Dan Walters: Prop. 30 and Jerry Brown's future

dwalters@sacbee.comNovember 3, 2012 

Dan Walters

Jerry Brown has amassed a strong record of winning California elections in a career that's spanned more than four decades, beginning with a seat on the Los Angeles community college board in 1969.

Brown has been elected governor three times, mayor of Oakland twice and attorney general and secretary of state once each. He sponsored a successful political reform initiative in 1974 and associated himself with another successful spending limit campaign five years later.

Brown's most conspicuous failure came in 1982, when Pete Wilson beat him badly for a U.S. Senate seat.

His Senate defeat notwithstanding, Brown is used to political success in California, even if his three presidential campaigns didn't go very far.

But he's now facing the possibility of defeat in what he hoped would be the signal accomplishment of his second governorship – persuading voters to raise taxes and close, albeit temporarily, a chronic state budget deficit.

Fixing California's budget was Brown's major campaign theme in 2010, 28 years after leaving the governorship. He could succeed where other governors – such as predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger – had failed, he told voters, while promising that he wouldn't raise taxes without their approval.

All major polls – the venerable Field Poll, most recently – have found that his sales and income tax measure, Proposition 30, is standing below 50 percent just days before the election.

Support has declined from the summer, but the movement has leveled off, giving the measure some chance Tuesday.

There may be no cause-and-effect relationship, but Proposition 30's standing in those polls now very closely resembles Brown's own approval rating among voters, somewhere south of 50 percent.

So, one might wonder, has Brown been an asset or a liability in the campaign to persuade Californians to raise taxes – a notion that historically has not fared very well at the polls? And if Proposition 30 is rejected, what does it bode for a man who was just 31 when first elected to office but who is now 74?

Would he see it as a personal rejection, something like his disastrous 1982 campaign for the Senate, after which he said, "I believe the people of California would like a respite from me and in some ways I would like a respite from them?"

Would he be willing to face the years of continued budget deficits? Would he be willing to slash spending for schools, health and welfare programs and other services that balancing the budget without new revenues would require?

Or would he figuratively shrug his shoulders and decide he might find more interesting and positive things to do in the remaining years of his life and forgo another re-election campaign in 2014?

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