Here's my appearance on the Fox L.A. 10 O'clock News last night:
Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of the unserious Democrats-only budget, which happened very quickly and with some showbiz flair, has succeeded in making Golden State politics interesting after a long dry spell. The heads of both houses of the Legislature are talking about going to war over the budget. The toadying newspapers are already urging Brown to be nice to the Democrats again. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has put the kibosh on approving new Brown political appointments. Other Democrats are going after the Democratic governor with a vehemence that hasn't been seen since, well, Republicans turned against Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that's not even counting the girlyman shoving matches.
Ace blogger and frequent Hit & Run commenter Golden State Liberty has a useful lineup of what the big issues are right now.
Steinberg's complaint that Brown has always refused to articulate his "Plan B" is more support for a thesis I've been knocking around for a few months and sprang on Fox anchor Christine Devine last night:
I don't think Jerry Brown ever believed he was going to get new taxes approved. I think the ascetic career politician, whose favorite boast is "I'm cheap," has known since before he came into office that it is his own party he needs to get under control. The proposal for tax extensions and increases has always been a tool to achieve other purposes, namely to get the Legislature to cut spending.
This is the only theory that makes sense. The tiny Republican minority has nothing to gain by going along with tax hikes, and the voters have shown no indication of being open to them either. The state's abysmal economy could not handle any new taxes. Meanwhile, school enrollments are dropping, the prison system has been ordered by the Supreme Court to slim down, and tax revenues are higher than anticipated. The case for an all-cuts/no-new-taxes budget is really unassailable, and at some level it's appealing to the governor who sang the praises of an "era of limits" when he held office in the 1970s and 1980s.
Seen this way, it makes sense that Jerry Brown would devote months to vilifying and being vilified by Republicans, then turn and publicly break with the Democrats. This maneuvering has already helped reduce spending (slightly), and the real cutting can now begin.
I do not think Jerry Brown is doing this out of any kind of limited-government epiphany or deep inclination to shrink the state. But he comes out of a strong if fading California tradition: belief in efficient, active government that works for the people. There is a substantial mass of Californians who are still steeped in the Kevin Starr version of history, in which good government created the state's golden age. The more observant among these folks are keenly aware of how unions and bloat and waste killed progressive California.
Having been elected thanks in large part to organized labor, and coming from a state party that is under tight control by the unions, Brown has a complicated task in shutting down his allies. He is not above throwing the unions more goodies. But he knows this problem has to be dealt with, and I think we're starting to see how he aims to make that happen politically.