Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jerry Brown on current politics

Jerry Brown gave an interview to the Sacramento Bee last Friday that they published Sunday, Q&A: Cagey Brown lets the budget process play out by David Siders 02/27/2011.

Jerry did seem to be taking a more cautious attitude than usual in this interview. I'm not sure if he was being cagey or just cautious with this particular reporter, who seems to have a fondness for celebrity-time coverage. But if you ask Jerry Brown silly horserace/gotcha questions like the following, you're likely to get answers like the following:

Do you think you've made any strategic missteps since taking office?

None that anyone has identified.

I like the way Jerry turned the following question around; the question was basically just tossing a Republican slogan at him:

Are Republicans right that regulations in California are too burdensome on business?

They're right and wrong. In some respects, they may be right. The regulations on the banking and mortgage industry were obviously inadequate, to the extent that billions of dollars, trillions of dollars, have been lost and destroyed because of the lack of regulation. And people lost their lives in San Bruno because somebody wasn't watching the pipes. [A reference to a disastrous pipeline explosion in September 2010.] So it all depends which particular problem, which particular regulation.
It's a rhetorical call, and it's one that I think always needs attending to. But just as a generality, it's not very helpful.

California is going to generate $2 trillion worth of gross domestic product. That's more than, you know, 110 nations. There's a lot of wealth here, and very smart people are getting a share of that, and they're not leaving it, they're coming to it. So there's a lot of rhetoric in that, but there are burdensome regulations that I'm looking at.
Why can't Barack Obama frame issues like Jerry does? A big part of the answer is that Obama has bought into the neoliberal/deregulation/Washington Consensus worldview in a way that Jerry never has.

Because of Siders' inside-baseball approach to the interview, he didn't really get anything of substance out of the Governor on the budget issues. A mid-March deadline is approaching for putting tax extensions on the balance. Jerry's approach to closing the approximately $25 billion project deficit for the fiscal year 2011-12 beginning July 1 has been to propose about $5 billion in one-time financing of expenses that are not continuing expenses, and handle the remaining $20 billion with $10 billion in cuts and $10 billion from an extension of existing taxes that are set to expire.

One of his promises during last year's gubernatorial campaign was that he would approve no tax increases without a vote of the people. So he is asked the legislature to put the tax extension on the ballot for June. If the tax extension isn't approved, he's saying the $20 billion will all have to come in cuts. It's a high-stakes game. But Jerry is confronting the Republican scam that they've been running since 1978 of saying you can cut your own taxes and not lose any services that are important to you. David Siders tried a gotcha question on the issue:

Why in the campaign didn't you tell the public that you were considering tax extensions?
I said exactly what I would do: no taxes without a vote of the people.

Do you think it would have been harder to win if you'd said you were considering tax extensions?

I have no idea. But politics and the way the game is played, statements are very easily manipulated and become more than they are in the form of commercials, and so very small, slim statements can be repackaged and become something very different.

So one has to be careful what one says. And that's why most candidates are under strict discipline and are not allowed to speak. I'm one of the few candidates that can speak my mind, but that doesn't mean that I don't have to be careful.
And he was careful. His pledge about no tax increases without a vote of the people was a message his campaign ads repeatedly showed him making. And to anyone but a reporter looking for horserace factoids, it's clear that Jerry is sticking with that pledge. He's approaching the tax extensions (which the Republicans of course call a "tax increase") in a straightforward way, working with California's semi-plebiscitory form of state government to address the severe budget problem that his Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger left him.

On Monday, more of the interview was published by Siders on the Sacbee Capitol Alert blog, Jerry Brown: Politics isn't Sunday school 02/28/2011. Maybe Siders thought he had a horserace score with this one:

Do you think you'll run for a second term?

I have no idea.

If this year's focus is the budget, if it works out ...

Well, it's not just the budget. I have, you know, corrections, realignment,
energy, education, these are important, these take, occupy time.

All this year?

Yeah, of course.

You were young and rising in politics, so why is the governorship ...

Now I'm old and rising.

But are you rising, or is this it?

I don't know. What does that mean?

Is the governorship the highest office you'll ever hold?

Probably, but maybe I'll take another lower, I may take another office.

Like what?

I don't know.

You won't run for president, though?

Maybe I'll run for mayor.

Of Sacramento?

No. I liked being mayor. I liked being mayor. Mayor is a very good job.

Do you like it better than governor?

I'm enjoying being governor right now because it's very interesting. But I certainly liked, I liked helping get things built in Oakland.
For all Siders' horserace approach, the printed excerpt makes it look like Siders didn't realize that Jerry pointedly evaded (is that a valid phrase, "pointedly evaded"?) saying that he would not run for President.

I seriously doubt that he will. But still, when a prominent figure with national appeal like Jerry Brown gives an answer like that, he's sending some kind of signal to the White House. It comes on the heels of a third snub from the California Governor of an invitation to the White House. (Jerry Brown to skip governor confab in Washington Sacramento Bee 02/24/2011, also a David Siders piece)

I'm guessing that the message Jerry is sending to Washington is that the Obama Administration is badly letting down the states by not even trying to provide federal funds to cover all or part of the severe deficits the states face. It's bad for the states, bad for the state and national economies, and bad politics for the Democratic Party. I don't see Jerry running for President against Obama in the primaries in 2012, much less on a third party ticket. But I can much more easily imagine him giving support to some other credible liberal primary challenger to Obama, if someone like Russ Feingold steps up to do it.

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