Jerry Brown's Vetoes and the Limits of Progressivism

Sometimes the most important thing a governor can do is to say "no."


One of the saving graces of modern progressivism is that eventually it gets too left-wing even for left wingers.

That's the takeaway from Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s volley of vetoes — 34 pieces of legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled California state legislature but rejected on Sunday by the Golden State's 74-year-old governor, a Democrat.

Make no mistake about it, Governor Brown is on the left. He's for gay marriage and green energy. When he ran for president against Bill Clinton in the 1992 Democratic primary, his claim to fame was refusing to accept campaign contributions larger than $100.

Yet on Sunday, September 30, Governor Brown angered left-wing advocacy groups by announcing that he was rejecting a series of pieces of Democrat-sponsored legislation that amount to a catalog of left-wing ideas that are so bad they are unacceptable even for a left-wing governor.

A number of the rejected bills had to do with labor conditions. One would have created state-mandated meal breaks, sleep periods, and rest breaks for domestic employees such as nannies and home health aides. Governor Brown wrote in his veto message of "consequences both unknown and unintended," asking, "What would be the economic and human impact on the disabled or elderly person and their family of requiring overtime, rest and meal periods for attendants who provide 24-hour care? What would be the additional costs and what is the financial capacity of those taking care of loved ones in the last years of life? Will it increase costs to the point of forcing people out of their homes and into licensed institutions? Will there be fewer jobs for domestic workers? Will the available jobs be for fewer hours?….How would the state actually enforce the new work rules in the privacy of people's homes?"

The Los Angeles Times reports that the sponsor of the bill, a Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, Tom Ammiano, "used profanity to register his disagreement with the governor's veto message." The California Domestic Workers Coalition called the decision "a huge disappointment."

The United Farm Workers expressed similar dismay with Governor Brown's veto of the Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act, whichwould have made it a crime, punishable by jail time or fines of $10,000 or $25,000, for farmers not to provide farm workers with "suitably cool" water and "continuous ready access to an area of shade sufficient to allow the body to cool." The governor also vetoed another bill, the Farm Worker Safety Act, which would have given employees additional rights to sue over water and shade conditions. The farm workers' union said it was "appalled at the governor's decision," which it says, "continues the policy of giving animals more protections than those currently offered to farm workers." This seems to overlook the idea that humans have the freedom to quit and leave a job with poor working conditions, while animals do not.

Governor Brown also vetoed the "Trust Act," a California reply to Arizona's immigration law. The California law would have prevented California law enforcement officials from helping the federal government detain illegal immigrants. In his veto message, Governor Brown wrote, "the bill would bar local cooperation even when the person arrested has been convicted of certain crimes involving child abuse, drug trafficking, selling weapons, using children to sell drugs, or gangs. I believe it's unwise to interfere with a sheriff's discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with these kinds of troubling criminal records."

Another bill Governor Brown vetoed would have required California health insurance companies to issue health insurance to anyone who wanted to buy it, regardless of preexisting health conditions ("guaranteed issue") and would have allowed the insurers to use only age and geographic region ("community rating") in setting the price of the policies. As the governor said in his veto message, "a state-level mandate on insurers alone could encourage healthy people to wait until they got sick or injured before purchasing coverage. This would lead to skyrocketing premiums, making coverage more unaffordable."

Governor Brown's hardly the second coming of that other California governor, Ronald Reagan. For one thing, Governor Brown signed a lot of new laws, too, that he probably would have done better to have added to the veto list. But the vetoes are a start toward turning around the conditions that created what the Manhattan Institute, in a new report, calls "The Great California Exodus" of migration out of the state. Sometimes the most important thing a governor can do is to say "no."