Thursday, May 26, 2011




Politicalirony was as thick as it gets on the day Gov. Jerry Brown introduced his revised state budget plan, one that incorporates many ideas generated by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No recent California governor has crowed more about his successes than the sometimes buffoonish Schwarzenegger. But he couldn't brag at all on the day Brown accepted many of his ideas (with no mention of Arnold, of course). Rather, as Brown released his new fiscal plan, Schwarzenegger was thoroughly occupied with trying to clean up his ultra-messy personal life. At almost the same moment Brown spoke, word emerged about the “love child” Schwarzenegger fathered in his home 10 years ago (just days after conceiving his youngest formally acknowledged child) with a household servant.

Make no mistake, Brown’s plan does adopt a lot of ideas generated during Schwarzenegger’s seven years in office. It is replete with what amount to rewrites of suggestions from the California Performance Review, a citizen panel appointed by Schwarzenegger in his first year as governor to develop ways of making state government more efficient and less costly.

The CPR’s final product can be viewed at, but it essentially sat on an electronic shelf until Brown became governor. Republican Schwarzenegger had no hope of getting many of the changes recommended through a Democratic-controlled Legislature and few could be done by executive fiat.

Now Brown, determined to confront the state’s chronic budget crises during his first year in office – “I don’t want to spend four years on this stuff,” he said shortly after last year’s election – is able to adopt much of the performance review agenda in something akin to a “Nixon in China” phenomenon. Just as the late former hardline conservative President Richard Nixon could get his party to accept an opening to China it never would have taken from a Democrat, so Brown in California is making changes that would be much more difficult for a Republican to pass.

It was the California Performance Review that called for fixing what it described as “the state’s complex and incoherent organizational structure,” saying it undermines accountability. Brown’s first step in that direction came when he eliminated the cabinet post of education secretary, placing responsibility solely with the elected schools superintendent and the state Board of Education.

Similarly, Brown calls for ending or consolidating as many as 43 of the state’s more than 300 boards and commissions, suggesting their work is often expensive, redundant and confusing.

That’s the kind of thing Schwarzenegger’s appointed panel recommended, to no avail. But with a Democrat proposing them, ideas like eliminating the state Mining and Geology Board, to name one, and shifting its functions to the state Office of Mine Reclamation, are likely to win easy legislative approval. Similarly, the California Postsecondary Education Commission will likely go, its functions transferred to the Department of Education at a savings of almost $1 million.

The performance review also recommended selling off surplus state property, and although Brown quickly cancelled Schwarzenegger’s scheduled sale of some of California’s most iconic public buildings, his new budget calls for selling the Los Angeles Coliseum and plenty of other little-used or vacant real estate.

Similarly, when Schwarzenegger tried to cut welfare and programs for the elderly, blind and disabled, legislators would have none of it. But Brown has already lopped $2.1 billion from those services, causing consternation among senior citizens, the disabled and their advocates and helpers, but little conflict in the Legislature.

Brown has reduced Medi-Cal benefits for the poor, while instituting higher co-pays for those least able to pay. If Schwarzenegger had tried that, he’d have been labeled inhumane and the cuts quickly restored.

Schwarzenegger was called anti-worker when he forced furloughs on state employees; Brown continues some of them without losing support from labor unions that helped get him elected.

Meanwhile, few credit Schwarzenegger for any of these things. And instead of being able to brag about being foresightful, he’s fending off questions about whether there are more love children and expressing fond, but unlikely, hopes of restoring his marriage, which turns out to have been mostly a sham during his entire time as governor.

All of which makes this the richest of times for lovers of irony in life and politics.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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