Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s Budget Teach-In last week in Sacramento was refreshing in its openness — with Brown and other presenters warning that the state’s budget shortfall is now estimated at about $28 billion between now and July 2012. No smoke. No mirrors. Just cold ugly facts.
But the gathering at Memorial Auditorium only took about 12 seconds to demonstrate anew that the fundamental conflict in Sacramento will not be solved by gathering everyone in a room together, sitting around the fireplace and singing kumbaya. Collegiality and civility certainly have been in short supply among the locusts fine men and women California voters have sent to the capital on their behalf. But the principal contradiction is not a matter of congeniality — it remains political and ideological.
Most of the Democrats, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a revenue problem. They think taxes aren’t properly distributed and that solutions will be found by increasing revenues.
Most of the Republicans, and all of their leaders, believe the state’s budget shortfall is a spending problem. They think cutting unnecessary and overly generous state spending is the road to salvation.
KQED’s John Myers outlined the conflict nicely last week under the headline: “Jerry, Meet Gridlock; Gridlock, Jerry.”
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did no better — and some would argue a lot worse — than his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, at placing California on a firm financial footing. As he skips town, he leaves behind a huge mess that former-and-future Gov. Brown now must try to clean up.
Rumors abound that Jerry is planning to craft an austere budget which he will use as Exhibit A to obtain from voters some sort of temporary tax increase in June, or perhaps even a measure granting voters in cities, counties and school districts the authority to raise taxes with a majority vote or at least something less than two-thirds.
That would certainly return decision-making to local communities, “closer to the people” as he said in his campaign commercials. This of course could only succeed if Republicans and conservatives did not wage war against it. Which brings us back to the principal contradiction, which is a matter of ideology not civility.
To a cartoonist, like our Tom Meyer, it’s all a huge pile of garbage that’s been left behind by the previous administration and Legislature. It’s hard to argue with that.
What does Tony V want (don’t ask the LAT): Not since M.C. Escher has there been such a perfect image of bizarre and inescapable bureaucracy as the By God Los Angeles Times displayed over the past week in its mishandling of an important political story involving hometown mayor Tony Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa was in Sacramento on Tuesday to deliver the opening speech of the big conference on the state’s future sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, which drew about 600 political and policy types, including the likes of such national names as Judy Woodruff, Van Jones and Dan Balz of the Washpost.
Despite an early morning speaking slot that preceded the day’s first panel, focused on education, Tony V promptly made news: Villaraigosa, whose labor organizing and Sacramento political careers featured fierce advocacy for teacher unions, surprised his weed whacking audience by issuing a harsh denunciation of those very unions:
What is stopping us from changing direction?
Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action? I do not raise this question lightly, and I do not come to my conclusion from a lack of experience. I was a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, and I was a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. From the time I entered the California State Assembly and became Speaker, to my tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have fought to fund and reform California’s public schools.
Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership. While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo…Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.
Tony V’s deliberately provocative comments, coming from California’s most prominent Latino politician, not to mention a lifelong union goon, were a big deal, voiced at a time when teacher unions are increasingly embattled by national education reform efforts, starting in the White House.
And that’s how the matter was treated – by almost everyone except Hizzoner’s hometown paper.
Within minutes, David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, had fired back at the mayor during a panel discussion that followed his speech. The relentless Jack Chang filed a post about the conflict on the Bee’s Capitol Alert blog not long after, as did the invaluable John Fensterwald on his state education blog .
By the next morning the reform-minded Joe Mathews had characterized Villaraigosa’s remarks as “the most significant speech given by a California politician this year,” and a variety of broadcast and wire reports, along with several newspaper editorials strongly supporting the mayor’s sentiments, were circulating.
And amid all the urgent buzz over the next two days, the L.A. Times produced . . . radio silence.
Not a word from any beat, anywhere on its far-flung editorial depth chart, which is rivaled only by the forces that gathered for the invasion of Normandy for organizational complexity and resources.
Our motto: if it’s news, it’s news to us.
Finally, on Friday morning, Times editors managed to clue their readers into what their mayor had been up to that week. A double byline story by Patrick McDonnell, who writes about labor, and City Hall reporter David Zahniser, which also included reporting by Teresa Watanabe and Jason Song of the education desk, finally caught up with the news – a full 72 hours after Villaraigosa spoke.
“I knew it would cause a firestorm,” Villaraigosa said in an interview Thursday, two days after the speech.
This just in: Big firestorm slowly heading toward L.A.
In the end, it was left to Cathy Decker, the paper’s ever reliable state politics editor, to clean up the elephantine mess with a Sunday thumbsucker that addressed the key question puzzling Calbuzz readers: WTF is Tony V up to?
“For a Democratic politician who is presumed to have ambitions once he is termed out of office in 2013, Villaraigosa’s moves were intriguing,” Decker wrote.
To those more Machiavellian in nature — say, the entire political establishment — other possibilities came to mind: Villaraigosa was angling for an Obama administration job. He was declaring independence from party positions and powers in preparation for a future statewide run. Or he was trying to redefine his mayoralty in a way that could reap benefits down the line, were he to decide to exercise options one or two….
Part of the difficulty in divining what Villaraigosa was trying to accomplish last week is the parallel difficulty in figuring out where he might be going.
Decker seemed to hit upon the nut of the matter when she noted that, regardless of Tony V’s secret aspirations, he needs to bump up his profile, now, to avoid being generationally squeezed out, between California’s Democratic Geezer Trio and its cool new Dynamic Duo:
When he first ran for mayor in 2001, Villaraigosa was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s up-and-comers. Now the senior Democrats — Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown — are in their 70s. Villaraigosa will be pushing 60 when the next big race occurs — Feinstein’s Senate seat is up in 2012, though she has said she plans to run again. Catching up with the mayor is a younger group of Democrats, personified by the incoming lieutenant governor and attorney general, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. Both are in their 40s.
For upward momentum, or just a legacy, Villaraigosa has to make good on his basic pledges: to lower crime, improve schools and increase jobs. Crime has been down, but joblessness is high. Voters can cut mayors slack during national downturns, but no such slack is likely when it comes to the state of the schools. Villaraigosa himself said years ago that voters should “absolutely” hold him responsible for reforming schools, and unless he can convince voters that the unions are to blame, they are likely to hold him to it.
Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Remind us again why she gets to be on “Meet the Press”?