Can Jerry Brown be the anti-Scott Walker?
by Russell's Rants
Originally published March 11, 2011
Governors Jerry Brown and Scott Walker both took office in January facing an economic pinch. If anything Brown has it worse: California’s budget deficit is projected to be $26.6 billion for the next fiscal year while Wisconsin’s is estimated at $3.6 billion for the next two years. Even adjusted for the size of two states, California’s deficit as a percentage of economic output is almost twice as large as Wisconsin’s: 1.3% versus 0.75%. Both governors were elected in traditionally blue states in a wave mid-term election that went mostly for Republicans, except for California which bucked the trend. And both governors are proposing high-profile budget solutions for their states. Yet Brown and Walker are a study in contrasts.
Walker was elected with the support of the billionaire Koch brothers. Brown defeated a self-financed billionaire, Meg Whitman, to win election. Walker is one of the youngest sitting governors after serving as the Milwaukee county executive and in the state assembly. Brown is the oldest, having gained decades of political experience since first serving as a two-term governor in the 1970’s. Walker has delusions of Reagan, and at 72, Brown’s presidential aspirations are behind him. Most significantly, Walker has chosen a path of confrontation with his political opponents – Brown one of collaboration.
Upon being sworn in, Walker immediately cut taxes for corporations, declared a budget emergency (exacerbated by his own tax cuts) and proposed a “budget repair bill” that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights – causing all 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats to flee the state to deny him a quorum. He refused to negotiate or compromise with the Democrats and used a legislative maneuver to pass his union-busting bill without notice or any Democratic Senators present. As a reward for his partisan efforts, Walker now faces a newly energized opposition party, sagging polls numbers and the prospect of recall. He will likely have to litigate his policies, literally and figuratively, for the balance of his term – as long or short as that may be.
Brown has taken the opposite approach from Walker. He has proposed a budget that seeks to spread the pain: $12.6 billion in tax cuts (to certain social programs and higher education) but also $12 billion in tax increases (by extending otherwise temporary expiring taxes that are rather modest: a 0.25% state income tax, 1% sales tax, vehicle tax and reduction in the dependent care exemption). Given his campaign pledge not to raise taxes without voter approval, Brown now seeks the necessary two-thirds legislative majority to put his initiative on a special June ballot – for which he needs the approval of two Republicans from each house. So what has he been doing? Negotiating, day and night, weekdays and weekends, with Republicans willing to talk compromise. He has attended Republican conventions and parties, sat, eaten and drank with Republicans and even had them over to his Sacramento loft for dinner. Out with the Schwarzenegger tent for the solitary cigar smoking – in with one for wine sipping and socializing with colleagues. Republicans, being Republicans, are holding out for changes in state pensions and business regulations and want future spending caps. Brown knows he can only go so far in their direction without losing the Democrats in his own party and coalition. And he warns that without a deal, the budget will have to include unpopular cuts in K-12 education or as he puts it, “No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”
Brown missed his self-imposed deadline of March 10thto vote on an initiative package to be placed before the public. Democrats are exploring an obscure law would allow them to proceed with a tax initiative without any Republican support. Still Brown continues to work through this weekend, with legislators on-call, to negotiate a compromise. If he can do so, California will become the anti-Wisconsin, and Brown the anti-Walker. Walker will hereafter be known for sticking it to the working class and political confrontation. The leading reactionary of his time, with that blank stare behind his cold eyes. Brown for shared sacrifice and political conciliation. Can Governor Brown lead us there and in doing so, show us what politics looks like in the hands of a wise practitioner of the craft?