Jerry Brown Signs In

Jerry Brown Signs In 010511

Jerry Brown has again taken the head of the state.  He did so with a very Jerry Brownie speech, and in a ceremony which is typical the minimalism that has marked his political life.  Read the address HERE
He did so underlining the ideals set forth in his campaign:

First, speak the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No empty promises.

Second, no new taxes unless the people vote for them.

Third, return—as much as possible—decisions and authority to cities, counties and schools, closer to the people.

The first promise, “no more bullshit” is going to be pretty tough for a politician to live up to, but Governor Jerry Brown (GJB) might be the politician to try.

This is his third term as governor, he’s an old man nearing the likely end to his political life (though Gerald Edmund Brown, Jerry’s father, died at 91), and he might decide his legacy can be established in one term.  If that is the case, he has very little to lose by telling the truth.  Besides, though it doesn’t happen often, perhaps people will believe the truth.  

The year ahead will demand courage and sacrifice. The budget I propose will assume that each of us who are elected to do the people’s business will rise above ideology and partisan interest and find what is required for the good of California. There is no other way forward. In this crisis, we simply have to learn to work together as Californians first, members of a political party second.

The second is the most difficult, and here Brown is simply asking voters to follow him.  He’ll lead, but he needs to voters to agree to his strategies.  That’s a little naïve; the voters have very poor comprehension of complex issues, and very bad memories.  Some of our most fervent voters scarcely understand the issues at all, and react to emotional words and lofty ideals instead of following a pragmatic course.  Brown’s faith in voters is so innocent it’s almost touching.
Except that Brown is very familiar with voters.  He is also nothing if not a realist at this point in his life.
This editor is going to ignore most of human history and suggest that GJB might be able to bring the voters on board.

Perhaps this is the reason why the public holds the state government in such low esteem. And that’s a profound problem, not just for those of us who are elected, but for our whole system of self-government. Without the trust of the people, politics degenerates into mere spectacle; and democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void.

The third ideal, returning decisions back to local officials, is a great idea, what is troubling is “as much as possible”.  Returning power to local government means taking it away from bureaucrats at the state level.  Brown won’t live long enough to see that happen easily.  Careers, paychecks, indeed retirement plans require state meddling at every level.  The simple minded notion of a law applying equally to everyone means we’ll have the same water and sewer laws that L.A. does.  

GJB told historic stories about ancestors crossing the desert to get to California: the theme here is that it’s been tough before, but what the hell, we’re a tough people, we’ll be fine.  Still, we need to get working on the problem.

Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken. At this stage of my life, I have not come here to embrace delay or denial.

Many of these issues have confronted California one way or another for decades, certainly since the time of Governor Earl Warren. It is sobering and enlightening to read through the inaugural addresses of past governors. They each start on a high note of grandeur and then focus on virtually the same recurring issues—education, crime, budgets, water.

I have thought a lot about this and it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties. A problem can be solved or forgotten but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.

Brown has the long view, the historical view.  He has a vision of a way out of our difficulties, and it is filled with unpleasantness and so smacks of reality.  Maybe he can actually unify the people where Schwarzenegger failed, and force the legislature to pass useful laws and a balanced budget. It would be uselessly pessimistic to deny him the chance to try.   
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