One of the more bizarre conspiracy theories I heard recently was that Attorney General Jerry Brown persuaded San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to drop out of the governor’s race by offering to support him later for the Lieutenant Governor’s office. In turn, Brown would declare he would serve only one-term paving the road for Newsom to move up.
All this without a threatening email from Mike Murphy! Sorry, I’m rejecting this one out-of-hand and I don’t even have to consult Garry South to see if such an arrangement was ever discussed.
But the one-term piece of the arrangement struck a chord. Could that be a device the soon to be 72 year-old Brown would employee to convince California voters that this turn through the governor’s office would be dedicated to cleaning up the mess before he rides into the sunset?
Voters are fed up with Sacramento’s failures and are bound to be grumpy with all the candidates for governor. Pledging to make sure things are made right by sacrificing oneself on the altar of a one-term pledge could benefit Brown.
John McCain, who would also have been 72 years-old when sworn-in if he had won the presidency, strongly considered making a one term pledge. Some of his aides believed such a move would have been a real boost to his campaign according to the book Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
Declaring to be a one-term governor is an expression that you want to solve problems and tackle the hardest issues with no concern for future electoral office. You could take on special interests without concern for their support in future campaigns. As with McCain, such a declaration would soften the liability of the age issue that Brown faces.
Of course, McCain did not take the pledge, pulling it out of his New Hampshire kick-off speech only hours before it was given. He listened to colleagues and even family members who said making a one-term pledge would immediately make him a lame duck when he is sworn in and tie his hands with congress.
While a gubernatorial one-term pledge would weaken a governor’s leverage, the governor still holds the veto pen. A governor dedicated to fixing a broken governmental system would have to wield that pen and pound the bully pulpit. But, can that ultimately get reforms pushed through the legislature?
Unlike a presidential candidate whose one-term pledge would focus much attention on the vice-president, California’s governor does not have to be concerned with a similar issue. Since the Lieutenant Governor is elected on his or her own merit, there is not the same connection.
Brown could argue that it makes sense to move forward as the reformer because he has already served time as governor and there is no learning curve for him. In fact, in a display of candor, he could argue with a second chance in the governor’s chair he would correct mistakes made in his first terms.
But, here’s the kicker: This scenario assumes that Brown does not have ambitions for more elections, which in his 40 years in politics has never been the case.