ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Talk about déjà vu. Gov. Jerry Brown signed my University of California diploma in 1980 (well, maybe Jerry didn’t technically sign my faux parchment, but it was his signature). Now, 30 years later, my two daughters just graduated from college, and (cue Twilight Zone music) Brown is once again running for governor of California. Like a woman whose memory of childbirth fades over time, has Jerry Brown forgotten how difficult it is to run a state as contentious as California?
As one who previously held the office of Governor of California, Brown should know better than anyone what it’s like to work with the California State Legislature-a pugnacious group that makes the guys from The Sopranos look like Campfire Girls. While Meg Whitman seems to think she can run California from her executive suite, demanding the Legislature do her bidding, Brown already knows what it took Arnold Schwarzenegger only a few months in office to figure out: being Governor of California is not the same as being a CEO. You can’t order around legislators because they are not your subordinates. You can’t even charm them with your cigar tent or endearing Austrian accent. Working with the California Legislature is like herding cats, a nearly impossible task.
Brown vs. Whitman: Who has the higher EQ?
Although Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman are both brilliant well-educated people, it will take a special form of intelligence-emotional intelligence-to turn California around. The once Golden State has lost its luster in recent years: incurring huge pension obligations; furloughing its employees; creating an unfriendly business climate; neglecting state parks; bankrupting schools; and chopping social programs that offer a basic safety net to the most needy and helpless citizens, including children, the elderly and abused spouses. Voters and pundits alike put most of the blame on the intransigent, ultra-partisan California State Legislature for the state’s decline.
As financial whiz Warren Buffet’s business partner, Charlie Munger, was quoted as saying last month in the California Capital’s blog, “California probably has the most dysfunctional Legislature in the country… They’ve gerrymandered the districts. (The result is only a) certified left-wing nut or a certified right-wing nut gets elected. If you throw your best people out and only elect idiots in, you get a very dysfunctional system.”
Loyola professors: The California Legislature can’t even agree the Pacific Ocean is salty
The term gridlock, used to describe California’s trafficky freeways, also captures perfectly the paralysis of the California Legislature in solving the state’s problems. As Charlie Munger told reporters, the Democrats and Republicans in the California Legislature represent the extremes of their respective parties, and neither side is willing to give the proverbial inch. Confirming Munger’s view, Loyola University professors Karl Manheim, John S. Caragozian and Don Warner recently predicted in a Los Angeles Times blog the odds are slim the Legislature will approve a sorely needed Constitutional Convention to overhaul the state government by the required two-thirds supermajority. The professors wryly commented, “the Legislature is unlikely to achieve… a supermajority on whether the Pacific Ocean is salty.”
So, what will it take for the next Governor of California to move the boulder that is the California State Legislature? A person with the people skills of a Dr. Phil, the magic of a David Copperfield, the luck of a leprechaun? Whoever takes over the helm of California must find a way to lead the state’s self-interested, lobbyist beholden legislators to address California’s fiscal fiasco without jacking up taxes or slashing social programs to the bone. The ideal candidate will have the creative genius to inspire legislators to don their creative thinking caps and find out-of-the-box solutions that don’t involve accounting tricks that defer, but do not solve, the state’s problems.
I’m not sure who that candidate is, Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown. But when I watch their TV commercials, listen to their speeches and watch their debates (provided Meg is willing to venture off script), I’m going to be far less interested in their proposed solutions and far more interested in trying to discern how well each of them will work with the California State Legislature, without which ability none of their fancy campaign promises are worth as much as the paper on which they’re printed.