Pressed a few weeks back by a Los Angeles TV reporter about the use of state trucks for personal business by some employees at Caltrans, Gov. Jerry Brown said: “there are 300,000 employees in the state of California, and I’d like to watch over all of them, but I think only God can accomplish that.” Read more here.
In response to Brown’s comments, God has issued the following open letter.
As you may know, the American election season was a difficult time for me. Every day, it seemed like some new Republican U.S. Senate candidate was blaming me for something — like the Indiana guy who claimed I wanted to get women pregnant through rape.
Most of the time, the accusations against me were so outlandish I didn’t bother to respond — I am very busy after all. And while I don’t care for the practice, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing my name used as rhetorical graffiti by American politicians. But I was floored (OK, my floor is a nice, soft cloud but still) when you told an LA TV reporter that overseeing public employees is somehow my job.
Now we’ve known each other a long time. And while you are a bit younger than me, I have respect for you and your wisdom. I’m sure you just threw me under the bus in a brief moment during the intense fight over Prop 30 (Congratulations on your victory, by the way). I don’t take it personally, though I do feel like I have to issue this public clarification, given all the confusion in your state about governance, and who is in charge.
So let me be clear. I don’t run California. I don’t want to run California. And I don’t supervise all 300,000 public employees. I don’t do these things for two reasons: because I don’t want to do them, and because they are not doable by one being, however Supreme.
I have a tough job, yes, but it’s possible to govern the earth and the heavens. It is not possible to govern California, even with a Democratic supermajority. I tried to tell you this back in ’09, but you missed the signs. (The main sign was Meg Whitman; I like to punish the rich by giving them the impression they can do the impossible).
So now you have the job and it’s tough. That should be no surprise. What is a surprise is that you’re not trying to redefine the job — and redesign the state’s system — so that it would be easier to govern.
I’m no political scientist, but let me offer some advice based on my observing billions of years of political history around the universe. The only way to hold government — and hundreds of thousands of public employees accountable — is via smartly designed democratic systems that are grounded in local communities.
California, as you know, is highly centralized as a result of decisions that voters and previous generations of lawmakers and governors (including you) made. That centralization has made public employees very powerful in Sacramento (where the size of their unions makes them a force) and at the local level, where the lack of taxing power for local elected officials has turned cities and counties and school districts into spenders. That combination — limited taxing power and considerable spending power — has made the local governments an easy mark for public employee unions, which are interested in spending; there is no countervailing taxpayer force to take them on.
If you want to supervise public employees, you should convince your Californians to adopt a host of changes: a restoration of local taxing authority so that citizens and taxpayer interests come back as a force for accountability, stronger support for political parties and civil society, new state election systems that make every vote count, and the cleaning out of supermajority requirements and other special rules that give public employee unions leverage in state negotiations.
It’s a heavy lift, and you can’t get there by yourself (hence the value of prayer). But with these sorts of things, California’s public employees would have the supervisors they should have: their fellow citizens. Because neither you nor I am up to the job.
Your fan in heaven,