Kobe for Governor

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, has announced that he’ll retire when the basketball season ends in April. What should he do next?

My suggestion: he’s exactly what this state needs in a governor.

Kobe has been criticized for many reasons, but no one has ever accused him of being cautious. Indeed, he has been defined by his go-for-it mentality. He will shoot the ball and take chances, even if it results in missed shots and turnovers. You can’t make shots you don’t take. So when you have a shot, you need to take it. Life is short.

That is exactly the opposite of the spirit that’s governed California, and especially the budget, for the past couple generations. Brown, Schwarzenegger, Davis, and Wilson were all cheapskates, and cautious when it came to spending. They didn’t like to take shots, investing big in some new program. Brown, in particular, has made a fetish of being abstemious. He rarely takes any shots, and prides himself on never trying anything particularly daring or big. He prizes making the state more efficient.

That’s why California, despite some gains, feels so stuck. Our spending is stuck at low levels. There’s no great new ambition or narrative for the state. Yes, there’s climate change, but that’s all about defense. Brown’s game has no offense, and no big scoring.

California is way overdue for a governor with Kobe Bryant’s hyper-aggressive style. We are a big enough and rich enough place to compensate for missed shots. What’s killing us is all the shots we won’t take – we won’t massively expand higher education despite our lack of educated people with appropriate job skills, we won’t shoot for the big infrastructure investments we need, we won’t invest in children with anywhere near the intensity and ambition required to transform the future.

The good news is that Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa both appear to be readying campaigns that will have more of that Kobe spirit, and will argue for bigger shots. But if you want a Kobe in the Capitol, maybe we should ask Kobe first if he’d like to take a shot.

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