THE BLOG
08/05/2013 07:59 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2013

California Story: Jerry Brown's Fortunes, or, Stop Me If You've Heard This Before

Following his two-week trip to Ireland and Germany, Governor Jerry Brown finds that his already good fortunes at home have expanded.

He continues to look strong in a new California poll, which is no surprise. There is ongoing big support for the state's climate change and renewable energy efforts -- championed by Brown and predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis -- also not a surprise, But there is a decidedly split view (with a slight plurality opposed) of fracking, the longstanding technique to loosen up hard to get at oil and natural gas, a major emerging issue given the state's vast storehouse of such in the colorfully but inaptly named Monterey Shale, which is mostly the middle of the state and not the beautiful coastline around Monterey.

Meanwhile, his semi-declared Republican challengers for his still undeclared re-election have raised little money and essentially have none, while Brown has more than $10 million in his re-election coffers, despite spending little time raising money for it, and more than $3 million left from his Yes on 30 campaign last year. (Yes, it was arguably the the most important initiative campaign of his long career, but Brown still didn't spend all the money he had available for the task.)

Brown raised nearly $3 million for his gubernatorial campaign account in the first half of this year, most of it very late in the reporting period. That gave him more than $10 million cash on hand. He also has not paid a dime to a political consultant all year. Not that he does spend much on consultants. He's his own chief strategist. Of course, he gets some useful help for free.

Brown is pushing his water conveyance and high-speed rail agenda -- with ground-breaking on the latter slated for the fall -- and promising to deal with debts to the federal government on the state's unemployment insurance program incurred during the great global recession.

But he has another issue on the horizon, not that it's something the Republicans are in any way positioned to take advantage on, and that is the question of the state's big utilities.

Southern California Edison has at last shut down the long troubled San Onofre nuclear plant. Still in question is who is on the hook for this move, caused by the installation of promptly malfunctioning pipes touted to the Public Utilities Commission as a panacea for performance problems. Also at issue is the fact that wholesale electric power costs in Southern California have skyrocketed with the loss of the big nuke. Who will end up absorbing those costs? The company? Or the ratepayers?

Then there is the question of Pacific Gas & Electric up north. The company's faulty natural gas pipeline system caused a spectacularly lethal explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area community in 2010.

Huge pressure from citizens, the media, and the legislature has led to a multibillion-dollar fine from regulators. But will PG&E pay it?

Meanwhile, rather amusingly seeking to change the subject, PGE's CEO is musing about what he calls dangers from fracking. He's calling for tougher regulations. Is he trying to gloss his company's tarnished environmental credentials? Or is this a bank shot across the bow at the Brown administration?

Brown also has some more immediate concerns, in the form of an impending transit strike in the San Francisco Bay Area, a waning but lingering hunger strike in the state prisons, and a federal court order to reduce the state inmate population by another 10,000.

Late on Sunday, Brown blocked an impending Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system strike by ordering a week-long investigation.

Brown Administration negotiators succeeded in ending a brief strike a month ago in favor of ongoing talks.

As this plays out, California Republicans and Democrats are coming together in opposition to the federal court order, for which the US Supreme Court just refused a stay, directing that another 10,000 inmates be released from state prisons.

The Brown administration is drawing up various scenarios to do just that.

And he does have at least the remnants of a now very sharply diminished state prison hunger strike still going, with inmates and their advocates seeking new policies on solitary confinement. One prisoner has died. The death is being investigated as a suicide, but some advocates say the inmate succumbed from weakness brought on by the hunger strike.

When will Brown announce for re-election, an historic fourth term as governor of California? (Yes, I'm certain he's running and have been for years, as longtime readers know.)

Well, that is an interesting question. He has a habit of confounding any conventional expectation on that score.

He took a long time to get around to actually announcing he was running for governor in the 2010 elections, so long that I joked that I would have to find my "Write In Jerry Brown for President" T-shirt from the 1976 Oregon presidential primary. Brown announced his 1976 presidential campaign so late, sidling into the race in such an off-hand way -- calling in a few reporters who happened to be around at the end of the day -- that he wasn't on the neighbor state primary ballot. He nearly won anyway on a write-in effort.

In 2009, he announced his planned return to the governorship with a YouTube video shot in his campaign office. What will he do this time? I have no idea. It doesn't really matter, aside from how flavorful a moment it turns out to be. Though, having said that, Brown is certainly capable of turning it into a telling event, whether it's advertised as such in advance or not.

Which brings us to the Republicans. (Speaking of why his official announcement doesn't really matter.) They're doing a little worse than I expected. And my expectations were not high. (See "Will Jerry Brown Be Unopposed for Reelection?" from five months ago.)

Former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, Schwarzenegger's appointed number two, hasn't raised any money to speak of for his campaign, and hasn't raised money for his anti-realignment initiative to block Brown's move of lower level offenders from the state to the local level. (Consultants are making money, though.)

State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the former Minuteman who tried to take a gun on an airliner, has raised even less than Maldonado. Not that, unlike Maldonado, he has even the slightest prayer of being a respectable contender.

Neel Kashkari? I don't see it. He's the very rich guy who helped run the Wall Street bailout under the Bush administration. He has a certain penchant for tweets about his dogs, which are huge and both named after former NFL tight ends who played for Ohio State. His favorite is named after Ozzie Newsome, who's now the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, the team that arguably stole the Super Bowl from the 49ers.

That doesn't exactly say California, does it? But he'd probably prefer explaining that than spend his campaign explaining the Wall Street bailout.

By this point in every other gubernatorial campaign, significant Republican campaigns were well underway.

It doesn't seem like anyone else is getting in, not that they would have any real shot against Brown.

So perhaps it will be Abel Maldonado after all. He has the right look and positioning for party modernization and respectability.

I suppose in the end the party would pull several million together for him in the general election so he can make some sort of showing.

Ironically, while Brown is no doubt thrilled by the possibility of winning another landslide victory for his fourth gubernatorial term -- in just two months, he surpasses Earl Warren's record as the longest tenured governor in California history -- he might prefer that the Republicans be more of a force.

To the extent Republicans are a credible, if not a threatening, force, he has more leverage with red-hot Democrats who might otherwise balk at some things he'd like to do or run off in directions he'd rather not.

But he may just have to make do, for now, with a third landslide election as governor.

Election number one, in 1974, was fairly close. His re-election in 1978, though, came by some 20 points against the state attorney general.

His return to the governorship in 2010, after a landslide 2006 election as California attorney general, came in a 13-point landslide against billionaire Meg Whitman's biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history.

Now, having vanquished a massively over-funded opponent -- who spent so much money on utterly fanciful notions that it was unbelievable -- Brown may face off against a massively under-funded opponent. Whitman got 41 percent of the vote for her $180 million. It will be interesting to see how different the results are in 2014, if at all.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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