California governor Jerry Brown is receiving a fair bit of good press lately, including a fanciful profile in the latest issue of Rolling Stone in which author Tim Dickinson credits Brown with a “miracle” turnaround. It’s typical leftist agitprop: no assessment of California that leaves out the word “pensions” deserves to be taken seriously. But it’s a sign that left-wing Democrats may not be ready to settle for Hillary Clinton just yet.
Yes, Brown could be a dark horse candidate for the presidency in 2016, though he’ll be 78 years old on Election Day. He has achieved two things worthy of note: forcing fellow Democrats to accept spending cuts they never would have accepted from a Republican governor; and winning, over GOP opposition, a statewide referendum raising taxes on the rich, which has helped the once-dismal budget return to modest surplus.
But the rest–the stuff that really gets Rolling Stone excited–is a failure. Plans for high-speed rail are a joke when there is no ordinary rail connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco. California’s carbon-trading scheme provided a windfall for green car manufacturer Tesla, which sold unused permits, but has largely been a bust, chasing businesses away while bringing in far less revenue than originally hoped.
Dickinson gloats over the fact that the state’s wealthy taxpayers haven’t fled rising rates. But that was never the real concern. As geographer Joel Kotkin warned, the mass exodus has continued among the state’s middle class, chased away not only by high taxes but by fewer opportunities and by farcical environmental policies that discourage single-family homes. Of the nation’s most dynamic cities, none are in California.
The left would like to pretend that Jerry Brown’s relative success proves the efficacy of one-party rule. If that were true, Illinois would be doing just as well. In fact, California continues to be a model for blue-state failure, buoyed largely by good weather and a reservoir of skills. Brown stands out because he has governed, as even Dickinson is forced to admit, “like an old-school Republican”–to his credit, and only on occasion.
One thing Dickinson is partly right about is the failure of California Republicans, who are troubled not only by the recent legacy of liberal Arnold Schwarzenegger but also by some previous Republican policies, such as Ronald Reagan’s environmental laws. It says something that Brown, who laid the foundations for many of the state’s current troubles in the 1970s, could return to power. That remains his biggest “miracle.”