Would Gavin Newsom Represent Another Brown Term?

Kerry Jackson
Kerry Jackson is a senior fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

When the 2018 gubernatorial race warms up, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his camp are likely to hammer home their point that it’s his time, that he’s earned the office, much the same way Hillary Clinton’s supporters said she deserved to be president.

Apparently, most Californians would agree with Democrat Newsom, who first won the lieutenant governor’s office in 2010, was re-elected in 2014, and was twice elected San Francisco’s mayor after spending seven years on the city’s board of supervisors. One of the final Field Polls found he has the support of 23 percent of registered voters. The nos. 2 and 3 favorites are Republicans: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was second with 16 percent, and outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who got 11 percent.

While the top two Republicans together outpolled Newsom, he still has to be considered the favorite in this heavily Democratic state. This is true, in part, because California is stridently out of line politically with the rest of the country. It is in such a singular political orbit that if it merely voted the same way the other blue states voted, Donald Trump would have won both the electoral college and the popular vote. Instead, 62 percent of California voters sided with Clinton, giving her the popular vote.

In stark contrast, most of the country – at least in the Electoral College sense, which is the only sense that counts – vetoed another eight years of Barack Obama in rejecting Clinton. Will California voters similarly snub a continuation of the Brown administration by politely declining the lieutenant governor’s advances when they have a chance? Or will they continue the single-party, big government rule that’s dominated the state since the mid-1970s?

California hasn’t collapsed under six years of Brown any more than the country will after eight years of President Obama. Both have firm foundational strengths that their political opponents haven’t yet been able to fully undermine, though they have tried. But is either California or the country as a whole better off than they were before those men took their jobs? It’s much easier to make the case that they’re in a shared decline.

California voters still have two years to decide about the future of the state. As they contemplate the state’s future, they should think about the California that Brown will leave them:

The real Calexit: The exodus of business, human capital and jobs that began before Brown took office in 2011 did not slow under him. In fact, it picked up the pace. Toyota and Carl’s Jr. were lost under Brown. Chief Executive Magazine has ranked California to be the worst state to do business in for 11 straight years.

Spending: After a real decrease in expenditures for the 2011 fiscal year, spending has increased every year since. It’s now at record levels. Americans for Tax Reform said no state overspent as much as California did last year. However, Brown is down-right thrifty compared to Legislative Democrats, and has routinely resisted the worst of their excessive spending demands.

Debt: Brown has not made much progress in reducing the state’s $400 billion debt, nor the $200 billion in public retirees’ pension and health costs, despite his commitment to debt reduction. The Mercatus Center ranks California 44th in fiscal health. However, Brown deserves credit for taking the first steps on public pension reform and largely eliminating the “wall of debt,” or the budgetary borrowing that was a hallmark of the Schwarzenegger era.

Higher Taxes: Brown promised that the Proposition 30 tax hikes of 2012 were a short-term fix. But tax revenues are never enough in Sacramento, so Proposition 55, an extension of that “temporary” tax hike, was placed on the November ballot. Brown could have opposed Prop 55 to keep his promise. Instead, he refused to take a position, and it passed with 63 percent of the vote.

Joblessness: Brown says 2 million new jobs have been created since he took office, but almost all were in the tech sector and Brown had no hand in creating a single one. Silicon Valley is important, yet our state is more than its tech sector, which means a lot of Californians still need jobs that aren’t there.

Economic Outlook: The forecast is for steady growth, but it will be driven by the tech sector. Again, this leaves many Californians on the outside.

There would be no straight line from Brown to Newsom. He is not Brown’s understudy, and has in fact been a political rival. But Clinton was once Obama’s political rival and the country understood a vote for her was a vote for an extension of his Administration. It will be up to voters to decide whether to continue with more of the same in 2018.

Kerry Jackson is a Fellow at the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

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