If Jerry Brown is thinking about running for re-election in 2014, it’s a good thing the campaign didn’t start this summer.
For weeks, the governor has been anxious to kick over every political hornets’ nest in the state, whether it’s high-speed rail, the peripheral canal or environmental regulation.
In the process, he’s managed to anger just about everyone in the state but his wife and Sutter, the Brown family pooch. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and builders, Brown’s found something for everyone to get mad about.
“I want to get shit done,” Brown told reporters last week when he announced support for a plan to build a pair of giant tunnel to divert water around the Delta to Central and Southern California.
You might remember the Peripheral Canal battle 30 years back, with Northern California interests screaming “They’re stealing our water,” complete with pictures of L.A. types in shorts washing their cars and rinsing off their sidewalks with water that would come from the north. Prop. 9 in 1982 killed the canal plan on a 63 percent to 37 percent thumping.
Expect more of the same this time around, but it doesn’t seem to bother Brown.
“If we have to fight initiatives or referendums, we’ll fight those, too,” he said at the Sacramento news conference with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “But somehow, before I turn in my payroll card, I expect to get some very important things done, and this is one of them.”
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s part of a theme the 74-year-old Brown has banged on since before he was elected, saying in so many words, “I’m old, but I’m experienced and I’m not looking to move up the political ladder so all I’m concerned about is what’s best for California.”
Brown hasn’t been afraid to step on toes, even when they belong to his allies.
State workers, a desperately needed part of California’s Democratic coalition, saw their pay cut by nearly 5 percent this week, thanks to a furlough plan the governor negotiated last month.
He offended environmentalists by publicly backing a San Diego power line from the deserts of the Imperial Valley, by suggesting – briefly – that the high-speed rail plan shouldn’t have to meet existing environmental rules and by seemingly going out of his way to say last week that “I’ve never seen a (California Environmental Quality Act) exemption that I didn’t like.”
Yet Brown also has enraged Republicans by strongly pushing the “cap and trade” system for carbon emissions and the high-speed rail plan, not to mention his revenue-raising initiative on the November ballot, which has the state’s anti-tax brigade in an uproar.
The governor has cut welfare, in-home care for the old and disabled and other social services as part of his effort to balance the budget and warned that every problem in the state doesn’t necessarily need to be solved by government.
Yet Brown’s anything but a small government guy. He also talks about the need for “big ideas and big projects” to get California moving again and how government needs to be involved.
So far, Brown has been more talk –or hope — than action and the problems he’s so worried about – water, the budget, jobs, higher education – are still out there, painting a picture every bit as grim as they did before Brown took office.
But that doesn’t mean Brown is wrong. California’s problems are so wide-ranging that it’s impossible to fix them with either a Republican solution or Democratic solution. Maybe it does need someone who isn’t afraid to offend absolutely anyone if that’s what it takes to get things done.
And realistically, that person probably has to be someone who isn’t looking forward to a long and happy career in politics, because making people mad isn’t a key to re-election.
But if Brown is willing to take the political heat by making the desperately hard decisions needed to pull the state from the abyss – and succeeds at it – whoever follows him, whether in 2014 or 2018, will have a lot to thank the governor for.
John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.