As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Apostle For Fantasyland

Jerry Brown's long interview with Roberts and Trounstine at CalBuzz sums up so much of what is wrong with establishment Sacramento Democrats, I hardly know where to begin. Essentially he values the need for "practical management" instead of "new ideas" at a time when the old ideas and the old ways of doing business have led us to the worst sustained budget crisis in the state's history and an unmatched crisis of confidence among the state's citizens. But Brown, adopting the high Broderist tone that has failed the state so often of late, thinks that the real problems in Sacramento can be solved through good hard common sense.

We wanted to interview Brown to ask his views on seven key questions we posed to all the candidates in one of our first posts. In his own fashion, he addressed most of them. However, Brown staunchly refused to specify what combination of cuts and tax hikes he would support to deal with chronic deficits, beyond stressing his view that California is a “very high tax” state and dismissing as politically impractical the proposal to amend Proposition 13 by taxing commercial and industrial property at higher rates than residential property.

“Anyone who answers that (tax and cuts question) will never have a chance to be governor,” he said. “It’s very hard to discuss with particularity anything that can be turned into (campaign) fodder.”

Moreover, he added, “dictating from the corner office does not work . . . If eliminating the structural problems in the California budget were easy, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger would have done it.”

How would he deal with fiercely ideological legislators on the left and the right?

“I’m going to become an apostle of common sense,” he said. “I will disabuse them of their ill-conceived predilections.”

“There’s an embedded partisanship that has to become disembedded,” he said. “In my bones, I’m not that partisan. I’m an independent thinker. That’s my tradition. I’ve been wary of ideology since I left the Sacred Heart Novitiate (in 1960).”

So the guy who wants to lead the state thinks that he can show that leadership by avoiding specifics for two years. Granted, this worked for the current occupant of the Governor's office, but it's deeply cynical and the opposite of courage. In this defensive crouch, Brown shows his fear of the dwindling anti-tax forces in California, and how he still views the state from the lens of Prop. 13 in 1978. The statement that Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have eliminated the structural problems in the budget if they could, because they're such a bold crew of reformers, is self-evidently ridiculous. And I don't even know what to say about the "apostle of common sense" comment. He must have shut his eyes for the past decade as the Yacht Party grew more and more ideologically rigid and oriented themselves like a crime family of hijackers and loansharks instead of a political party. Appeals to common sense to a group that actually favored letting the state fall into bankruptcy makes no sense at all. Brown huffed that such a "kind of subversive attitude is unacceptable." You hear? Unacceptable! Or no tea for anyone!

Then there's this incredible passage:

We asked Brown this key question: What do you want to do as governor?

He quickly ticked off four key concerns with specific ideas in each area: Renewable energy; prison reform; education reform; water policy (we’ll report details on these in future posts).

Prison reform???!? Jerry Brown has been the poster child for furthering the tough on crime pose in Sacramento, trying to throw out the federal receiver who has been guaranteeing the constitutional right of prisoners to receive health care. He opposed Prop. 5 last year at the behest of the prison guards who didn't want to see the nonviolent offenders who overflow our prisons re-routed into treatment. This post tells you everything you need to know about where Jerry Brown stands on "prison reform."

Since I am a co-author of Prop. 5, Jerry contacted me a couple of weeks back. Said he wanted to talk about Proposition 5. He called me on my cell phone while I was participating in a panel discussion about California's prison crisis sponsored by U.C. Berkeley. I decided to duck out of the symposium. Months earlier, I had reached out to Jerry to discuss the details of Prop. 5, but those calls went unreturned. I figured that, if Jerry Brown was now ready to talk about Prop. 5, that would be a good use of my time.

"OK," I say, "let's talk." Turns out, Jerry doesn't want to chat about public policy. He wants to vent. He lectures me for five minutes about how, when he's governor, he'll solve the state's decades-old prison crisis in his first month in office. He neglects to mention that the roots of the prison crisis date back to his first stint as governor.

Jerry pounces: "Prop. 5 is anti-democratic," he complains. I tell him that that's an odd attack, particularly when Prop. 5 creates an independent citizen's oversight commission, appointed by the legislature and governor, to bring transparency and change to the state's prison system. And what could be more democratic than a voter initiative?

Jerry switches tack. He argues that Prop. 5 deprives him -- and by "him" it is clear Jerry means the next governor of California -- of too much power over prisons. I ask him whether he's actually read Prop. 5. No response. I note that Prop. 5 in fact allows the governor to appoint two officials to head up the state's prison and parole agency, not just the one allowed under current law. The governor also gets to appoint more than half the members of new oversight panels that, in turn, must run public hearings, take public comment and publish audits and reports on their activities. These panels provide new levels of transparency and accountability for prisons and for treatment programs statewide [...]

Jerry wants off the phone. "Okay. Listen. This thing is complicated," he says. "I need you to walk me through Prop. 5, line by line, so I can understand what you are doing here."

Then Abramson, the co-author of Prop. 5, tried to call Brown every day for months with no response.

Here's Jerry Brown on the reform that would make the greatest difference in Sacramento, the one that would allow elected lawmakers to do their job:

While not a fan of the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass budgets, Brown said he doesn’t think there is a “mechanical” cure to structural financial problems.

Sounding most unlike an old-school Jerry Brown Democrat, he argued repeatedly that regulations making California less competitive than surrounding states must be challenged. “We have to make sure that regulation does not curtail business,” he said, echoing the Chamber of Commerce more than the Sierra Club.

I cannot express enough how wrong it would be to put the fragile state of affairs of California into the hands of someone this afflicted with bipartisan fetishism, and so enamored of himself that he thinks he can bridge partisan divides without fixing the structural problems that exist to wall off those divides. Jerry Brown is a duplicitous fantasist, simply put.

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