Why is Jerry Brown the worst governor in the country?

I could make a good case for the statement that Jerry Brown is the worst governor in the country.

I know there’s a lot of competition, and Californians might nominate Governor Rick Perry of Texas or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, but only Jerry Brown has been re-elected Governor decades after his first terms. Brown has blown a golden opportunity to fix a huge, nation-changing problem that originated in his first term as governor almost 40 years ago.

I first wrote this piece during my Green Party run for state Controller in the June 3, 2014 primary. In that election we had a chance to elect no-corporate-money candidates who would not toe the Jerry Brown line. But California’s new Top Two Primary did not backfire on the 1% as I had hoped. Instead, only two candidates for every state race appear on the November 4 ballot, and none of them are no-corporate-money candidates. My personal recommendation — and that of the Green Party of Alameda County — is to be sure to vote in local, nonpartisan races and for measures and propositions, but boycott the state races.

We need to look at Jerry Brown’s actual results, not the hype.

Good old Proposition 13 — both wonderful and terrible — was approved by voters in 1978, three years into Brown’s first term as governor. It flattened property taxes, required a two-thirds super-majority of the legislature to raise taxes, and ignited a “tax revolt” that spread across the country. People often credit the “Reagan revolution” with increasing the disparity of wealth and weakening government, but Reagan wasn’t elected President until 1980, two years after Prop 13 passed.

Although Jerry Brown officially opposed Proposition 13 in 1978, his opposition to the ballot measure was weak, and, more importantly, he had refused to solve the problem beforehand. Homeowners were desperately struggling with the problem of seniors and others losing their homes due to rising property taxes. That problem could be — and still can be — solved in better ways. Only after they were thoroughly frustrated by the lack of response from their elected government officials, voters in 1978 backed Jarvis-Gann’s Proposition 13. Jerry Brown was then and is now at the top of that list of elected officials in California.

Since then, our once-enviable public school and university system, the legacy of his father Governor Pat Brown, began to unravel and now California is near the bottom of all states in per-pupil expenditures for public education.

Jerry Brown’s missed opportunities to keep the good and fix the bad of Prop 13 are many. As Attorney General in 2010, Brown helped derail an effort spearheaded by author and linguist George Lakoff to change Prop 13‘s super-majority rule for taxes. Then in 2012, when Brown was governor for a third term, voters were ready to increase taxes to fix the budget problems. Brown proposed a tax initiative that was increasingly beaten in the polls by a competing initiative called the Millionaires Tax. Rather than support the preferred tax, Brown called the backers of the Millionaires Tax into his office and forged a compromise that lowered the proposed taxes on the rich, retained a regressive sales tax increase, and made the tax temporary rather than permanent. Another initiative effort will be needed down the road to merely retain the new taxes. Meanwhile, we need to get back to more taxes on rich individuals and corporations if we want to decrease inequality of wealth and power. (Jerry Brown talks tough when he cuts spending, saying that he won’t “kick the can down the road,” and yet that’s exactly what he did by making the 2012 tax initiative temporary.) The main feature Brown kept from the tax the people preferred was the name, Millionaires Tax.

In 2012, Governor Brown gained a huge advantage. His team — the Democratic Party — enjoyed a two-thirds super-majority in both houses of the legislature, and they already held every single statewide office. Couldn’t blame the Republicans any more. What did he and his team do with that? Raise taxes on the rich? Implement an oil extraction tax like every other place in the world? Implement a sales tax on financial transactions? Close the loopholes that flipped the property tax balance by enabling corporate and commercial properties in total to pay less than residential properties? No, no, no, and no.

In addition to taxation and Proposition 13, we can look at his record of weak half-measures (at best) on prisons, banking, immigration, fracking, and healthcare.

Regarding prisons, Brown stood with Governor Schwarzenegger in opposition to amending the three strikes law to apply only to violent felonies, and later as Governor himself, Brown defied court orders to reduce prison crowding, thus maintaining California’s position as having the second highest incarceration rate in the world, second only to the United States.

In banking, the legislature passed a bill to study a State Bank. Jerry Brown vetoed it, and continued to put the state’s faith and credit in Wall Street banks.

As to healthcare, the legislature passed single-payer healthcare twice only to have Republican Schwarzenegger veto it. When Democrat Brown took office in 2010, the legislature didn’t bring it to a vote. Instead they pushed Obamacare. Compared to the healthcare systems of other wealthy industrialized countries, Obamacare is the worst. If Jerry Brown had worked with the Democratic super-majority in the legislature to pass and sign single-payer healthcare, California could have led the country in creating a healthcare system as good as those enjoyed by other countries.

All in all, it’s a dismal record, and the worst of it, the part that really caps his qualifications to be crowned the worst governor in the country, is that his results are presented as big successes. His rhetoric about balancing budgets, rainy day funds, making the tough decisions, and not kicking the can down the road all serve to distract people from the widespread deterioration of our schools, justice system, healthcare, environment, and finances. Reagan was called the “Teflon president” because his bad acts seemed not to stick to him. Now that California has both a big increase in super-rich individuals and a high poverty rate, Jerry Brown could be called the “Teflon governor,” and the worst governor in the country.

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