Friday, November 07, 2014

Jerry Brown, California and the national Democratic brand

Jerry Brown's Facebook page flagged this article without comment: Jennifer Medinanov, Brown to Start 4th California Term With Pledge for Fiscal Restraint New York Times 11/06/2014.

Part of Jerry's modus operandi has always been a reputation for fiscal responsibility. Some of the incarnations of that have been more inspiring than others.

Backing a balanced budget amendment during his 1980 President run wasn't necessarily the best idea he ever put forward. Although it would have made the massive military buildup under Reagan nearly impossible. That was one of the things that made me realize that however eccentric Jerry's proposals may sometimes seem - and that one was just a bad one - he's most likely seeing an angle that most politicians haven't seen yet.

But fiscal responsibility means something very different at the state level, not least because states don't borrow money in their own currency. Jerry in his current term broke the cycle in which Democrats struggled to minimize cuts in public education and basic services, while Republican obstruction on any kind of tax increase was causing the percentage of the state budget going to debt payments to go up and up. We were in a slow-motion version of Grover Norquist's drown-the-baby-in-the-bathtub strategy.

We'll see how Proposition 1 that just passed actually works, a ballot measure Jerry very prominently promoted. It attempts to force the state to hold a reserve for actual emergencies. I'm very sure that a big part of what he's thinking is that it will make it harder for a Republican Governor (Vishnu save us from that!) to blow out any surplus by just cutting taxes for the wealthy and starting the debt build-up cycle again.

Also, Medinanov doesn't tell the story of Janet Napolitano's proposal to raise UC tuition 5% a year for the next five years very well. (Full disclosure: I have a business relationship with the University of California; any opinions stated or implied here are strictly my own.) Jerry's concern there is presumably over the affordability of university education in California, not some desire to penny-pinch just for the sake of doing. This may be a case of something he said from his first round as California Governor (quoting from memory): "I'm not conservative, I'm just cheap."

Jerry has been careful in the past not to suggest that there was some kind of California Model of politics that would Democrats in other states could simply copy and be successful with it.

Al Franken got re-elected in Minnesota running as a progressive Democrat. His first election six years ago was so close it took eight months to settle the count. This time he got 53% to 42% for the Republican, this time in a midterm election, not a Presidential year like the first time. It's hard to see much in the 2014 election to indicate that the Blue Dog strategy is successful, if success means getting Democratic candidates elected. There's a lot of reason to believe the Blue Dog approach is especially suicidal in midterm elections where turnout is everything. And it certainly plays havoc with any attempt to establish a reasonably consistent Democratic "brand".

Pilar Marrero, who's a good reporter, says in an article today that there are still limited data to draw conclusions about the Latino vote Tuesday. Mitos y realidades del voto latino en las elecciones de 2014 La Opinión 11/06/2014

The number of Latino voters is increasing, so more voted in 2014 than in 2010, but the percentage of Latino voters compared to 2010 would be the more interesting data point. She thinks figures indicating a trend toward Latinos voting more for Reps are pretty shaky, at best. She thinks the lack of mobilizing Latino voters hurt Udall in Colorado's Senate election, which I've seen referenced elsewhere, as well. Last I heard, the party control of Colorado's House and Senate are both still uncertain because of close races; Latino turnout or lack thereof may have been very consequential in Colorado. Pilar also cites a figure that 36% of Latinos say the Democratic Party is indifferent or even hostile to Latinos.

Blue Dogging ain't gonna fix this. Blue Dogging like this, one more time around, one of the worst Democratic ads imaginable, Alison for Kentucky TV Ad "Largest Ever":

Watch the ad and then ask yourself, how could Democrats ever have created the impression they were hostile to Latinos? How? How? How?

One thing the national Democratic Party could and should learn from Jerry's success in California is to not pretend the Republicans are negotiating in good faith when they are not. Because there's no reason to believe the Reps in Congress are going to depart from their obstruction strategy as long as there is a Democrat in the White House. Paul Krugman defines that strategy this way:

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn't delivering prosperity — and they punished his party. [my emphasis]
But David Siders, the Sacramento Bee, who has spent years unsuccessfully trying to grok what Jerry's about, does a stenography piece that really jsut says, Republicans agree that they don't like Jerry Brown. (GOP victories will test reach of Jerry Brown’s California-made agenda 11/05/2014) But it's presented as Republicans explaining why California's experience this year has no lessons for other states, no, nothing to see here, move right along, no relevance anywhere else.

It does include this comment from Jerry: "Turnout is a global phenomenon that builds up over time and is the result of many things." It's not something that can be drummed up overnight, in other words. What happens in non-election years also matters.

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