Opinion

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown is the only one who can upend his re-election

dwalters@sacbee.comDecember 5, 2013 

Two statewide polls told us this week that there’s probably just one person who could thwart Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid for a historic fourth term next year.

And that’s Jerry Brown.

He could deny himself another stint as governor, of course, by not seeking re-election. But while Brown hasn’t formally announced, he’s busily raising millions of campaign dollars and even coyly reminded recipients of his Thanksgiving emails that he has a re-election office in Oakland.

Or he could derail his re-election by saying or doing something really off the wall – as he sometimes did during his first governorship. But Brown 2.0 is a much more cautious politician who clearly not only wants to set the all-time record for gubernatorial tenure, but create a legacy that will earn him a better place in history books.

Brown’s clear path to re-election is laid out in surveys by the Field Poll and by the Public Policy Institute of California.

While they disagreed on some points, both had Brown’s approval rating among Californians relatively high – 58 percent in the Field Poll – while the three more or less announced Republican hopefuls barely register.

An improving economy and, therefore, Californians’ improving optimism generally about their state buoys Brown’s standing. It’s a long-established axiom of politics that those in office are held psychologically responsible for the well-being of their constituents, positive or negative, regardless of whether the politicians did anything to warrant that onus.

If there is anything on the horizon that could possibly threaten Brown’s political position, it might be something he regards as an accomplishment – reducing overcrowding in prisons through “realignment” that diverts low-level felons into local jails and supervision.

It’s been a numerical success, although Brown must drop a few thousand more inmates to satisfy federal judges. But some local officials, particularly in law enforcement, are complaining about impacts on local jails and, some contend, on rising local crime rates.

Critics of the program are gathering anecdotes about crimes committed by the “realigned felons,” as one report calls them, but as yet none has been sensational enough to generate a media firestorm that would give one of his Republican opponents traction.

There are other issues that generate some localized opposition, such as Brown’s plans to build water-carrying tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the north-south bullet train project. And some Democrats on his left are unhappy about his tightfisted approach to the state budget.

But those are not explosions waiting to happen. And if realignment doesn’t blow up, there are simply no impediments, other than himself, to Brown’s occupying the governorship into his 81st year in 2019.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter@WaltersBee.

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