Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California has forced the state’s pundits to face the uncomfortable fact that they are stuck with a field of Poizner, Whitman, Campbell and Jerry Brown.
“Stuck with” because most observers find these people uninteresting as a group.
Poizner and Whitman are “moderates” on social issues (that means they are pro-choice) and hard-line and coo-coos on economic interests. Not satisfied with opposing tax hikes, both have taken extremist positions in an effort to attract support from the dominant conservative wind of the GOP. Poizner would reduce the state’s revenue when the budget will probably have been cut by $25 billion or more from previous years. Whitman promises incomprehensible and impossible cuts in civil service employees
The bankruptcy of their positions – the two frontrunners for the GOP nomination – has been well documented by the older pundits of the state. But having said that, and called them liars to boot, what more is there to say? The same thing for the next 8 months?
The third Republican, Campbell, has marginalized himself out of contention in his party with his positions – as witnessed by his failure to attract any significant funding.
So that leaves Jerry Brown. Community College Board Member, Secretary of State, Two term Governor, candidate for U.S. Senate and for President (several times), Chair of his political party, Mayor of Oakland, and now Attorney General. On the public stage for 35 years – is there anything new that can be said about Brown?
The pundits are bored.
But, at least in Brown’s case, they shouldn’t be bored.
Brown has always exhibited a faculty close to genius for discerning and meeting the demands of a majority of the public. As those demands have changed, so has Brown.
This is easily dismissed as finger-in-the-wind politics by poll. It’s not. It’s always been based on Brown’s sense that – in a democracy – the people are entitled to get what they want from their government.
So what is it the people want these days? A Constitutional Convention? Reform of the “process”?
I don’t think so. Those notions will ultimately be filed in the same dustbin of history we find the American Political Science Association’s “Towards a More Responsible Two-Party System”. An effort in the 1940’s to move us toward a British parliamentary system. Pundits liked that idea then, too.
If you manage political campaigns as I do, you are forced to listen to voters whether you like what they are saying or not. And what they are saying today is that they believe our system of government has been broken by lawmaker greed fueled by interest group money.
Now in one sense, none of that is new. Similar accusations have plagued our politics since “factions” (political parties) came into being at the outset of the Republic. But recently, public attitudes have hardened. Individual local incumbents who used to be left off the hook as voters condemned Legislative Institutions are now being blamed as well.
The Legislature’s approval by the public is mired in single digits – all time lows.
And it’s not the system of private campaign contributions that voters blame. They understand politicians have to seek out private monies to wage campaigns. They oppose spending their tax dollars on campaigns – particularly on the campaigns of candidates they don’t personally support.
But when they read about politicians “living large” off money intended for voter information, they become disturbed. When they see special interests using (and hiding) money designed to pay for politician junkets to exotic and luxurious locations, they become more disturbed. When they read the rationale’s for such actions (“important for my policy education”), they are disturbed by the contempt with which they are treated by those who think they’ve fallen off a turnip truck.
Voters don’t see the job of representative as requiring special skills, knowledge or experience. To them it is a moral responsibility – voting for the ‘right’ thing and against the ‘wrong’ thing. And everyone knows right from wrong (which is why Joe the plumber). But money affects that moral compass and turns office-holders into one of “them”. Today, in the collective mind of the electorate, that corruption has become pervasive, not the exception.
As Edmund G. Brown ponders whether to make another run for Governor (which I believe is still an open question), he will know that voters are now demanding dedication and sacrifice from their public officials similar to that required of monks in the middle ages. If he does run, I would be surprised if he doesn’t become a champion for this most dramatic of changes.
And that would be fun to watch.
Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years. He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received a doctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970’s while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.
Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker. He now manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.