Gov. Jerry Brown looks like a shoo-in for re-election. But when you look at California and its political fundamentals, the reason for Brown’s standing has less to do with Brown than the lack of alternatives.

The governor is a tree standing in the desert. The Republican Party seems incapable of producing a winning candidate. And none of the next-generation Democrats who could challenge Brown seem inclined to do so. Brown, whatever his faults, is good at winning elections.

All that said, less than a majority of Californians think the state is headed in the right direction. This should make an incumbent vulnerable. There’s even a winning message for a campaign against Brown; the trouble is there is no obvious candidate to convey that message.

And that message is: “Under Jerry Brown, you’re paying more for less.” Not just more in taxes (let’s be fair, since a ¼ cent increase in sales tax isn’t much, and the Prop 30 income tax increases were targeted on the rich) but increases in fees, in the cost of living, and in a host of expenses that are tied to cuts in services. Californians must pay more to send their children to public schools, to universities, to use the roads (in repairs and in many cases, tolls).

But we are getting less. Less school. Less in services.

And Brown has made clear that we can expect more of the same. Indeed, he’s celebrated this state of affairs, taking a victory tour of sorts after Prop 30.

To win, a candidate would have to combine that message with a credible plan to make things better. The good news is that there are a lot of such plans already lying around. There are tax reform plans that, whatever their flaws, represent an improvement on the status quo. And there are a host of things we could do on education and other services – more instruction time, better trained teachers, lower tuition – if we had more money.

It would be nice if someone stepped up and ran this kind of campaign. Such a campaign could win if the right candidate could be found. And even if Brown were to survive a campaign and win, he could be forced to commit to stop embracing the austerity of today and start taking on bigger reforms and challenges.