Please, Somebody Get Skelton a Comfy Chair

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

If you are a wise soul who gave yourself permission to ignore California news over the holidays, you may have missed the story of Christmas week: George Skelton really, really doesn’t like Gov. Jerry Brown’s chairs.

Skelton was so troubled by the hardness of the benches that reporters were forced to sit on during a year-end audience with the governor that he mentioned it in two columns.

In the first he writes:

Rather than meet with each one individually, he agreed to a group sit-down — on very uncomfortable seats.  Past governors furnished the Ronald Reagan Cabinet Room with a handsome mahogany table and restful leather chairs. Brown replaced all of it with a long picnic table — the former Jesuit seminarian calls it a “monastic table” — and benches. 

It’s apparently supposed to convey discipline and austerity, although the setup cost in the range of $7,500. I’m thinking that if this is the table he and Republican legislators tried to negotiate around last winter, it’s no wonder everyone walked away without closing a deal.

Skelton wouldn’t leave it there. He revisited the chair issue his New Year’s resolutions column, suggesting Brown make one of his resolutions:

“Be more hospitable. Pad those hard, backless wooden benches that visitors — lawmakers, CEOS, reporters — must sit on at the “monastic table” in his much-used Cabinet room. Too cheap to buy pads? Rent out cushions to people, like at the ballpark. Put a dent in the deficit.

Should Brown take this seriously? You bet. Two column mentions is serious business. And this chair business connects to a couple larger points.

First, Brown is taking the frugality over minor things too far. The governor is obsessed with small, symbolic cuts – even as he can’t deliver big budget changes. Better to spend a little more if comfort helps produce big deals.

Second, since Brown doesn’t seem willing to tackle the big structural problems in California’s system, the least he can do is make us as comfortable as possible.


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