The epic and the comic mark what continues to be the essential non-event that is the California governor's race. Okay, it's actually a signature event, in that it will result in a record-breaking fourth term for Jerry Brown. But I wrote that a long time ago, so the race itself is an ultimate in anti-climax.
Late last week, Brown achieved a signature accomplishment by negotiating and winning overwhelming bipartisan legislative passage of a $7.5 billion water bond. Needless to say, it was more than an answer to the only event to capture much attention in Republican nominee Neel Kashkari's general election campaign, a weeklong stunt last month in which the investment banker posed as a homeless man in Fresno.
Late in his second term, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had achieved the first breakthrough in decades on California water policy with passage of an $11.1 billion water bond. But it was overlarded with what many viewed as green pork, and backers were loath to follow-up the legislative win by actually submitting the package to voters. But even with the bond deal on the shelf, the overall package achieved much in restoration and replumbing of the troubled Sacramento River Delta, key hub of the state's water system.
The $11.1 billion was a daunting number for voters in an economy where recovery was both delayed and uneven.
Seeing that the present drought would make this a good year to redo the bond package, and mindful that both legislative Democrats and Republicans were nonetheless likely to come up with bottom lines uncomfortably close to that in the Schwarzenegger-signed package, Brown began the process by calling for a $6 billion water bond.
Keep in mind the dictum of Mad Men's Roger Sterling: "I'll tell you what brilliance in advertising is: X dollars and 99 cents. Somebody thought that up."
After agreeing to avoid funding for Sacramento River Delta projects that might aid in his controversial Delta tunnels plan to move water from North to South, Brown ended up mostly getting things his way. Billions to manage wastewater, capture storm water, clean up ground water and emphasize recycling sit along side $2.7 billion for the first big water storage projects in decades, yielding a bottom line figure much closer to his rather lowball starting point than to those of legislative Democrats and Republicans.
It's a strong response not only to the current drought but also to the reality that drought conditions will recur and persist in the greenhouse era. Some, including career-long Brown critic/Sacramento columnist Dan Walters -- see my 2012 feature on his four decades of bashing Brown and mostly getting the big things wrong in California politics -- opine that this package, coupled with other moves by water districts and local governments in Southern California does away with the need for the other big part of Brown's water plan, the Delta tunnels. (Walters had also amusingly foreseen a Brown defeat on getting the just passed water bond deal together.)
But some efforts are more apparent than real. Progressive Santa Monica, for example, promised a voluntary 20 percent cut in water consumption at the beginning of the year. In reality, however, consumption actually increased by 3 percent.
While this water bond, assuming passage at the polls in November, may or may not lessen the need for the Delta tunnels in future years, Brown is thinking much further ahead many decades in fact, to a much larger California.
It's that decades-hence view which also accounts for Brown's high-speed rail project, also advanced during their governorships by Schwarzenegger -- who actually wanted to break ground on high-speed rail in 2010 -- and Gray Davis. Brown is slowly but surely prevailing over the legal roadblocks that diehard opponents have tried to build.
What will come soonest is Brown's re-election. Republican Neel Kashkari has raised almost $700,000 since the June primary. But since he had to spend nearly half of his declared $5 million personal net worth to get past far right Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, he's in bad shape. If he raised another $700K in the next two-and-a-half months, he can't have enough to do much of anything. Meanwhile, Brown had over $22 million cash on hand when last I looked in July. The Republican, already down by 20 points in the polls despite Brown having only spent a few nicks, will be blown away.
Hence the need for stunt campaigning.
Kashkari spent a week in Fresno posing as a homeless man. He didn't get recognized (so much for primary advertising), he didn't find a job or a place to stay without being rousted by the cops every night, until seeking refuge in an overcrowd homeless shelter. After a few days, his $40 food budget -- which a frugal person could have stretch for a couple weeks -- ran out and he had to turn to charity.
His conclusion based on this experience? That the touted economic recovery Brown is presiding over is fake.
Now, in the real world, a non-white drifter who has just arrived in town with no resume is a poor candidate for any job. And even if the former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary and Wall Street bailout coordinator had landed a menial job, he would have had a hard time finding an affordable place to live.
Ironically, Kashkari might have solved much of the homelessness crisis himself back when he was shoveling hundreds of billions with no strings attached to big banks and investment houses. As a result of the disastrous speculation which key elements of the financial sector indulged in, vast amounts of see-through real estate were created.
It would have been relatively simple to repurpose a fraction of these worthless assets to provide basic shelter.
Naturally, that didn't occur to Kashkari and the other folks running the Wall Street bailout.
Shocking, positively shocking.