who messed up the freeway system as never before, and Chief Justice Rose Bird, who was voted out of office for being out of step with most Californians. You backed liquefied natural gas, and time has demonstrated how wrong that was. You can’t afford those kinds of mistakes this time. There’s less margin for error.

If you haven’t really changed, and if you can’t make that change lead to some sense of unity in the Legislature, this state’s problems won’t get solved.

Public pensions won’t be cleaned up unless the two parties make common cause in Sacramento. If you agree that California needs some kind of tax reform to make it more competitive in drawing manufacturers here, you’ll also need help from both Democrats and Republicans.

You might think about insisting on a “pay as you go” system for major new infrastructure projects, to reduce the interest burden in the state budget, while making it clear there will be no new programs or spending mandates without specific funding sources. For that, you’ll have to jawbone your fellow Democrats.

You said you want to move government decisions closer to the people, give local government more say-so. You’ll have to get into far more detail on that than you have so far.

It’s a daunting task, but you insisted through the campaign you’re the one person best suited to take it on. For the sake of all Californians, here’s wishing you good luck.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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