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Jerry Brown: Predictably Unpredictable

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

“You’re absolutely the wildest, most unpredictable person I’ve ever known. Do you always carry on so high-handed?”

–Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon

Looking over bills signed and vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in his first year of his third term, many reviewers are frustrated by what they see as a lack of consistency in Brown’s actions. They argue no one can predict what he will do on any one bill. In fact, as a body of work Brown is predictably unpredictable.

He told us many years ago, “You paddle a little on the left and little on the right and you paddle a straight course.”

Brown has frustrated and delighted activists and elected officials on both the left and the right with his signature for and against bills. You get the feeling he is tickled by the reactions.

It is easy to say the governor was all over the map. He supported labor by signing SB 202 to move ballot measures to November and move a spending control measure to 2014, and undercut labor with vetoing both the card check measure for agricultural workers and the attempt to unionize child care workers.

While that same action on SB 202 frustrated business leaders, he nevertheless vetoed four of five bills designated as “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce.

He even surprised the government reformers by vetoing a performance based budgeting measure, SB 14, that most thought was a sure thing. He acknowledged that “the politically expedient course would be to sign this,” but that in his view, it had “little chance of actual improvement.”

Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution said of Brown’s action on the bills, “He did a deft job of keeping both sides off balance.”

Steve Greenhut from CalWatchDog.com actually considered Brown’s actions as conventional in a City Journal piece last month, but he noted:

Conservatives’ enduring tolerance for Brown stems largely from the hope that he could still do the unexpected. Brown might yet take on the public-employee unions, even though they spent $30 million on his behalf to help win back the governorship. Brown might close the gaping budget deficit. Brown might actually be, as many reporters described him last year, the “Nixon goes to China” governor who reforms public-employee pensions.

While Greenhut thinks Brown will do none of these things, given his history, it is reasonable to think he may do the unexpected. . The possibility of unscripted action by Governor Brown keeps activists on both sides pitching harder to get a result they want. Brown likes it that way.

Jerry Brown is the same as he always has been: Purposefully, predictably, unpredictable.

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