Sunday, June 02, 2013

New Jerry Brown profile

James Fallows has an excellent profile of California Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown's Political Reboot The Atlantic 05/22/2013 (June 2013 issue).

Digby, who takes a show-me-the-results critical attitude toward Jerry's Administration, praises Fallows' piece highly in Acceptance, change and wisdom Hullabaloo 05/25/2013:

James Fallows has written the most fascinating political profile I've read in a long while --- about none other than Governor Jerry Brown. I live in California but political journalism is so bad here that it's very difficult to get a real sense of what's going on in state government. This piece cleared up more questions about Brown's overall approach than anything else I've read.

It would appear that he is one of political characters uniquely suited to the moment. But as Fallows notes, there may be some lessons about political skill, experience and talent that could be learned by all of us as we make decisions about who to represent us[.]
Fallows not only does a good job of understanding Jerry on his own terms. He also gives a good description of the particular complex of governmental and political dysfunction that has plagued California since 1978. The whole article is well worth reading for anyone interested in those topics. A few points that first stood out for me:

Jerry Brown told me about a Look magazine cover story from the mid-1960s, which after the Watts riots in Los Angeles and Free Speech Movement upheaval at Berkeley declared California a "failed state." Since that time Look magazine has disappeared, California's population has doubled, and its economy has grown larger than those of Brazil and Spain.
This may be the place to note a difference between state and national budgets. During economic slowdowns, national governments do and should run budget deficits, to keep un­employment from getting worse. Otherwise public-sector layoffs intensify, rather than offset, what is already happening in the private economy. It is different for state governments. Many, though not California's, have constitutions forbidding deficit spending. And not even California can view deficits as a state-level stimulus program, since so much of the spending sloshes out beyond state borders.
Countries like Austria that are considering adopting a broader form of what in the US is called the initiative and referendum process should take a could look at the advantages and disadvantages of California's system:

The main oddity of California’s system is that any measure that passes by initiative, even by a single vote, can change the state constitution or enact policy beyond the legislature’s power to amend. It would be like the national electorate getting a crack at the First Amendment—­or the Second, or the Fifth—when it went to the polls. "The initiative process in California is a radical form of direct democracy that is absolutely unique," Carlyle Hall, a prominent public-­interest lawyer with Akin Gump, told me. "In other states, the public shares power with the legislature, through the initiative. In California, with each successive measure, the public takes power for itself and away from the legislature."
One huge reason that Jerry has been as effective as he has been as Governor is that he understands well the role that the initiative process plays in California public life and takes that into full account.

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