Pundits and politicians on the left and right continue to
express amazement about how unpredictable Gov. Jerry Brown has been.

On the one hand he’s slapping down a union-sponsored
card-check measure for farm workers and suggesting in a veto
that "not every human problem deserves a law."

But then he’s also signing bills to require California
schools to teach about the contributions made by gays and lesbians and to force
utility ratepayers to pony up more cash for solar energy efforts.

Republicans and Democrats alike wonder what type of game the
governor is playing and what political advantage he hopes to gain by being
quite so, ah, erratic.

Well here’s a hint to those politicos locked in their
Sacramento mindset: Brown’s acting like a real voter.

You know, one of those people who votes for some Democrats
and some Republicans on election day and doesn’t look for the "R" or the "D" on
a bill law before deciding whether he likes it or not. 

Hard as it is to believe for party veterans who have never
had a non-partisan thought, most people in California don’t see life in stark
shades of red and blue.

California has always been a weak party state, one where
from 1913 to 1959, voters were happy to allow cross-filing, which allowed
popular politicians like Gov. Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, and dozens of others
to run – and win – in both the Republican and Democratic party primaries, which
takes a lot of pressure off the fall campaign. 

Today, when the percentage of registered voters not listing
a political party is better than 20 percent and rising, California still isn’t
a state where folks are longing for the return of the straight-ticket ballot.

You wouldn’t know that in the Legislature, where both
parties push hard to hold discipline, ensuring that Democrats only vote for
bills approved by their leadership and that the minority Republicans unite to
block anything resembling new taxes. 

Heck, in the state Senate, the Republicans and Democrats sit
on separate sides of the chamber, never the twain to meet.

But the varied bills Brown has signed and vetoed this year
recognizes it’s a different world outside the walls of the state Capitol. 

Republican leaders, for example, have vowed to overturn a
new redistricting plan they charge would turn control of the state Senate over
to the Democrats. But a recent Field Poll
found that a plurality of California Republican voters thought the
redistricting plan was just dandy and should be approved.

And while Democratic leaders have pushed for higher taxes to
help resolve the state’s budget problem, another Field Poll
found that only a small majority of their party agreed. 

In the real world, most people make political decisions
without first checking for their party’s imprimatur. Sure, Republicans tend to
be more conservative and Democrats more liberal, but that doesn’t mean
conservative on every issue or liberal in every vote.

So Brown seems to be doing what the state’s voters have done
for years: look at the issues and make a decision based on a personal vision of
what’s best for California, rather than relying on the political dictates of
party leaders. 

Annoying as it can be for politicians to deal with a
governor who isn’t a guaranteed rubber stamp for any particular point of view,
Brown’s decisions so far are something voters can understand.

Which is why a new Public Policy Institute
of California poll
found that 45 percent of the state’s likely voters like
the job Brown is doing, compared to the 17 percent thrilled with the
Legislature’s performance. 

John Wildermuth is a
longtime writer on California politics.