The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 changed the political landscape
both within California and nationally. Thirty-two years after its
passage, candidates for governor still vie to convince voters that they
are the strongest supporters of this landmark law. Undoubtedly, this
would make Prop 13 author Howard Jarvis very happy.
Ironically, 1978 was also the last time Jerry Brown ran for governor.
The "boy governor" was running for a second term against then Attorney
General Evelle Younger. The overwhelming 65% vote for Proposition 13
in the primary election spurred both candidates to scramble to be
identified with this big winner.
Brown, who had originally opposed the measure, and Younger, who had
given only lukewarm support, both approached Howard Jarvis asking him
to cut television spots on their behalf.
In a move that many thought crazy, Howard Jarvis agreed to accommodate
both. Howard was crazy; crazy like a fox. Although he said this did
not represent an actual endorsement of either candidate, it certainly
communicated his approval of both candidates based on their work on
behalf of Proposition 13 once it passed.
In ads seen throughout the state, Jarvis praised Younger’s defense of
Proposition 13 in the courts, and Brown’s implementation of the tax
But in the eyes of the public, whether or not Howard’s message
represented "approval" rather than an "endorsement" was a distinction
in search of difference.
So what did Howard hope to accomplish? The wily political veteran knew
that by soliciting and accepting his help, both candidates had locked
themselves into a pact to support Proposition 13. No matter which man
was elected governor, he would be compelled to be a friend to
Proposition 13 — no small matter during the time the law was first
going into effect. To Howard, the passage and protection of
Proposition 13 was much bigger than partisan politics.
So how would Howard regard the current governor’s race that includes
the return of Jerry Brown? First he would be pleased that Brown is
still touting his "endorsement" from thirty-two years previously, and
would be chuckling over how his strategy of approving both candidates
back then had worked. However, he would also be chastising Brown for
failing to show more enthusiasm for a measure that has saved
homeownership for thousands of Californians, and today is still making
it easier for new buyers to own their own homes by providing them the
security of knowing what their taxes will be from year to year.
Brown’s current position of saying he sees no need to change
Proposition 13 is hardly the ringing endorsement Howard would demand.
And Howard would be wary, noting that Brown has chosen to closely ally
himself with the state’s government employee unions, unquestionably the
most extreme anti-Proposition 13 element in the state.
So if Jerry Brown is going to try to reassure taxpayers with stories of
his relationship with Howard Jarvis, the record must not be left
If one wants to know what Howard really thought about Jerry Brown,
there is no need to speculate. Howard was still vigorously involved in
protecting taxpayers when Brown left the governor’s office in 1982 and
this is what he had this to say, "No governor in our state’s
history…has been so destructive. From all-out opposition to
Proposition 13 and Proposition 7 [indexing the income tax to inflation,
another Jarvis initiative which passed] to hundreds of millions wasted
on the unnecessary med fly disaster [a fruit-fly infestation], Jerry
Brown did all wrong. Good riddance!"