California Lurches Left As Jerry Brown Heads Into the Sunset

For all his obvious flaws, Brown governed the state like an adult. What comes next is likely to be worse.


We've known this day was coming: the end of the Jerry Brown administration. For all of Gov. Moonbeam's flaws, those of us with conservative, libertarian or moderate leanings know that the state government is losing the last adult in charge. The next governor will be less willing to serve as a backstop against a Legislature that's gone far to the left.

It's why Republicans have been muted in their criticism even as Brown pushed the cap-and-trade plan, a high-speed rail boondoggle, and budgets that obliterated spending records. My main beef is Brown failed to use much of his political capital for a Nixon-goes-to-China moment that takes on the public-sector unions. They are the main obstacle to fixing various state problems, ranging from the pension system to the lackluster public schools.

A recent 90-minute gubernatorial debate in San Jose reminded us of what's coming. It also highlighted the new reality, which is driven by deep demographic and political changes, and exacerbated by the relatively new top-two system. Republicans are nothing but a sideshow in any statewide office now, and the choices usually come down to which variety of Democrat the state's voters prefer.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had the most entertaining line of the debate. NBC's Chuck Todd, the moderator, asked Newsom whether he thought the state's primary format would mean that two Democrats would face off in the general election. That top-two system creates a "jungle" primary where all candidates compete on the same ballot in the June primary contest, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the November race.

"You know my position, Chuck. A Republican would be ideal … and either one of these will do," Newsom said. The audience laughed because we all know that front-runner Newsom's main competition isn't from Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen, a boisterous Trump supporter in a state where Trump is synonymous with the plague, or GOP businessman John Cox. It's from former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a fellow Democrat.

Indeed, the most interesting ad in the race so far has come from Newsom, who targeted Cox for his support of gun rights with this line: "John Cox stands with Donald Trump and the NRA." Many observers wondered why Newsom would slam a Republican candidate, but CBS noted that the ad highlights the "odd incentives" of the state's primary system. The ad seems designed to shore up Cox's support among Republicans, which might push him into the top two. Given the state's Democratic voter-registration imbalance, that would mean a cakewalk for Newsom.

The top-two system was the latest effort, passed by voters in 2010, to rejigger the election rules to improve political outcomes. Backers were concerned that party primaries usually benefited ideologically extreme candidates who appealed to each party's base. By opening up the primary to all voters, they figured that candidates would have to make a broader, more moderate appeal.

It likely helped Steve Glazer, a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road Democrat, win a Bay Area Senate seat. But the system also eliminated sharp political debates in general election races that increasingly feature two candidates from the same party who share few political differences. But even without "top two," this year's governor's race would likely have the same outcome. You can't change the leanings of the electorate by fiddling with the election system. The polls favor Newsom and the battle right now is for the second spot.

Newsom is an intelligent guy who did yeoman's work creating a blueprint for the state's marijuana legalization efforts. In 2016, columnist John Phillips, writing in the Orange County Register, called him a "Silicon Valley Democrat" who "isn't afraid to break away from big labor on issues like the bullet train, 'sharing economy' services such as Uber, or union-free charter schools, yet embraces the communitarian principles of environmental regulations and strict gun control."

Unfortunately, his zeal for gun control and embrace of single-payer health care is frightening. The latter is an enormous peril given that the Senate last year passed a hobbled-together scheme that would swamp the state budget by offering "free" health care to anyone who resides here. Newsom doesn't support that particular proposal, but any single-payer plan will threaten the budget, undermine the medical system and create pressure for tax increases.

For his part, Villaraigosa has a long history of calling for changes to 1978's tax-limiting Proposition 13. That measure, which caps property taxes at 1 percent of a property's sales price, has long been the "third rail" (you touch it and you die) of California politics. If he touches the rail and becomes governor, expect the rapid movement to a "split roll" (removing protections from commercial properties). He has been good on charter schools, though. The other Democratic also-rans are liberals of one flavor or another.

Strange as this sounds, those of us concerned about high taxes and government spending probably will miss the days of Jerry Brown.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. Adults who play with expensive toy trains are not the adults I want in charge of spending my money.

    1. not just the trains but the tunnels that will steal water from the north to water the deserts of the south, its another multi billion dollar bondoggle that Jerry loves

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    2. Which means that you need to stay the hell out of California, because (and this was more or less the point of the article) what follows Brown is fixing to make Brown look like Calvin Coolidge.

      The Peoples’ Republic of California is screwed. I guess we’re going to see what happens when an entire State goes into receivership.

      1. As a Californian I want to thank all of you in the other states for bailing us out when we do a fiscal belly up.

        1. The voting roles need to be lulled and all the progressives will be put on a lottery system for organ harvesting. To help pay for their socialism.

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    4. It’s just about time for martial law in CA.

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  2. If this author is trying to suggest libertarians and moderates should or would go with a Republican these days, the most charitable response is that he is a dope.

    Other than bigoted libertarians and backward, half-educated moderates, of course.

    1. This is pretty much the argument in a nutshell. We have to tolerate policies that will bankrupt us and eliminate our freedoms because otherwise racism!

      1. As if Artie was making such a nuanced argument.

        Artie is 100% bigot.

        1. People like Artie are really seditonists and traitors. The country has descended into a dark place thanks to people like him. He and his friends are guilty of a number of crimes and should be held to account.

          I’m sure that an investigation into Artie’s activities and associations would be more than enough to get him convicted of sedition. At a minimum.

  3. This is the whole point of federalism. Do it California! Show us what a liberal utopia looks like!

    1. I agree with this completely. Good point.

    2. Show us what a liberal utopia looks like!

      See Venezuela

    3. Utopia looks like all the other states bailing out California when the fiscal train wreck hits.

  4. Somehow “Lurch” and “Jerry Brown” just seem to go together.

    1. Airdrop the pair of them over Iran.

  5. Single Payer is what CA deserves. And to quote Mencken, deserves it good and hard. Maybe bankrupting themselves will finally allow the scales to fall from their eyes.

    1. You’re making the assumption that there won’t be a federal bailout. There will be. There… will… be… (in my best Yoda voice.

      1. Ah, but if its a federal bailout under a populist (and the way things are going I think we can hope) then it could be a bailout with strings. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but an outsider, wielding the power granted by a bailout deal, could break the public service unions. That wouldn’t solve everything, but it would help.

        Of course, ideally the price of a bailout would be a reversion to the status of Territory, with a Governor appointed from outside. Oh! the moaning and scheming that would follow! Treat San Fran as a National Park, and chase out the squatters (homeless) and hose down the sidewalks. The whole city has been a political circus cum Disneyland since 1849. We could have the special effects wizards build an animatronic Emperor Norton I, and have the whole city running on Norton’s flax-scrip. As for the bullet-train; turn it into a monorail, put a loop or two between LA and San Fran, and make it an E-ticket ride.

        Hell, it might turn a profit.

        1. Of course, ideally the price of a bailout would be a reversion to the status of Territory

          Man, the loss of those votes would hurt, wouldn’t it?

          If CA goes tits up — which they will — it should be as lengthy a policy to rejoin as the Confederacy had.

      2. They can have their bailout if I am free to travel to CA and pillage the residences and businesses of the wealthy progtards there. I will be owed reparations for their Marxist stupidity.

        Better we just put a stop to progressivism now. Before things get out of control. As progressivism is just a form of Marxism, and Marxism is treason, they have no right to their socialist dreams.

  6. The death knell of Comminfornia will be a long loud flush.

    1. That would be everything from Los Angeles to San Francisco sliding into the Ocean after the Great Earthquake of 2028.

  7. For all of Gov. Moonbeam’s flaws, those of us with conservative, libertarian or moderate leanings know that the state government is losing the last adult in charge.

    Jerry Brown is a statist. He was first elected in 1974 and then reelected in 1978. He helped wreck California back then too.

    California saw a conservative turn in the 1980s and 1990s and it thrived. Gov Moonbeam was able to run again because he was a two-term Governor before the term limit law was changed. After being elected again in 2010, he helped run California into the ground again.

    People and businesses are literally fleeing Commifornia for other states.

    1. Jerry Brown looks like a conservative next to the Assembly in Sacramento. When he’s gone, there’s no telling what hairbrained schemes they will foist on us.

      1. er, hare brained.

  8. No, no, Brown presides over the most rational government in the Milky Way. Aliens come to learn from him.

    1. Illegal or legal?

      1. The original MIB?

  9. It also highlighted the new reality, which is driven by deep demographic and political changes, and exacerbated by the relatively new top-two system. Republicans are nothing but a sideshow in any statewide office now, and the choices usually come down to which variety of Democrat the state’s voters prefer.

    Ideally, the unlimited immigration that Koch / Reason support will produce similar “deep demographic … changes” not only in California, but in the entire country. I’m looking forward to the day when all 50 states are under single-party Democrat control, and the only suspense in Presidential elections is “which variety of Democrat” will win. Then, and only then, will the Libertarian Moment truly arrive.

    1. “”The decline in Republican Party registration in California parallels almost identically the decline in the white population in California,” Mr. Brulte said. “In 1988, the white population was just a hair under 60 percent. Today, it’s under 40 percent. At the same time, Republican registration has gone from 38.5 percent to under 28 percent.”

      Mr. Lehane said that shift accounted more than anything else for Democratic fortunes. “It’s the same demographic shift that is taking place across the country,” he said. “What that all adds up to is a California Democratic Party that represents where the rest of the country is ultimately going to end up.””

      You are right OBL! 🙂

      From the NYT article in the post above. The USA is in for some real shit if Democrats stay the party of non-whites and Republicans are the party of whites. Hopefully this trend changes and people stray from their intellectual prisons and realize we are all Americans but frankly I think it is unlikely.

    2. Sure, I will take a Koch-designed future. That might mean open borders, but also no social or corporate welfare.

      Not likely to be a Democratic Party paradise.

      1. Open borders are not compatible with the welfare state, and the Koch open borders stance is not compatible with the goal scaling back the welfare state.

        1. have you read this magazine?

  10. Strange as this sounds, those of us concerned about high taxes and government spending probably will miss the days of Jerry Brown.

    I could say much the same about Cuomo (before his recent lurch to the left). I can’t imagine how much more awful the next one will be here either.

  11. So basically we Californians are borked. Best we can do is vote Villaraigosa in hopes he makes it to the top two where GOP leaning voters would prefer him over the super Lefty Newsom. And Villaraigosa is no bowl of cherries for us either, but Newsom would be an epic disaster.
    Now those Anti-Cox commercials make much more sense. Travis Allen is poison with Latino voters in the state (50%) so he can’t possibly win. Cox is best suited for a bipartisan win, but would still have a severe uphill battle against Newsom in this super blue state. We did elect Arnold, twice, so there’s some hope, but probably not much given Cox isn’t a big Hollywood Star.
    Just living out here in the blue wilderness.
    Puff puff pass…

  12. We will have national single payer as soon as Democrats gain the presidency and firm control of Congress, a not too distant inevitability.

    1. Yeah, how’d that permanent Electoral majority work out in 2016?

      1. It was so permanent that it started falling apart in 2010.

  13. We Californian’s are screwed. I’ve lived here my whole life and am a self employed business man I can’t start a new business in another state it takes to long to build up the client list. I’m a prisoner in my own state

    1. I moved out of that hellhole and did just fine in Georgia.

      The longer you stay, the more money Commifornia will suck out of your retirement savings.

      1. That’s why you load up your 401(k) and then leave the state when you retire. I’m sure they wish they could claw into that money too.

        1. Don’t go giving them ideas!
          If they think they can tell east coast chicken farmers how to raise chickens, why can’t they tax residents of other states if they once lived in (or traveled through) California?

    2. Overthrow them.

  14. Brown wasn’t the adult in the room. At best he was the wacked out teenager in a room full of kindergarteners.

  15. Surely Greenhut can come up with a less flyblown and outworn adjectivizer than “left” to describe pseudoscience-worshipping altruistic Gaian looters, no?

  16. Surely Greenhut can come up with a less flyblown and outworn adjectivizer than “left” to describe pseudoscience-worshipping altruistic Gaian looters, no?

  17. Jerry Brown’s legacy will be the “high speed” “bullet” train bridges scattered across the Central Valley with no rails between them.

    1. “I’ve built monorails in Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook, and by gum it put them on the map!”

      “But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken.”
      “Sorry Mom, the mob has spoken!”

      The Simpsons knew in 1993 how all this would turn out.

  18. I disagree with much in this article. Not sure what you are trying to accomplish here, but Newsome is just another left-wing liberal like Brown who advocates for taking away people rights (Ammo Law,, Gun restriction) and wastes Tax payer monies supporting things like Bullet Trains and defense of Illegal Immigrants, while ignoring things like Dams that need work and the fact that SB45 allows criminal illegals who are a danger to our citizens back on the streets.

    Heck why do you think the old mayor of SF who created the original Sanc City law opposes it now? And is doing all she can to fight against it and run for Mayor again?

    Newsome is just another Jerry Brown and Jerry cares nothing for law abiding, tax paying citizens…hence why he calls us “lazy freeloaders who are insane”?

    CA is in the middle of a political tsunami and earthquake and its people in various cities are in open revolt and fighting back.
    Brown has never ruled as an adult. He is a tin pot dictator who refers to his constituents not as Americans, or people, but as “Citizens of of the 5th largest economy in the world”…..basically we are nothing but a COG in his globalist economic agenda. 🙁

    1. So let’s put him on trial for treason and sedition. These Marxist subversives must be held accountable. It has to start somewhere.

  19. Oh and if you think Brown is the adult, or a decent human, then I suggest you watch the NatGEO special called “Water and Power; a California Heist”….in order to learn more about Brown and his cabal of a family. A family of Water Barons and how they gained control of our most precious resource; Water.
    It’s a travesty and abuse of power.

    check it out here

    1. I have never considered Brown to be a decent human. Like all devout progressives he has no soul.

  20. I sometimes think a state can reach a tipping point where one party has so much control that it can easily pass laws and change the environment to make it impossible for any competitors. At the same time, I hope the politics of that kind of situation will shift so we get back to a more evenly balanced split between two parties. One thing that irks me a little with the California Republican party is that they seem to be content handing things over to Democrats. They know they are going to lose, but they just keep pounding on the same so-called “conservative” talking points. They never endorse a candidate if there are two Democrats running. Apparently, it’s better to always lose and get nothing (except an excuse to be self-righteous) than to compromise and get something. I get the idea they don’t really want to win or care about governing, just campaigning. I think I’ll switch to the Democratic Party and support whoever’s the least batshit crazy.

  21. California is for those progressives who look at the failures in Great Britain and Venezuela and say “it can’t happen here”.

    1. Or who don’t care. They just want an all powerful socialist state.

  22. Not going to assume a vendetta to those of us who have told Reason that they’re getting NOTHING until they clean up their act. I’ll assume my earlier comment disappeared as a result of the incompetence of the Reason management. That’s “incompetence” in the Reason management, Welsh. Yes, I’m pointing out that you are incompetent.
    Let’s try again:
    “…those of us with conservative, libertarian or moderate leanings know that the state government is losing the last adult in charge…”
    Perhaps, but have you noticed moonbeam’s infantile attraction to choo-choos?

  23. the more i read the reason editorials more and more often i see huffpost origins in them. i don’t think Gerry Brown is in anybodys’ best interest. the brown family is to Kalifornia as Tammany hall was to NY and Pa. at least tammany was honest about their thievery.

  24. Well maybe if we’re lucky this will speed up the total implosion of the state and a sharp 180 politically? Probably not since the demographics there now NEVER vote for anything other than left wing nonsense… But one can hope! I keep hoping that some day I can move back to my place of birth in California and bask in the sun down there without having to live in a socialist hell hole. It’ll probably never happen, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    But seriously, any conservatives or libertarians that still live down there… Just move already! It’s not worth it. California IS the best place in the country for weather, but plenty of other places are good enough, and you have exponentially more freedom. So just think through what you can live with and move already. Everybody who has done it already, like almost my entire family, has created a massive Atlas Shrugged effect that has helped the place fall apart faster… Which it definitely deserves. If the rest of the decent, productive citizens all left it would speed it up all the more.

  25. Brown would never challenge the unions. He signed the bill into law that guaranteed an unending flow of money from their union “dues” to Democratic campaigns during his first term. When I sued our union, they stipulated that 80% of the dues were actually used for campaign contributions–to the very political party that negotiates against them. I say “against them” with a grain of salt.

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