Here we go again – thirty-three years later Jerry Brown (the once and current governor) believes he can best Howard Jarvis in a battle over taxes.

He didn’t win in 1978 when Proposition 13 was on the ballot. He may think the situation has changed, new demographics in California today, a wider gap between the percentage of Republicans and Democrats in voter registration.

True, but Proposition 13 was never about partisan politics. And, those are not the only changes over time. The disdain for government has grown expeditiously, voters not trusting government and what it will do with their money.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Voters distaste for too many taxes.

Clearly, Brown’s attack on the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association was a planned strategy. First, suggest to a newspaper writer that HJTA is the reason his tax proposal was scuttled, then use the subsequent article as a springboard to give speeches attacking the association. His goal: To have Republicans stand up and say we take orders from no one and to prove that point by supporting a Brown proposal.

Over the past few months, Brown and Democratic lawmakers have blamed other third parties for Republican legislators lack of cooperation with their plans but none of the accusations stuck.

What is ironic about Brown’s crusade to take on HJTA is both the message and his audiences. Brown’s speeches were to labor groups. His charge is that the Republicans in the Senate have delegated an "unconstitutional delegation of power" to the Jarvis group by listening to their arguments.

And what would he say about the Democrats who heed the call of public employee unions? Is that an "unconstitutional delegation of power?" On this the governor is silent. In one speech, he attacked the Jarvis group and at the same time thanked the nurses union for helping to elect him.

The irony is as thick as Santa Claus’ belly and quite as comical.

Jerry Brown is heading down the wrong path in taking on Jarvis again. Voters will ask what politician or policy has worked for them. Whether they like Brown personally or not, the question voters will ask is what has he done for them and for California. Jarvis’s Proposition 13 is still respected because it helped people, protecting them from outrageous property taxes and setting a barrier against a flood of new taxes often requested by Brown’s allies in the public labor movement.

As Brown was running for his third term as governor, I wrote some posts that touched on the relationship between Brown and Jarvis from the late 1970s and early 1980s. In one post, I wrote:

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci … Brown said if he were elected governor, "I would not be advocating new taxes, I’ll tell you that." Already, California is "one of the highest tax states around," he said. "So we’ve got to be competitive. We can’t drive all the jobs out and tax the few people who stay."

Jerry Brown has lived through a tax revolt before when he was governor in 1978 and he senses when the natives are restless. Leading the opposition to Proposition 13, Brown learned the wrath of taxpayers first hand. After the initiative passed overwhelmingly, he declared himself a "born-again tax cutter" and did his best to implement the measure. In fact, his efforts on that front lead Proposition 13 co-author Howard Jarvis to vote for Brown for re-election.

While Jarvis did vote for Brown, the honeymoon didn’t last. In my book, The Legend of Proposition 13, I quoted Jarvis following Brown’s defeat at the hands of Pete Wilson for a U.S. Senate seat in 1982: "No governor in our state’s history … has been so destructive. From all-out opposition to Proposition 13 and Proposition 7 (a tax indexing measure) … Jerry Brown did all wrong. Good riddance!"

Both Jarvis and Brown can heat up the rhetoric. The question for Brown is can he pay attention to the familiar advice: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


(Disclosure: For those who don’t know, I was Howard Jarvis’s aide from 1979 until 1986 and president of the Jarvis association from 1986 thru 1998).