After Jerry Brown: Disaster?

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

In politics, it’s better to be lucky than good. That sure fits Jerry Brown. Taking office in 1975, he proclaimed an “era of limits,” cutting investments in roads, dams and other infrastructure. Californians weren’t listening, as the population since then doubled, to 40 million.

Yet despite the bumpy roads and droughts (from lack of reservoirs), this also happened: in 1974, Intel released its 8080 microprocessor, sparking the microcomputer revolution. On March 5, 1975, two months after Brown became governor, Steve Wozniak attended the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club. In 1976, Woz designed the Apple I, the first of the legendary company’s products. The computer revolution accelerated from there, then was boosted into orbit by the Internet revolution of the 1990s and since, bringing to some areas of the state wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

Coming back into office in 2011, Brown is credited with a “California miracle,” but really is riding the national economic recovery. Once again, lucky.

But what happens after Brown? It’s the two things listed above that now are mangling the state. First, the “era of limits” mania, which includes tight restrictions on constructing housing, in particular the California Coastal Commission. Although first imposed by voters in 1972, who had no idea they were freezing their grandchildren out of decent housing, the CCC was made permanent in 1976 with Brown’s signature on the California Coastal Act.

Second, the high-tech boom that distorts everything. The Silicon Barons have become the most powerful power brokers in the state. But unlike previous Captains of Industry, who generally were conservative, the Silicon Barons were marinated in the campus radicalism that began in the 1960s. The immense wealth of Silicon Valley and San Francisco also has driven up housing costs so high in the Bay Area that median home prices are well over $1 million. The rest of Coastal California, which also sports many high-tech companies, is only marginally better.

So, what’s next? After Brown signs the 2017-18 state budget on June 15, his power quickly will evanesce. He will craft one more budget, for fiscal 2018-19, but as he does so next year, the election for his replacement will be upon us. The primary election will be June 5, 2018. And his successor, beginning January 2019, will preside over spending the last half of the budget.

Republicans are going to have a hard time no matter what. They might even end up with no candidate surviving the Top Two primary, as happened with last year’s U.S. Senate race between Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats. But even if a Republican makes the final cut, he or she will be running in the continuing economic prosperity – which, although continued by the Trump Boom, will be credited to Brown and the Democratic Legislature.

As JFK said, “Life isn’t fair.”

Republicans’ only future chance for the governorship, or any other state office, is if the economy tanks during a statewide election. That’s how Schwarzenegger snuck in back in 2003, amid massive state deficits (and the now ridiculous recall). Yet the ongoing demographic shifts probably preclude a Republican winner even should Great Depression Two hit.

Which brings us to the Democrats. The Los Angeles Times ran a pretty good portrait of the front runner, “Trump presidency eases Gavin Newsom’s path in his second run for California governor.”

It wrote, “Newsom, 49, has deftly used his office as a platform to call for tighter gun control, legalized marijuana, a ban on new offshore oil drilling and rollbacks of university tuition hikes. Next up: universal healthcare.

“His agenda carries broad appeal in a Democratic state that has been drifting leftward for more than two decades. With much of California seething over President Trump, the climate could hardly be better for the unabashed liberal politics of a former San Francisco mayor still best known for his trailblazing 2004 decree legalizing same-sex marriage.”

But a couple of troubling things come out. He spoke before       Bay Area plumbers and steamfitters and asked, “You want resistance to Donald Trump? Boy, bring it on, Donald.”

Plumbers and steamfitters are among the few private-sector, working-class Democrats left in the state. Which means they’re really more akin to the Democrats who put Trump over Hillary in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the first GOP victories in those states since 1988. Such folks are different from the dominant forces in today’s Democratic Party, especially in California: tech oligarchs, public-union bosses, government functionaries and university leftists.

The Times again: “Newsom, who calls the widening gap between rich and poor ‘the biggest challenge of our time,’ is still fine-tuning his agenda. He said it would include wider access to prenatal care and preschool, expansion of an income-tax credit for the poor, bail reform and a universal healthcare plan modeled on the one he pioneered in San Francisco.

“‘The work’s been done; the question is how we scale it,’ he said.

“At the same time, Newsom promises fiscal restraint and economic growth.”

So, vast new government spending, paid for inevitably with higher taxes, will lead to “fiscal restraint and economic growth”! And the new taxes would be on top of all the new taxes just imposed the past six months: on income, cigarettes, gas and plastic bags.

As to “the work’s been done” on health care for all, San Francisco is an incredibly wealthy city, with an average household income of $104,879 and an average household net worth of $1,086,439. In Imperial County, average household income is just above half that, $55,493; and Average Household Worth is one third SF’s, $353,693.

California’s poor counties just can’t afford what its rich counties can. And if the rich counties are forced to pay for everything, then that’s yet another tax burden pushing companies and jobs to lower-tax states.

Newsom also is touting his acumen as a businessman – a kinder and gentler Donald Trump. But Newsom’s company runs high-end restaurants that can pass on higher taxes and the state’s ever-rising minimum wage to millionaire clients. That won’t work at McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Marie Callender’s, where the higher minimum wage will push up prices, drive away customers and kill jobs.

Newsom seems to be ahead right now, but I would guess the more likely next governor is John Chiang, the treasurer and former controller. Although the budget system won’t be collapsing next year, in his May Revise press conference, even Brown acknowledged the fiscal cracks and sprains are starting to tell. Voters, including Democrats, I think, will seek someone with a reputation for fiscal common sense, instead of Newsom’s flights of psychedelic fancy derived from 50thanniversary parties of Haight-Ashbury’s 1967 Summer of Love.

John Seiler wrote editorials for the Orange County Register from 1987 to 2016. He now writes freelance White Papers. His email: mailto:[email protected]

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