Who Wants to be Governor?

The good news is that Democrats finally have someone to face likely Republican candidate Meg Whitman in the race for governor of California this fall. The bad news is that someone is Jerry Brown. This year’s midterm and state elections look to be a referendum on career politicians in general, not simply an anti-Democrat election — although Democrats are forecasted to take quite a beating in November. Brown is not only the oldest man to run for governor of the state — he’ll be 72 by the general election — he is also a two-term former governor who served from 1975-1983. Since then he’s been everything from mayor of Oakland to our current attorney general. He ran for president three times, and obviously all three attempts ended in failure. When it comes to financing a campaign, Brown has $12 million ready to go. Unfortunately, his Republican opponents have already invested over $20 million in their own bids for governor.

So this is the Democrats’ big hope for 2010? Our precious “governator” is on his way out with an approval rating hovering somewhere around 20 percent. He has done much to tarnish a subsequent Republican’s hope for victory. However, this by no means guarantees the Democrats an automatic win — after all, they run our state legislature, and California’s debt continues to soar while it takes months to determine the next year’s budget. Sacramento is a mess, and Californians are angry with everyone — so party labels probably won’t be much  help in this upcoming election.

There are no shining hope candidates running — no one even close to President Obama’s level of charisma or inspiring rhetoric that can move mountains of voters his way. The Democrats have expected a run from Brown since late last year, with prominent San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom actually dropping out last August due to lack of funding. In preparation for November, the Republican candidates, Meg Whitman and Steve Poisner, have poured millions into television and radio ads. Whitman is coming out strong with more exposure and a better brand — she was the CEO of eBay, after all.

But no matter who wins, the problem will remain: the person that becomes the next governor of California will be expected to get the state out of the financial hole decades of bad government have created. The culprit has no party identification: Proposition 13, the infamous 1978 initiative passed by 65 percent of voters that reduced property taxes by 57 percent and instituted a two-thirds majority rule for both houses of the legislature to pass new tax laws, started the trend. Because of this irresponsible law, California public schools suffered, as their revenue had come from property taxes. In large part, this was the beginning of California’s fiscal problems. No governor can hope to actually fix this problem. Governor Schwarzenegger tried to get initiatives passed that supposedly may have done something to address this Prop 13 problem, but as expected they were a massive failure and none of them passed.

Any candidate that claims to have a solution to these problems is lying unless that solution involves turning back Prop 13 and removing the two-thirds majority rule. Anyone familiar with the filibuster fiasco should realize that requiring a supermajority to pass important legislation is asking for partisan bickering and deadlock. Given the $20 billion deficit and the fact that California currently has a 12 percent unemployment rate, deadlock is the last thing we need.

A governor capable of leading us out of this mess would be nice, but we also need a strong and able legislature to keep things running smoothly. That just cannot happen unless the institution is fundamentally reformed to something pre-Prop 13. And Whitman does not seem likely to advocate for this type of reform: in one of her recent television ads against Poisner, she is highly critical of his decision to work on weakening Prop 13 and emphasizes the fact that Prop 13 lowered property taxes. Clearly she would rather win anti-tax political points than do the responsible thing and fix the tax restrictions that continue to create legislative deadlock and increase our deficit to record highs.

Perhaps Jerry Brown can use his first-hand experience in that regard. After all, he was governor during the Prop 13 turnover. Who better to appreciate the difference in legislative business before and after Prop 13 passed? That experience may be just what we need to get on the road to recovery. However, given that he’s currently being outspent by his Republican opponents, the country is angry with career politicians in general, and the fact that only the oldest among us would even know who he is all work against him. Brown has his work cut out for him.

Kerry Wakely is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.