A Cheerier Look at California in 2013

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

The other day, Steven Greenhut was on this site with his 10 predictions for 2013, all which can be boiled down to “The Democrats won the election, so California is doomed!”

I’m not saying Steven’s completely wrong (Liberal pundits will indeed blame Republicans for everything that goes wrong, just as conservative pundits will blame the Democrats. It’s the American way), but his take on 2013 is a little pessimistic – and one-sided – for my taste. So here’s my attempt to polish a cloudy crystal ball.

1. Gov. Jerry Brown is going to have way more trouble dealing with his fellow Democrats than he’ll have with Republicans. Brown, who no one should mistake for a big spender, is going to be hard-pressed to restrain Democratic legislators, many of whom are. He’s not going to win all those fights.

2. The biggest battle this year will be over schools, not taxes. The governor wants to make sweeping changes in the way California schools are funded, eliminating many of the earmarks now set aside for specific programs like class size reduction and letting each district use that money where it’s most needed. Problem is, each of those programs is popular with someone (Teachers, for example, love class size reduction) and each group will have its lobbyists on speed dial. And when it comes to Brown’s wish to give more money to poor urban and rural districts and less to wealthier suburban schools, expect a yearlong fireworks show, pitting parents vs. parents.

3. California Republicans will have to regroup – or else. There’s talk about bringing in former state Sen. Jim Brulte to head the party, which would be a good start toward adult supervision. But unless the party can convince young people, Latinos and uncommitted voters that there’s a reason they should be Republicans, the state GOP will just sink deeper into irrelevance.

4. Brown will either announce he’ll run for re-election in 2014 or a lot of Democrats will spend the next year checking out the prices of yard signs and campaign brochures. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris, state Controller John Chiang and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are just a few of the Democrats who look into the mirror each morning and see a governor staring back.

5. There’s going to be plenty of discussion – and not just in California — about a Chinese bank’s willingness to lend a U.S. company $1.7 billion to build two huge housing developments in San Francisco – just so long as a state-owned Chinese contractor is deeply involved in the construction effort.

6. California’s economy will continue to grow, albeit slowly, and the unemployment rate, now under 10 percent for the first time in nearly four years, will continue to drop. And while the numbers might not meet the state’s optimistic budget projections, they’ll be moving in the right direction, which will be a welcome change for the state.

7. Sports news will be in the business pages, not just in the sports section. While the San Francisco 49ers already are building a new stadium in Santa Clara, the Golden State Warriors will be in a battle over their plans to put a new arena on the San Francisco waterfront. If the Sacramento Kings don’t flee to Virginia, they’ll be back in the market for a new arena. And the backers of the planned new downtown football stadium in Los Angeles just may reach into San Diego in an effort to lure a team to fill that facility.

8. Expect an early start to the 2014 election as Republicans try and recover some of the congressional seats they lost and ambitious political wannabes in both parties realize that with the new top two primary, they don’t have to grow old waiting for an incumbent congressman to die or retire before they can take a shot at that seat and a non-term limited future in Washington, D.C.

9. Construction of the high-speed rail system will begin in 2013 and every mile of track that’s laid will make continuation of the statewide rail project more and more inevitable.

10. The debate over improvements to the state’s water system will continue to be all talk and no action, especially since everybody involved realized that any action will be instantly challenged in court, leading to years more talking, followed by another lawsuit, which leads to …

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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