Grading Jerry Brown, Part 2

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)

(Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s Fox and Hounds, Joe Mathews graded Gov. Brown on the issues of infrastructure, public safety, education and direct democracy; today he looks at the issues of health care, water and housing.)

 

Grading the Brown Record on Health Care

Grade: B-

Gov. Brown’s sharpest aides came out of health care. And the greatest changes in California of the last 8 years involve health care.
Through Obamacare, and particular its expansion of Medi-Cal, millions more Californians got healthcare coverage. Half of children are on Medi-Cal. So are one-third of California’s nearly 40 million people.

Brown often said skeptical things about all the new spending on health care that this brought. But, unlike governors in other states, he backed Obamacare, and California has led in implementation.

The problem is: it’s still hard for people with coverage to get timely healthcare when and where they need it.

Coverage expansion was not accompanied by sufficient expansion in actual services. It can take months to get appointments. The public doesn’t see health care as settled.

Indeed, health care was one issue where Gov. Brown didn’t do a good job of selling his record. That has created a void filled by medical providers, unions, and leftist fantasists who are pushing unworkable one-state, single-payer plans for California. Indeed, single-payer support has become a political litmus test in California during the Brown years.

Gavin Newsom will have to focus on making the existing system work better, while he pursues broader—he will say “universal”—care.

Grading the Brown Record on Water

Grade: B+

Gov. Brown showed real leadership in responding to the drought that hit the state.
The governor was often reluctant to use the bully pulpit. But when it came to water, he and other state and local officials reached out, and Californians responded by changing their behavior, and reducing their water usage.
Many of us let our lawns go Brown.
His signing of legislation regulating groundwater was long overdue but historic and vitally important to the state and its future.
He made progress, though not enough, in the tunnels under the Delta. It was a thankless project to support, with environmentalists and even the mayor of Los Angeles opposing it, but it was clearly the right thing to do.
And he pushed through a major water bond. It’s not enough, and the bond had way too much pork. But in water, Brown wasn’t so cheap.
And that was a good thing.
So why not an A? Brown was slow to respond to data-driven advances that could transform how we use water. Here’s hoping his successor, who is more comfortable with data, will do more here.

 

Grading the Brown Record on Housing

Grade: D

In his last weeks in office, Gov. Brown told an interviewer that the housing crisis could not be solved. It will be pretty much as bad in another four years, he predicted.
It’s utterly maddening to hear a governor—the person best positioned in the state to show leadership on such a complicated issue—abdicate responsibility.
But that’s the dark side of Jerry Brown.
The governor has responded to the crisis—signing legislation, and offering some broader proposals. But the governor never took the lead in getting the state to produce the housing it needs.
The defense of Brown is that housing is primarily a local issue. But it’s actually a local, regional, statewide and international (given the nature of investments and capital markets) issue. So dealing with it requires gubernatorial leadership, which Brown showed little interest in offering.
I would argue that the housing issue would require structural reform in the nature of state governance itself, to create different incentives for localities, which now prefer to build sales-tax-producing businesses. But Brown was famously cool to the idea of governance reform. He argued that he, as a wise, old governor, could manage the state’s difficulties.
The folly of that argument is apparent in the overly expensive and decaying housing in communities all across California.
On housing, Brown left the state in crisis.

 

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