Jerry Brown Finds Fun (in New Foil Rick Perry) and More Than a Bit of Illumination

02/07/2013 06:59 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013

Governor Jerry Brown has had some fun this week, and more than a bit of illumination.

The fun comes with Texas Governor Rick Perry -- who went from Republican presidential frontrunner to disastrous also-ran as fast as you can say "I don't know what I'm talking about but I sure want to be president" -- trying to poach California jobs and companies for his state. And with Brown's own talk of building a house on a family ranch. The illumination comes with a big peek behind the curtain of the biggest anonymous political contribution in California's history.

Appearing at the roll-out of the big UPS electric vehicle fleet on Tuesday, Brown, in answer to a press question, described Perry's paltry little radio ad -- a $24,000 statewide buy -- soliciting California businesses to move to Texas as "not a burp. It's barely a fart."

Perry, who is in big political trouble in Texas, makes a very good foil for Brown, who is riding high with the end of California's chronic budget crisis. Texas trails the rest of the nation in high school graduates and health care, and Perry is, let's say, not an adept debater.

In fact, Perry thoroughly embarrassed Texans with his inept presidential campaign.

During the Republican presidential debates, Texas Governor Rick Perry was unable to remember the three federal agencies he had pledged to eliminate. Perry began as the frontrunner, but swiftly plummeted.

Only 14 percent of Texans think Perry should run again for president, while 79 percent are opposed. Even among his fellow Republicans only 22 percent think Perry should run for President again with 66 percent against.

Just 31 percent of voters think Perry should seek reelection next year, while 62 percent think it's time for him to step aside. Probably in favor of the state attorney general, who is a Republican, and not the Tea Party sort prone to losing a general election. The AG easily holds the seat in trial match-ups with top Texas Democrats. Perry has a real fight if he manages to win re-nomination.

So does Brown want to fence with Perry in such a way as to help him with his right-wing Republican base and hurt him with moderate voters? Is he just messing about? Does he want to have some fun at the expense of a relatively unarmed man?

Or all of the above?

And what of the issue at hand?

In reality, the number of Californians moving to Texas has dropped.

And, despite ballyhooed and expensive efforts, Texas efforts to lure California jobs haven't borne much fruit. California actually paced the nation for most of the past year in job creation.

Meanwhile, Perry elevated the fun level by announcing that he will visit San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Orange County next Sunday till Wednesday.

Perry's presidential candidacy turned out badly, despite having a party that was ready to nominate someone like him, but he neatly demonstrated the ascendance of the far right in the California Republican Party nearly five-and-a-half years ago.

That's when Arnold Schwarzenegger, having won reelection by a 17-point landslide margin 10 months earlier, decided to level with his fellow Republicans at their state party convention outside Palm Springs.

I previewed the speech on my New West Notes blog after reading it the day before.

Schwarzenegger, alarmed by the ever rightward slide of his party despite his two landslide elections while running to the center in 2003 and 2006, went to the California Republican Party convention on a Friday night at a luxury resort hotel in Indian Wells. There, he challenged the growing far right orthodoxy and warned Republican activists that they risked making the party irrelevant in California statewide elections unless they recognized that the center of political gravity in the state was much closer to the center than to the far right.

"Our party has lost the middle," Schwarzenegger warned, "and we will not regain true political power in California until we get it back. I am of the Reagan view that we should not go off the cliff with flags flying. I did that in 2005."

I was there for Schwarzenegger's speech. The reaction of most delegates can best be described as tepid at best. Schwarzenegger's speech was followed immediately by Rick Perry, who not long after Barack Obama's election became notorious for urging that Texas secede from the Union. I stuck around for Perry's talk, curious to compare the response he received to that accorded to Schwarzenegger.

The difference was striking. Perry gleefully countered everything Schwarzenegger had to say, insisting on a hard hyper-partisan course, denying the human role in climate change, decrying more spending on infrastructure and education as big government run amok, insisting that tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks were the way to go. The Republican delegates loved Perry's far right red meat.

I talked with some of the delegates about the practical implications of embracing right-wing dogmatism. Might their next candidate for governor, for example, get blown out in 2010? Most simply didn't care. Perry was telling them what they wanted to hear, echoing the rhetoric emanating from right-wing radio shows, blogs, and Fox News.

So what if Texas is first among all the states in greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemicals released into water, as well as last in high school graduates, mental health care, and workers compensation coverage? That's all lefty stuff.

And more fun, I expect, for Jerry Brown in the week ahead.

Up in rural Colusa Wednesday morning for the annual farm show breakfast -- where he pushed his big water project -- Brown said that he's planning on building a home on a nearby ranch that has been in his family since the Gold Rush days. He's told me before that he's gone shooting up there, and on election day this past November hiked around the land as he contemplated the returns about to unfold.

Asked if this would be a home to which he would retire, Brown said he was nowhere near ready to retire.

Not that he's announced anything about going for his fourth term as governor next year, of course.

Before heading to the ancestral land, Brown got public word, via Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain's latest, of a key figure behind the many fronts used by the No on 30 and Yes on 32 campaigns last year.

Former California Republican Party chief fundraiser Jeff Miller, a lobbyist who after the election moved to Texas -- where he is, wait for it, helping Perry and trying to lure California businesses to the Lone Star State -- turns out to be the person who actually solicited the first funds we know for certain were part of the biggest anonymous political contribution in California's history.

It was Miller who got the American Council of Engineering Companies-California to give $400,000 to a Virginia-based political laundry called Americans for Job Security. These funds became part of the infamous $11 million aggregated at the Virginia drop, which in turn ran it through another laundry called the Center to Protect Patients' Rights, which then ran it through the Arizona-based laundry Americans for Responsible Leadership, which then pushed the money through the California-based laundry called Small Business Action Committee, which then pushed the money into the campaigns to defeat Brown's Prop 30 revenue initiative and pass the Prop 32 initiative to hamstring public employee unions' campaign spending.

Small Business Action Committee, a table for one, which raises next to nothing from actual small businesses, is the re-branding operation run by No on 30 campaign co-chairman Joel Fox.

Readers will recall that I wrote last year of learning that Fox was simply fronting the Small Business Action Committee group, that the money was actually put together by someone else.

The actual answers, it turns out, are beginning to unfold. This is a massive example of dark money in politics. Fiat lux.

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