I’ve been impressed by the first four weeks of Jerry Brown’s transition to the governorship.

“Huh?” you want to ask me. “He hasn’t done anything so how can you impressed?”


It’s all the nothing that impresses me.

Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger seem to agree on much in the way of policy, but they are men of vastly different temperaments, and strategies. Schwarzenegger promised “Action! Action! Action!” Brown and his people – on the rare moments when they can be bothered to comment – are promising “Inaction! Inaction! Inaction!”

This has flipped the usual dynamic of gubernatorial transitions on its head. Typically, one would expect the lame duck governor to do very little, while the incoming governor-elect is full of announcements and proposals. But California in the late 2010 is an upside-down place, with the hyperactive Schwarzenegger dominating the news with appointments and initiatives while Brown says very little.

This makes some Democrats and people old enough to remember the first Brown governorship nervous; Brown has a history of avoiding gubernatorial responsibilities that don’t fit his needs of the moment.
But this time, Brown’s reticence makes sense, in two ways.

First, since he has offered no plan and demonstrated little interest in the broad systemic reform the state needs to become governable again, there’s not much he can do other than work on margins. So why should he rush to govern what can’t be governed or fix what can’t be fixed?

Second, all the promises of patience and inaction have helped Brown reduce expectations for his governorship – and also have thrown a cloud of mystery over his intentions. Since the mystery is more attractive than the reality of balancing a budget that’s more than $25 billion out of balance, mystery is the safe political choice.

To the extent Brown tries to do just about anything, his actions are likely to make him unpopular – and make the state’s rotten governing system even more dysfunctional. Let’s hope he clings to inaction as long as he can.