Jerry Brown’s year one performance as governor has been satisfactory – but hardly stellar, according to the collective wisdom of California’s leading political consultants.
As Governor Gandalf completes the first year of his septuagenarian third term as the state’s chief executive, Calbuzz asked our bipartisan Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything to assign Brown a numeric grade, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest possible ratings.
The extraordinarily scientific result: An average assessment of 6.1.
“While very effective in some ways, the first year turned into the non-stop bitter medicine show,” said one veteran Democratic strategist. “There needs to be a positive side to that coin.”
The highest mark Brown received was an “8,” given him by one Democrat and one Republican; his lowest score was a “4,” a rating also awarded by one member of each party.
“Weak year,” said one underwhelmed GOP consultant. “He didn’t develop and use the political honeymoon capital that a governor gets his first year…Because he has zero outside political organization he’s hostage to the unions and their money…Had much higher hopes he’d have some Nixon to China moments.”
The consultanate generally credited Brown for a serious effort in trying to find a substantive compromise on the budget with legislative Republicans. But several also dinged him for being politically naïve enough to believe such a thing was possible, while others thought his performance suffered from his mistaken belief that the size, scope and complexity of the governor’s job was the same as when he held the office from 1975-1983.
Here, in order from worst to first, are the complete comments offered by our advisory board.
(D) - He spent the first five months almost exclusively chasing Republican votes for tax extensions that he was never going to get, then signed a budget with gimmicks he said he would never accept, and now is going to the ballot next year with a tax-raising measure for which he has raised no money. Other than signing a few hundred bills that he had nothing to do with, it’s hard to see what he has accomplished in his first year. Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger all did big things in their first year in office. What does Brown have to show for his first year — except middling approval ratings?
(R) - He didn’t develop and use the political honeymoon capital that a governor gets his first year. He didn’t deliver on what he promised, which was a ballot measure on taxes. Because he has zero outside political organization he’s hostage to the unions and their money. Stunningly, he hasn’t done a damn thing about job creation even though we’re 49th in the country for unemployment. Pretty tone deaf and he probably doesn’t know what to do. Weak year. Too big a government to run out of his hip pocket like he did in the 1970s. Had much higher hopes he’d have some Nixon to China moments.
(D) - He gets points for trying to deal with the budget in a straightforward way – no gimmicks, no tricks. But I don’t think he was prepared for the way in which the political culture in Sacramento had changed in the last 30 years, making it nearly impossible to get bipartisan compromise.
(D) - As with all recent new governors, with or without experience, Jerry Brown thought governing this state was something well within his skill set, only to be flummoxed by the obstructionist legislative Republican caucuses who have little leadership and less statewide perspective. His inability to secure a budget deal seemed to take all the wind out of his sails and for a while he disappeared.
This coming year he really needs to learn how to multitask. Since he appears not to trust his tiny senior staff to make any independent decisions, leaving them pretty powerless to enforce policy objectives or cut deals (ala Susan Kennedy), he’s created an atmosphere where he must make every decision himself. There are a ton of huge issues he needs to grapple with, so things will have to give somewhere. Wishing the best of luck in the New Year. We need him to succeed.
(D) - While very effective in many ways, the first year turned into the non-stop bitter medicine show. There needs to be a positive side to that coin.
(D) - With a horrible economy and Republican legislators who refuse to be adults, Jerry Brown has an impossible political situation but he has managed to press forward working on responsible solutions to California’s perpetual budget crisis. In 2012, he will have to use all his political skills to pass his tax increasing budget measure. Governor Brown also needs to play long ball and go for a two-thirds majority in the legislature and end the Republican veto of responsible governance in Sacramento.
(D) – In his inaugural address, Brown pledged to speak the truth about the budget, without smoke and mirrors or empty promises; to oppose new taxes, unless approved by the voters; and return decisions and authority to local governments. He missed the target on the first pledge with the imaginary revenues included in the budget, but he’s done pretty well on the other two. He gets bonus points for an on-time budget and his thoughtful consideration of bills at the end of session, with just enough vetoes to keep the legislature on its toes next year.
(R) - In his second iteration, Brown has once again shown that he understands the power of political symbolism better than most. While confiscating cell phones and cutting other relatively small-ticket items alone won’t end California’s budget woes, it scores big points with voters on principle. Brown is showing he’s serious about cutting waste — which he needs to continue when asking taxpayers to dig deeper.
(D) - People are still with him — and that is all that matters. They know he is putting fixing the problem ahead of any worry about his personal politics.
Got a question you’d like us to ask our advisory board? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.