When California Democrats held their convention in San Diego, there was a conspicuous absentee—Governor Jerry Brown.  Not only wasn’t he physically present, he was barely mentioned from the speaker’s podium.  The party’s activists and aspiring politicians were clearly ready to move on.

Despite going into the home stretch of a highly successful run as Governor, Jerry wasn’t celebrated, nor did the candidates for Governor make a big point of building on his legacy.  Fiscal sanity hardly makes liberal hearts flutter and the “skinflint in chief” has frustrated proponents of more spending on education, healthcare and other Democratic priorities.  The Bullet Train and Delta Tunnels just don’t create much enthusiasm—let alone political demand among the Party faithful.

Despite having served as Democratic State Chairman after his first two terms as Governor, Jerry Brown has never really been a Party animal.  Except in years when he has been on the ballot, Brown has not been a big presence at Party functions.  It is interesting that, at the election-year convention, Democratic candidates, including the gubernatorial contenders, weren’t invoking his name or lauding his accomplishments, even though the Governor enjoyed a 56% approval rating in the most recent PPIC survey.

With California Democrats facing scant challenge from the GOP, Democratic activists are much more focused on internecine issues and intraparty candidate races.  Many Berniecrats are still relitigating the Clinton-Sanders contest for the 2016 Presidential nomination and last year’s state party’s chairperson’s fight.  There is also a generational divide, personified by State Senator Kevin de Leon’s attempt to unseat long-time U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.  The drive for single payer health insurance dominates the policy debate, but this isn’t an issue on which the Governor has really weighed in.

The campaign for Governor promises to be a free-for-all with health care and housing at the forefront of policy debates.   Unlike 2010, when Jerry Brown campaigned for a return to the Corner Office with a mandate to set the State’s finances straight, the four top 2018 Democratic contenders—Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin are competing at a time when the State is in relatively good fiscal shape.  That is if you don’t talk about public employee pension obligations—and the candidates prefer not to talk about them.

In California’s current political and economic environment, none of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates is hell- bent to jump on a frugality platform or to run as the next Jerry Brown.  Chiang touts his fiscal credentials and his ability to manage the State’s finances but shows little sign of breaking through to voters.  Eastin is a crowd pleaser as she espouses policies near and dear to the California Teachers Association and other liberals but lacks the visibility and money to break through.  The current leading contenders, Newsom and Villaraigosa, are—like Brown– former mayors. But they as stylistically different from Jerry Brown as you can get.  Newsome comes off as a blow-dried Bernie Sanders, with his advocacy of single payer and cannabis and his new-age, techie speaking style.  Villaraigosa is the charismatic, up from the bottom, street fighter.

If the San Diego convention is any indication, both Governor Brown and the California Democratic Party have moved on.  The Governor is focused on battling Donald Trump over climate change and immigration, while winding up his last year in office.  He may not have had time for the Democratic conventioneers, but he did head to New York recently, for his induction into the Irish-American Hall of Fame.

In the meantime, the party’s response to Brown’s up-coming exit from the Golden State’s political arena, is redolent of an old childhood ditty:

“Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

I wish, I wish he’d go away…”