Last Wednesday California Governor, Jerry Brown signed a measure to place a $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot. This measure will replace an existing bond negotiated by then Governor Schwarzenegger in 2009 which, at over $11 billion was considered too costly and unlikely to pass. Assembly members voted 77-2 in favor of the measure and in the Senate, the margin was 37-0.
Those familiar with the divisive and sordid history of water rights in California know that a reasonable compromise solution has eluded politicians for decades. Auto travelers through the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys on Interstate 5 are visually assaulted by dozens of large signs posted all along the parched farmland bordering the highway blaming Pelosi, Boxer and Brown for the crisis. California's big valleys have some of the richest soil in the world, while large, vibrant metropolitan centers like San Francisco and Los Angeles need far more water than their natural watersheds can support and therefore import water from the more sparsely populated rural areas that typically vote Republican. The densely populated cities trend overwhelmingly Democratic and dominate state wide elections.
Water is California's life blood, and considering the worsening drought there just isn't enough to satisfy the thirst of such a large and diverse state. California produces almost half of the country's U.S. grown fruits and nuts and is the number one state in cash farm receipts. California's water problems are also the nation's problems. So this bipartisan result was a major victory for Brown, who, at 76 is not only the country's oldest governor, but the most experienced to boot.
Follow below the orange curlicue for more on Brown, California and its water crisis.
Brown was also elected as California's youngest governor, the youngest since the Civil War era that is, serving two terms from 1975-1983. He earned a reputation as a progressive, energetic and eccentric chief executive who also possessed a stubborn, miserly streak. He refused to live in the newly completed governor's residence in favor of a modest Sacramento apartment and walked to work, or drove himself in his Plymouth Satellite.
He was a fiscal conservative, who along with his Treasurer, Jess "Big Daddy" Unruh, built up a $5 billion surplus until Prop 13 wiped it out. But he was also an environmentalist, initiating one of the first rooftop solar tax incentives and was sometimes referred to as Don Quixote for installing the windmills you see along Interstates 10 and 80. His detractors also called him Governor "Moonbeam," appropriating a term of affection possibly from his then girlfriend, singer Linda Ronstadt, and using it as a moniker to ridicule him for proposing to launch a satellite--not his Plymouth--into space for communication, crop and watershed monitoring purposes.
As a former Jesuit Seminarian, he was a conscientious opponent of the death penalty and also a strong supporter of Gay and women's rights, appointing numerous women and gays to important government positions.
His first gig as governor was followed by unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate and the Presidency, study of Buddhism, and work with Mother Theresa in Calcutta. Brown returned to California politics to serve as Mayor of Oakland from 1999-2007 and as a hard-nosed and pragmatic Attorney General from 2007-2011, where despite his personal beliefs, he kept his word to uphold the State's death penalty.
Brown was elected to his third term as Governor in 2010, easily defeating Meg Whitman. Ironically, he followed the termed out Schwarzenegger, circumventing the State's 1990 term limits law on a technicality because his previous two terms were served before the law had been enacted. California is better off for this technical glitch.
The irascible and irrepressible Governor has turned California around by both cutting spending and convincing Californians to vote for a tax increase while approving a raise for minimum wage workers to $10.00/hr. He took a $25 billion deficit and turned it into a $4.1 billion surplus, a $29 billion shift for the better. One only has to compare what Brown has done to the results produced by Republican governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Sam Brownback of Kansas to conclude that the Republican austerity, build from the top down economic policy has lost all credibility.
While Brownback blames Obama for his state's tanking economy, and New Jersey governor, Chris Christie complains about "revenue shortfalls," what exactly has Jerry Brown been doing with California's newly earned surplus? Well he has been increasing spending on higher education by almost 10 percent and over 4 percent on K–12. He has added $2.4 billion in additional funding to expand the Medi-Cal insurance program for the poor and raised the minimum wage to $10.00/hr? California job growth has outpaced the rest of the nation over the last year.
In his June 2014 article for The Nation, John Nicols makes the case for Brown being
"the most successful high-profile Democrat in America today. And there is simply no debating that, after four decades in the national limelight, he stands out as an intellectually dynamic and politically untethered leader in a time of gridlock, frustration and dysfunction."Brown's acumen is perhaps nowhere more evident than in his brokerage of the water bond issue. California's current drought is the worst in recorded history.
More than half of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the highest category recognized by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which released its latest update on Thursday.http://www.climatecentral.org/...
The Governor leveraged the state's worsening drought, skillfully overcoming longstanding regional and political divisions to forge a bipartisan compromise that is almost assured success in November.
To get sign-off from the dizzying array of interests, Brown hunkered down with lawmakers from both parties behind closed doors for the past few weeks, finally giving Republicans more of the funding for reservoirs and water storage they have long sought . . . The water plan satisfied Republicans and farmers by providing $2.7 billion to build two new reservoirs and placates environmentalists by providing billions more for water conservation, recycling and cleanup efforts. The bond also includes other water projects not directly related to supply, such as watershed improvements and flood management.http://www.desertsun.com/...
With control of both houses of the legislature, Brown did not need Republican support and could have rammed through a bill more favorable to the left without GOP buy-in, but Brown said "he wanted their support anyway, to help sell the plan to voters."
"The pitch now is you've got a unified front," said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. "You got Northern, Central, South. You got Republicans, you got Democrats. You've got the Senate leadership, the Assembly leadership — both, you know, Republican and Democrat — and you got the governor."http://www.desertsun.com/...
Governor Brown's wizened countenance, seasoned independence and biting wit add to his mystique. When Chris Christie instigated a coast-to-coast feud by calling Brown "an old retread," in his keynote speech at the Republican convention in Tampa Bay, Brown clearly got the better of it all when he responded in a speech to organized labor.
The veteran Democrat said age may have left him with a lot less hair, but the years had provided plenty of experience and knowledge that Christie may lack.He then confidently challenged the notoriously overweight Christie to a
“Because when you were 14,” Brown said to his new rival, “I was passing the farm labor bill. I was passing worker protections in California."
"three-mile run, a push-up contest and a chin-up contest. With the negative implication about Christie’s excessive weight abundantly clear, Brown said he would take any bet on the challenge, adding, “I have no doubt of the outcome.”http://articles.latimes.com/...
Brown's effectiveness in his third term reveals the misguided reasoning behind term limits and their attempt to solve the problem of entrenched, lazy and corrupt politicians getting reelected term after term. Artificial and arbitrary term limits throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Getting the money out of the electoral process would do a lot better job of weeding out the bad lawmakers by leveling the playing field for talented challengers. Elections are ultimately the most effective term limit.
Liberals are not always happy with the governor. His opposition to Marijuana legalization, his seeming ambivalence to fracking and turning to for profit prisons to help solve overcrowding in the face of fierce opposition from the prison guard union, have been particularly frustrating. But most unions and progressive groups generally just swallow hard and acknowledge that he is a consensus builder and an effective leader, even when they disagree with him. Bill Press, popular liberal media personality and former member of Brown's first administration sums it up well.
“He’s managing the largest state in the union; he took it over when it was flat on its back, and it is thriving now,” Press adds. “He’s done all this without declaring war on public employees, without mass layoffs of teachers, without any of the John Kasich/Scott Walker draconian talk that says the only way you can balance a budget is by making cuts and breaking the backs of public employees. He’s proved that that’s bullshit.”http://www.thenation.com/...
Fortunately for California, her 76 year old governor continues to confound conventional wisdom. He is well on his way to a double digit victory over his Republican opponent in 2014, Neel Kashkari, in what either may or may not be his final campaign.
4:26 PM PT: Thanks for all the great comments. Many have a different perspective, important clarifications and facts that I would have loved to include in my piece. But that's what comments are for. Anyway, Jerry Brown and California water issues certainly stir up a lot of dust.