With just five weeks to go until the November general election, Governor Jerry Brown is in total command in his bid for an historic fourth term as governor of California. The public polls, fundraising numbers, and political dynamics all point to an overwhelming Brown victory. Despite President Barack Obama's slumping popularity, all that remains in question is the final margin of victory, the outcome of key initiatives important to Brown's future plans, the size of Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, and whether there will be another Democratic sweep of all statewide offices.
That last question actually leads right to the overall dynamic of the governor's, er, race. For the only two Republicans who might win statewide -- Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, running for state controller, and Pepperdine policy center director Pete Peterson, running for secretary of state -- have both refused to endorse the Republican gubernatorial nominee, former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari. Swearengin, drawn into politics as part of a Central Valley regional agency created by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a champion of the high-speed rail project pushed by Brown, Schwarzenegger, and former Governor Gray Davis which is endlessly trashed by Kashkari. Like its prospects, the popularity of the controversial bullet train is looking up.
Governor Jerry Brown discussed California's landmark climate change program and leverage at an Air Resources Board symposium pointing to the big UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of 2015.
The fact is that none of Kashkari's anti-Brown arguments are hitting home. Kashkari gained no traction in the race in his sole debate with Brown on September 4th.
The two most recent public polls, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and USC/Los Angeles Times, both show Brown with a 21-point lead. The numbers are 54-33 and 57-36, respectively. Brown is thus well-positioned to go over 60 percent in a third straight landslide win for governor. Only his first race, 40 years ago at age 36, was relatively closed.
Brown hasn't really campaigned so far. He's busy with bill signings after an appearance at last week's UN climate summit in New York, itself one of the preliminaries before the big climate summit in December 2015 in Paris. Brown discussed California's landmark program and the idea of leverage, and touted some recent moves on electric vehicles. (Schwarzenegger wasn't in New York, where he made a key post-scandal re-entry speech a couple years ago at a UN climate event. He was off in Europe with gal pal Heather Milligan, a physical therapist and former All-American gymnast, for various Arnold-type things, including the now annual Arnold Classic Europe in Madrid.)
Last I checked, Brown was sitting on a $23 million-plus campaign war chest. With that stash, he could four-wall television across California between now and election day. More likely, he will have money left over at the end, as he did in his last presidential campaign in 1992 and in his 2010 win over billionaire Meg Whitman's biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history.
As for Kashkari, his fundraising has been pretty quiet after exhausting itself in a desperate primary struggle in which he had to spend nearly half his declared net worth ($2 million-plus) to get past far right Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. In the last two weeks, he's only raised about $125,000. That's obviously not going to get it done.
Brown is undoubtedly more concerned about the outcome of two big initiatives he is sponsoring, the $7.5 billion water bond and the state's proposed rainy day fund.
Both measures passed the state legislature on big bipartisan votes. But there is potential opposition yet. Just over a third of the water funding would go for storage, and dams are still anathema to some, even in the greenhouse era. As for the rainy day fund, some don't want limited on government spending when funds are available, while some others would like very stringent limits. It falls to Brown to make clear why these are the best balanced solutions for a drought-ridden state long plagued by chronic boom-and-bust budgeting.
As for legislative races, Dems are trying to regain the two-thirds super-majority lost in a variety of circumstances; most notably, three Democratic senators running afoul of the law and either losing or being suspended from their seats. Two are out due to charges of rampant if not shocking corruption, with a third caught in the more prosaic offense of living outside his district. The corruption stuff, of course, is a classic component of the one-party state syndrome.
The now former state Senate leader was reduced to presenting an ethics symposium for members. Let's see. No gun-running with jihadists in foreign countries, no six-figure jobs for totally unqualified relatives extorted from captive local agencies, no blatantly selling your vote to corporate interests in order to pretend to be a "moderate" ... Sacramento can be a special place.
You can certainly make a case that a Democratic super-majority ain't all that good for Democrats.
Brown is looking at selected races where he might make a difference on behalf of good candidates.