Who You Gonna Call? Pat Brown!

Gov. Schwarzenegger introduced himself to Californians as a politician by saying it was Richard NixonNixon button.jpg who made him a Republican. Ironically, in his State of the State address, he embraced the politics of Nixon’s 1962 opponent for governor, Pat Brown.

Pat Brown.jpgEdmund G. Brown, Sr. is to California politicians what Harry S Truman is for presidents — a magical incantation that is supposed to make all political problems go away. Democrats and Republicans alike have invoked his name and the public works projects with which he is associated as a tonic for whatever ails us — and them. To be a builder like Pat Brown places you above politics. You are looking toward the future! You are planning for our children! You are handing out big contracts for massive amounts of blueprints, concrete and wires! To politicians, proposing a “Pat Brown-style” program is like writing yourself a love letter.

Here’s another irony. The first, and most astute critic of the Pat Brown legacy was his own son, Gov. Jerry Brown with his “era of limits,” “small is beautiful” ethic. Jerry Brown was ridiculed for saying these things, but he captured what Californians in his day (1974-82) were thinking: We’ve grown enough. If you pour more concrete, that will just bring more people. Let’s live within our (infrastructural) means, and maybe we can preserve some of California’s original specialness, its landscape and environment. To a large degree, this is still how many Californians feel, which is why the upgrade and expansion of highways, electricity transmission lines and airports has lagged so far behind the population curve.

No question that much of what Arnold has proposed in the way of public works improvements is utterly necessary. We need to act like adults in California and recognize that growth has happened, even though neither the economy nor public services has kept up. You can’t constrain growth by letting everything slowly go to rot.

But when Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Weintraub said this the other day, he hit the bulls-eye:

…I can’t help thinking (Schwarzenegger) is a bit tone deaf on one very important point. He seems to think that today’s Californians have the same can-do spirit that Pat Brown tapped into, back in the day when some people were actually excited that we had passed New York as the most populous state in the union. But Californians today are much more leery of growth, and most are downright hostile to it. (snip) He’d be far more successful selling the plan as a way to catch up with the growth we’ve already absorbed, improving the quality of life for those who are here now and are tired of dealing with overcrowded schools and roads and vulnerable levees and suspect water supplies. I don’t think most voters are eager to spend money to make life easier for the those who will be here tomorrow.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides yesterday harshly attacked Arnold’s proposals, largely on budgetary grounds. But Angelides is one political figure who has embraced “smart growth” — and as an ex-developer, might have some idea of how to define and sell the concept politically. Whether by design or by accident, heading into his campaign to replace Schwarzenegger as governor, Angelides is in a good position to triangulate between the go-go-growth ideas Schwarzenegger is pushing, and the no-growth ethic that has dominated local and state politics for too many years.

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