The New York Times published what has become a standard paean to Jerry Brown from the out-of-state media the other day, citing his balancing the budget and implying that he sparked California's emergence from recession.
"When Jerry Brown became governor of California again, three years ago, this state was on a steep decline, crushed by budget deficits, deep spending cuts, governmental paralysis, high unemployment and a collapsing housing market. California, a place that once symbolized promise and opportunity, seemed caught in an intractable reversal of fortune," The Times article crooned.
"The state's budget problems are largely resolved, at least for the short term," it continued. "Mr. Brown is the dominant figure in Sacramento, strengthened by overwhelming Democratic control of the Legislature and the decline of the Republican Party. He has pushed through major initiatives on education financing and prison reorganization. Even Republicans say his re-election next year seems considerably more than likely."
"Some people were ridiculing California, and some were calling it a failed state," The Times quoted Brown as saying in a brief interview. "The unemployment came down from 12.2 to 8.5. Real estate is rebounding. There's a lot of confidence out there. That's what happened."
The Times reporter did include a few caveats, albeit briefly, about Brown's second governorship, but the overwhelming tone was very positive.
The reality is considerably more nuanced.
With the budget temporarily in balance, Brown has turned to other issues but is finding the going tough.
He's losing his fight with the federal courts over prison overcrowding, and backtracking on threats to release dangerous inmates. "Realignment" to reduce inmates is beginning to bind as counties push back on costs and critics claim it increases crime.
A judge has ruled that Brown's bullet train project violates state law. He faces implacable opposition to his big water project. Environmentalists are complaining about his California Environmental Quality Act reforms. And the simultaneous overhaul of school finance and adoption of "Common Core" standards is a high-wire act with uncertain outcomes.
Meanwhile, California's economic recovery may be slowing, the latest employment figures indicate, and the state still has 1.7 million jobless workers, nearly twice as many as it had five years ago.
The Times is correct about Brown's political situation. There's almost no doubt that he will seek another term in 2014 and there's even less doubt that he would win easily. But while the Democrats' decisive margins in the Legislature would seem to make governing easier, Brown must constantly lower the expectations of the Legislature's dominant liberals to tax more, spend more and regulate more.