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

Monday, April 27, 2009

Obligatory Brown/Newsom Past/Future Race To The Governor's Mansion Post

I've been pretty up front in questioning whether or not the next Governor matters compared to the structural reforms needed to get California back on a sustainable course. Nevertheless, the off-year CDP convention in Sacramento does traditionally kick off the following year's gubernatorial race, and this year was no different. Given what we know right now, I think it's highly probable, actually, that the Democratic primary will feature only two candidates. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom were the only two with any visibility whatsoever in Sacramento, and while Antonio Villaraigosa may still feel he can jump in late and capture a healthy share of the Latino vote in any primary, his awkward exit from the festivities does not lead me to believe that he will bother with the race.

If that is the case, we have a virtual mirror-image of the 2008 national Democratic primary, with a candidate positioning himself as looking to the future against a candidate firmly implanted in the past. That's the general belief, anyway, and there's quite a bit of truth to that. Clearly, Mayor Newsom's convention speech continually framed the choice for voters as "whether we’re going to move forward in a new direction or whether we’re going to look back." Clearly, each candidate has a profile that fits that general mold. And the general mood of each candidate's signature event, with Brown lolling at the old Governor's Mansion with his 1974 blue Plymouth in the driveway, literally an historical set piece, while Newsom closed off a street and held a block party featuring Wyclef Jean (and got what amounts to an endorsement from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson when he introduced Newsom as "the next Governor of California"), could not have been more different.

And yet Jerry Brown has always been something of a political futurist, someone who was mocked in his time for being unrealistic and silly, on issues which are now firmly in the mainstream of the American political debate. And as CalBuzz points out, Brown's presentation to the convention may be closer to the zeitgeist than Newsom's right now:

While Newsom (a Hillary supporter, BTW) spent the weekend trying to position himself as Obama to Brown’s Clinton, General Jerry delivered a Jim Hightower-like jeremiad to the convention, filled with rips and roars at financial insiders and white collar criminals. In tone and substance it seemed closer to tapping the populist zeitgeist of these financially troubled times than did Newsom's effort to fight the last war.

Voters fed up with Governor Arnold's shattered promises to “blow up boxes” and sweep clean the mess in Sacramento may well be in the mood for less “change” and more common sense, which happens to be Brown’s political meme du jour.

Ultimately, I don't cotton much to these popularity-based views of major elections, preferring to judge on substance. The primary electorate is older, but that means there's more potential for increasing turnout among youth, so we'll see where that leads. But ultimately, I'm going to judge on the basis of substance, particularly with respect to structural reform. And while Brown gave a fairly nice speech, highlighting his high-profile work as Attorney General suing the likes of Wells Fargo, in essence he left unanswered the charges that he is an apostle for fantasyland in thinking he can just bring Democrats and Republicans in a room together and get them to work everything out. On the other hand, Newsom, in a meet and greet with bloggers, came out once again in favor of a Constitutional convention to put all of these contradictory and hobbling budget and governing ideas on the chopping block and work from scratch to figure out a way to organize the state that makes sense. You can ague with his somewhat rosy picture of his record - as I have - but you cannot argue that he has a forward-looking view of how to finally blow up this insanely dysfunctional structure.

On the near-term issue of the special election, Brown has appeared on stage with Arnold Schwarzenegger to tout the Yes side on all measures, while Newsom has not. In fact, he expressed his opposition to Props. 1C, 1D and 1E, saying "I can't get my arms around balancing the budget with lottery money" and that 1D and 1E would raid successful and cost-effective programs. Now, what I can't get MY arms around is Newsom's support for 1A, particularly because he explained that his first instinct was to oppose, but that he "had to be responsible" and look at the impact on city budgets. However, 1A would provide no budgetary relief for two years, while 1C, 1D and 1E, which he opposes, would. In clarifying this, Newsom spokesman Eric Jaye explained that the impact on city budgets could be made worse by the bond markets seeing the failure of 1A and raising their interest rates, but there's definitely a tension there. Perhaps Newsom thinks that he can fix whatever damage is done by a constitutional convention, but a voter-approved spending cap would be hard to cancel out within a the space of a year or two.

(More on the Newsom blogger meetup in a later post.)

I think there's room to be critical of both candidates, as well as room to be praiseworthy. But rather than framing this election along cultural or generational lines, I think it's necessary to frame it along the policies they would both bring to Sacramento and whether they make sense for progressives to get behind. So it's not past vs. future for me so much as success vs. FAIL.

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