Having predicted when he took office that California Governor Jerry Brown would “aggressively push change,” it is puzzling to see him continue “negotiating” with Republican legislators over a state budget. Democrats passed Prop 25 on the November 2010 ballot precisely to prevent a small Republican minority from holding the state budget hostage. Democrats also could have gathered signatures for a special state election circumventing Republican approval. Instead, a Republican Party said to be “on the skids” has nevertheless succeeded in pushing the projected special election past June 7, and likely until November.
Brown’s persistence in seeking a deal with Republicans harkens back to President Obama’s squandering political momentum in 2009 by negotiating with conservative Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Michael Enzi over a health care deal. As Democrats delay action in search of Republican support that never comes, Republicans like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ignore Democrats altogether to achieve conservative goals.
Jerry Brown was not alone in assuming that he could pry two Republicans in each legislative body to ensure a June 7 election, and that the consequences were too great for inaction. But it should have become clear to the Governor some time ago that this is not the Republican Party he dealt with in the 1970’s, and that causing a meltdown in public services is actually GOP legislators’ primary goal.
Brown Must Stop Negotiating
Why is the Governor still “negotiating” with Republicans who did not even produce a written list of bargaining terms until last week? How much more evidence does Brown need that a shift to “Plan B” – moving on tax extensions without Republican support – is overdue?
Reason magazine, in “California Republicans Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” recently described how conservatives view Republican legislators:
“The truth is California Republicans do not believe in limited government. They do not stand up for property owners. They are the party of corporate welfare.”
Whereas Wisconsin Republican face recall from Democrats, California Republicans are facing an uprising from their own base. And while the talk show and activist base is insisting on no deal with Brown, these same activists are up in arms over Republicans unwillingness to even vote for cuts that go to core GOP principles, such as the abolition of Redevelopment Agencies (according to Reason, “it’s hard to overstate how grotesque” Republicans’ vote against such de-funding was).
Brown cannot expect to reach agreement with a Republican Party that faces its own civil war. Term limits has destroyed the longstanding relationships among legislators of different parties, which helps explain California’s failure to achieve bipartisan budget solutions for the past several years.
The Peril of Fruitless Negotiations
President Obama squandered critical months in 2009 negotiating with Republicans who wanted health care reform to fail. This demobilized Obama’s base, and put other critical campaign priorities – comprehensive immigration reform, labor law revisions, and jobs creation – on the back burner.
Jerry Brown operates at a much higher level of political savvy than Obama, and he had no choice but to expend efforts to get the two GOP votes per chamber necessary for the June 7 election. But this moment has passed, and Brown must stop engaging Republicans as if they were serious about addressing the state’s problems.
California Democrats entered the year with great hopes. Governor Schwarzenegger was finally gone, and the state’s budget stalemate seemed at end. Progressives understood that major budget cuts were unavoidable, but accepted the blend of cuts and tax extensions to finally get past the structural budget crisis that has paralyzed the state.
But many sense a loss of momentum as Brown’s negotiations with Republicans continue with no clear end in sight. Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg reflected this frustration last week when he announced he was “prepared to pull the plug” in a few days if a deal with Republicans for a special election is not reached.
Let’s hope Steinberg pulls the plug soon. The Democratic base gets more frustrated and less confident in Brown and the Legislative leadership each passing day, and California Republicans, like those in the House since Obama took office, know this, which is why they have no reason to make a deal
I suspect Jerry Brown understands this dynamic, and will either reach agreement or take the budget process out of Republican hands before the end of the week.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron