Nanny State

The Riddle of Jerry Brown


What is Jerry Brown thinking?

Katherine Mangu-Ward noted a few hours ago that California Gov. Jerry Brown has captured the imaginations of libertarians, thanks to his ski-helmet veto and the accompanying epigram "Not every human problem deserves a law." In a HuffPost article that namechecks me, Cato Institute executive veep David Boaz makes the case that Brown's budget veto, along with the helmet decision and the recent choice "not to go down [the] slippery slope where the state decides what citizens must wear when petitioning their government," are all causes for hope: 

Brown's libertarian streak isn't entirely surprising. When he became governor the first time, in 1975, he talked about "an era of limits" and increased state spending less than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. He opposed Proposition 13 but then embraced it after the voters did and rode its implementation to easy reelection. Running for president, he supported a balanced budget amendment. He liberalized the state's marijuana law, decriminalized homosexuality, and vigorously opposed the antigay Briggs Initiative. He declared on "Meet the Press" that his goal was "To stand up to the special pleaders who are encamped, I should say, encircling the state capitol, and to see through their particular factional claims to the broad public interest."

I had high hopes that the 73-year-old newly elected governor, with no more dreams of higher office, would aggressively confront California's out-of-control spending and special-interest deals. Brown watcher Tim Cavanaugh of Reason says that any hope that Brown would actually take on the spending interests, many of them public employee unions that helped him win office again, ended with his sweetheart contract for the prison guards union. But I'm still hopeful. Governor Brown knows his state is in debt up to its eyeballs, he knows where the money goes, and he knows that the special pleaders are still encircling the state capitol. And he's still skeptical about the "inexorable transfer of authority . . . to the state" and the idea that "every human problem deserves a law." That's a good basis for a new era of limits on power.

1. "Brown watcher" sounds like a fetish niche market.  

2. I believe hope ended millions of years ago. The only thing that Jerry Brown ended with his generous new contract for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association was the honeymoon/suspension-of-disbelief/incoming-momentum value he had in the first few months of his administration. 

3. Beware of assuming "transfer of authority . . . to the state" has the same meaning to Jerry Brown that it has to the rest of us. The universal theory of Prop 13 holds that the 1978 ballot initiative limiting the growth of property tax rates (which are usually decided at the county level in these here United States) ended up destroying the state by limiting local control and causing a "centralization of funding of services" in Sacramento, as a Hit & Run commenter described it five years ago. It's advisable to hear "repeal Prop 13" when California Democrats say, "return control to the local level." 

4. The title "Gov. Veto," like the title "Pop Diva," risks being diluted through overuse. In 2008 Arnold Schwarzenegger was crowned "Bill Terminator" for vetoing a record 412 bills – except that it wasn't really a record, just a "modern" record, and he didn't even set it but merely placed second behind George Deukmejian.  And he signed 772 bills at the same time. 

Nevertheless I believe in the hope that we'll win the race to the future of hope. If the Clinton Administration taught us anything, it's that we should appreciate the good things that happen on an executive's watch, even if the executive's only contribution was failing to prevent the good thing from happening. In that spirit, I note that since Jerry Brown came into office, the state government's credit rating has improved, the budget has gotten slightly smaller, and the state sales and use tax dropped by 1 percent [pdf] on July 1. 

This last item has not been widely noted (mostly because it was overshadowed by the Amazon tax fight, though I should have made a bigger deal of it at the time), but for a glimpse at the Golden State's tax madness in practice, dig the sales tax rates by city. Notable strange phenomena: Palmdale and Lancaster have higher rates (8.75 percent) than San Francisco (8.5 percent); L.A. County non-paradises Pico Rivera and South Gate seem to have the highest total sales tax rates (9.75 percent) in the state; in a refutation of the principle that high sales taxes are a mechanism to fleece out-of-towners, tourist-free Monterey Park has a higher tax rate (8.75) than tourist-dependent Monterey (7.25 percent); and Steve Jobs isn't paying his fair share: Cupertino (8.25 percent) has a less punishing rate than Los Angeles (8.75 percent). None of these rates are low, but they were higher in June, and this is clearly a step in the right direction. 

NEXT: Better-Late-Than-Never Obama Jobs Speech Open Thread

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  1. the recent choice “not to go down [the] slippery slope where the state decides what citizens must wear when petitioning their government,”

    This is the crap that I hate about Reason these days. You guys are getting as bad as liberals at re-framing the reality of a situation into the most emotionally-charged rhetoric possible, and approvingly quoting others who do.

    1. The regulation didn’t address people petitioning the govt. Signature gatherers are intermediaries — the people signing the petition are the petitioners.

    2. Technically the “paid-tags” may fall under the category of “something you wear”, but the phrasing Boaz uses connotes clothes, shoes, hats…you know, apparel. It’s a lie of omission and clearly a deliberate one.

    I know it’s an alcoholic trigger, but you guys need to remember the name of the magazine.

    1. You ever think that the magazine has stayed the same, but you’ve just gotten more curmudgeon-ier?

      Oh, and…DRINK!

    2. The quoted material is not from Reason or Boaz. It’s from Brown’s accompanying statement to the veto. Maybe he really is a libertarian!

      1. But you quoted it approvingly. The lead-in was dripping with approbation.

        1. Wow Tulpa, you caught him. He quoted someone saying something!

    3. The people collecting the signatures can be hired, or they can be the people who organized the petition in the first place, or activists. I signed and collected signatures to get the TXLP back on the ballot about five years ago, so I was both a petitioner and a gathering “intermediary”. I think it’s a fair point that anything like that could have a chilling effect on petitioning.

      1. iirc the legislation in question had to do with paid sig gatherers.

      2. And it was also only for the ballot proposition system… a form of petition that isn’t even available in most states.

        I mean, there’s nothing I can wear that will allow me to go out and gather signatures for a constitutional amendment being put on the ballot in Pennsylvania. Does that mean PA is violating my first amendment rights?

        1. Could be. And just because California is better than Pennsylvania, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for California to get worse. The part before what’s quoted above is: “If it is acceptable to force paid signature gatherers to place identifying badges on their chests, will similar requirements soon be placed on paid campaign workers?” Wearing a badge might not be a violation of your first amendment rights per se, but it’s like a scarlet letter or something.

          Here is the text. Sounds like it was amended to apply to both paid and volunteer gatherers.

          1. The ballot proposition system has produced terrible results in liberty matters in practice, however appealing it may seem on paper. Not sure “better” is the word you want to use.

            I really don’t see how the first amendment can be seen as mandating a California-style proposition system. So long as the state leaves other reasonable avenues of petition open I don’t see the problem.

            The right to petition is kind of a Rohrshach test anyway. The fact that it’s paired with the freedom to assemble peaceably leads me to believe it was intended to be sort of a right to protest, and a right to have access to their representatives and others in govt whose actions affect them. It’s a stretch in my opinion to say it mandates that a parallel system of lawmaking apart from the legislature.

            If it is acceptable to force paid signature gatherers to place identifying badges on their chests, will similar requirements soon be placed on paid campaign workers?

            Placing that requirement on paid campaign workers would be a direct affront to freedom of speech. This is one place where the slippery slope argument really does fail in human affairs.

          2. …and of course, keep in mind that the first amendment was originally written with only the federal govt in mind.

            The federal government has never had any parallel “petition” system of lawmaking and there’s no evidence any of the writers or ratifiers expected it to. So to say that suddenly upon incorporation now it requires a ballot proposition system is pretty batty.

            1. Tulpa,

              The bottom line is that having created a ballot proposition system, the state of California can now not compel speech to try to distinguish one category of petitioners it approves of from another category of petitioners it doesn’t approve of.

              As soon as you say, “There’s no real right to get an initiative on the ballot; therefore it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights to have a law that says that Jewish people collecting signatures have to wear a funny hat, or that gay people collecting signatures have to carry a purse,” you’re violating the petitioners’ first amendment rights.

              You have no right to have a town government, either. Local municipalities are creations of the states. But if a state said, “We’re going to pass a law requiring all Republicans running for town offices to wear a big sign saying, ‘I am a stupid-head and I want to rape your children,’ the courts would rightly strike it down.

    4. Hey Commodore, you think you can jam that stick farther up your ass? You can at least try, right?

      1. I’ve never even met Admiral Tulpa.

        1. It’s a disordered trap!

        2. Or…


    5. 1. The regulation didn’t address people petitioning the govt. Signature gatherers are intermediaries — the people signing the petition are the petitioners.

      If the signature gatherers signed the petition, they’re petitioners. Is there a known law against the signature gatherer signing the petition if he/she is a registered California voter?

      You aren’t magickally metamorphosed into a special class of citizen merely because someone passes you a cheque in return for you standing in the Safeway parking lot saying,”Excuse me meester” to all the tired shoppers.

      1. They’re not in the role of petitioner when they’re gathering other people’s signatures, though.

    6. This is the crap that I hate about Tulpa these days (actually always) he’s a whiny little bitch that has to make a big deal out of the slightest things just so he can say “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M ORIGINAL. I’M A CONTRARIAN, LOOK OVER HERE!”


      1. Careful, or he’ll come to your office and arrange your pencils on your desk in tidy, orderly rows.

  2. 1. “Brown watcher” sounds like a fetish niche market.

    Maybe you could be in the next Stagliano flick. You could wear your mobster outfit.

  3. The truth behind the 9/11 phone calls

    1. Fuck off with your Canadian spam, shitfuck.

      1. ye olde head in the sand riposte.

  4. There’s only 1 “Governor Veto” and that’s Gary Johnson.

    1. Exactly!

      Veto 48% of the bills that cross your desk, tear the other half apart with line-item-vetoes.

      Only then start calling somebody else Governor Veto Motherfucker!

  5. What walks on California with 4 legs in the 70’s, on Oakland with two legs in the 2000’s, and then again on California with three legs in the ’10s?

    1. My ass.


  6. Jerry “Veto” Brown will gladly suffer a thousand Sonny Bonos upon California to indulge his libertarianism.

  7. Jerry Brown didn’t want the sales tax to go down. It took them obstructionist Republicans in the legislature to stop the Dems from extending the sales tax increase for another 5 years. It expired in July.

    Brown and the Dems “balanced” the budget by the way by assuming more than $4 billion in revenues that hasn’t come in. First month out of the gate? State is down by half-a-billion dollars in expected revenue.

    Pretty sure the libtards at the LA Times editorial board would blame this on the extremely powerful, nay, DICTATORIAL, 5 Republicans in a utility room in Capitol basement with no phone and internet.

    1. As noted, I thank him for failing in his efforts to prevent the tax from going down. I’m showing deference to the executive branch. I also may steal your vivid description of the Republican dictatorship in the basement. Or did the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake already do that?

  8. IT’S A TRAP!!!

  9. The universal theory of Prop 13 holds that the 1978 ballot initiative limiting the growth of property tax rates (which are usually decided at the county level in these here United States) ended up destroying the state by limiting local control and causing a “centralization of funding of services” in Sacramento

    Because naturally expecting the counties to limit services to what they could pay for with their local property taxes simply wasn’t an option.

  10. I’d love to share your optimism, Tim. But one kinda-quasi-libertarianian-ish veto message does not a friend of liberty make. Let me know when Brown stops banging the drum for higher taxes in the face of 12% unemployment. Or when he calls for taking high speed rail offline because the bonds will add hundreds of millions in interest payments to the taxpayers’ tab. Or when he stops the gift-giving to organized labor (the ed trailer bill he signed was arguably worse than the prison guard’s contract)

    IOW, advocating seizing even more of citizens’ property when you govern the state with the nation’s most regressive taxes really outweighs any liberty-friendly-ish words in a veto message.

    1. Let me know when CA becomes a right to work state.

  11. The CA Senate just passed a bill that makes open-carry of firearms illegal. Let’s see if “libertarian” Jerry Brown vetoes that one.

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