You would think that Californians had learned their lesson by now.
Remember Darrell Issa? Issa, who ran against Barbara Boxer in 1998, but lost his party's nomination to Matt Fong, the California Treasurer. In that race, Issa spent $12 million of his own money and, after losing, went on to get elected to the House in 2000. Issa actually stands to become the head of the House Government Operations Committee if Republicans take control of the Congress in he next election.
Issa, you may recall, gave Californians Arnold Schwarzenegger as their governor. Issa contributed $1.6 million toward the recall of Gray Davis and presumed he would be his party's nominee to replace Davis. Then, following the recall of Davis, the party tapped Issa on the shoulder and said, "Your work is done." Schwarzenegger became governor. And California, like the rest of the country, sank into even worse economic shape than when Davis was in office.
Now, California Republicans want you to refocus. The man who had no governmental experience whatsoever, yet who went on to become the chief executive, was really a highly successful movie actor with little aptitude for the job. That may not have been the best idea. What California needs now is a businessman. Or businesswoman. Enter Meg Whitman.
Beyond being another figure in a business success story who now believes that power is her next entitlement and governing is the next challenging hobby, Whitman, like Schwarzenegger, has no government experience. That is problematic for two reasons. One is that California is a remarkably diverse state. Its near hemispheric political divide between its northern and southern constituencies makes politics in the state capitol very complicated. In these economic times, to send another candidate to Sacramento who simply mouths that "Government needs to be run like a business" would be disastrous.
The second issue is Whitman's opponent. In my opinion, Jerry Brown is one of the most visionary and dedicated public servants I have ever encountered during my life time. Smart, tough, experienced, committed, Brown wasn't making a fortune for himself these past four decades. He was serving the people of California. The attack ad that Whitman shows of Bill Clinton laying into Brown is unfair, inaccurate and repugnant. Primary races can be bloodier than the general election and Brown versus Clinton exemplifies that. But Clinton is guilty of a bit of hyperbole when he states that Brown spent down California's surplus while in office. The most casual examination of the record shows that, in classic California fashion, a loss of property tax revenues forced Brown to spend a good deal of the state's surplus, but not all of it. Californians, with their preposterous property tax laws, never seem to recognize that a loss of revenue to the counties and/or cities usually spells undue pressure on the state to find that money elsewhere. Even Schwarzenegger, the fitness role model, was reduced to selling state park land to make up for huge gaps in his budget. Clinton in full attack mode is a sight to behold, but not one Californians should base this race on.
In their websites and in their official statements, both Whitman and Brown say the usual things about jobs, taxes and education. But it is in the area of jobs from clean energy technologies and in pension reform that Brown holds the clearest edge. California has, through necessity, been a leader in environmental policy-making. Spend any time in California and see how many hybrid cars are on the road. How many wind turbines are in operation. How much photo-voltaic equipment is already in place. Brown knows that this is just the beginning. Where Whitman and other business types believe that markets themselves will lead us where we need to go, Brown knows that government must lead. The push to bring as much of the American power grid into the renewable market must come from government. The money we spent on Iraq alone might well have begun to solve this problem once and for all.
Whitman the businesswoman lacks the political skill to bring the pension issue into the 21st century. Unions and pensioners must be brought to the table for talks that recognize them as entitled on one hand yet partners with taxpayers on the other. Brown will do that. And he must before the pension problem in California crushes the government into insolvency.
All governments need to be run in a more business-like manner and now more than ever. But government should never literally be run like a business. Business is about cold numbers, strict adherence to bottom lines and the ascent of those with the greatest skills and advantages. Governing requires a humanism that we find largely absent in the business world of today. It calls for skills that the business world often overlooks or shuns. Governing requires the ability not to follow spreadsheets and marketing advice but to weigh all of the relevant information and decide what is best for all of California in both the long and short term.
There is no one better for that job than Jerry Brown.
A post script regarding the New York governor's race. Voter dissatisfaction is real and valid. But Palladino versus Cuomo is a nearly impossible distortion of that reality. The difference between Carl Palladino and Andrew Cuomo, in terms of effectiveness, talent and experience, is the between a water pistol and a fire hose. A pea shooter and a cannon. When Eliot Spitzer was elected, a great man became governor. That man faltered and was replaced by an interim governor who has struggled. Now, New Yorkers can return another brilliant, hard-working public servant to the governor's office by electing Andrew Cuomo.