A week or so ago, I finally just gave up in the face of the Meg Whitman's constant internet presence and visited her website. Personally, I've been skeptical of both Jerry Brown's and Meg Whitman's candidacies, and I don't think either of them either understands what needs to be done or has much of an interest in doing it. Everyone knows about the dysfunctional 2/3 budget requirement that makes every budget into a titanic struggle, which is a legacy of the Reagan years and Prop. 13, or the initiative process that lets gobs of money be spent without offsets or oversight. But while California is invariably thought of as some sort of ultraliberal, hippy-dippy state that spends too much on welfare programs or whatever, there are plenty of other things in our government like the 2/3 rule, relics of a past that nobody is particularly interested in changing. A big part of the problem is that we have lots of unduly harsh sentencing laws for a variety of things, a legacy of 16 years of tough-on-crime conservative governors during the 1980s and 1990s. The three-strikes law is merely the tip of the iceberg here. One of my local Sacramento-based news nets has a pretty striking fact here:
Right now, California spends $8.6 billion, or 11 percent of its budget, on state prisons. That works out to an average $52,363 per year to house an inmate in prison, according to the California Department of Corrections. That's $143 a day per prisoner.That's right, and the headline says it all, "State spending on prison inmates outweighs spending on K-12 students." Clearly, this is the correct priority. Over ten percent of the state's budget is spent on prisons, largely because the Democrats that run the state are a bunch of worthless humps who don't want to be "soft on crime" and don't want to make an issue out of it. As is customary, Republicans deny that there's a tradeoff between guns and butter and Democrats are too wimpy to even make the argument. That crime is down country-wide to such an extent that even the City of Compton is livable now matters not at all. Police and prison unions are super-powerful, and that's pretty much that. The situation has gotten so bad that the courts have ordered the state to reduce prison overcrowding. Legalizing marijuana might take some of the pressure off, and it looks likely to pass in an initiative in November, but there are hard battles that need to be fought here, and nobody is particularly interested in fighting them.
So reading Meg Whitman's page on public safety (found right here) is pretty much the exact opposite of what we need in this critical (but underrealized) issue. It starts bad ("I'm going to be a tough-on-crime governor.") and gets worse. The ideas are basically these:
- Supporting Three Strikes
- Defending the death penalty
- Opposing gun control
- Building new prisons and opposing early release
- Opposing the legalization of marijuana
Education is another big problem here in California. Our state routinely lists at the bottom of the 50 states (Thank God for Mississippi!), in large part because of the poorer areas of the state (pretty much anywhere more further inland than L.A. or S.F.) as well as the typical inner-city education problems in Los Angeles. Here, Whitman's fact sheet is mostly ho-hum. More money to the classroom is an education policy cliche and hardly a solution. Rewarding outstanding teachers is fine, but not that novel. I have no problem with charter schools or grading schools based on quality. Converting failing public schools into charter schools is an idea I haven't heard before and could be interesting. Putting $1 billion into the state's university systems is fine, but cutting welfare to do it isn't. And I wholly support bypassing the long credentialing process to let qualified people teach. That much of this agenda will require fighting the teacher's unions makes it tough for me to believe that Whitman, a Republican, would actually be able to do it. Just like it was easier for Republican Presidents to sign peace agreements with China and the Soviets during the '70s and '80s, it's easier for Democrats to take on the teacher's unions, not that they always do it. But in any event, for a candidate who has emphasized education to such a significant extent, this list seems so by-the-numbers and humdrum, that it seems to betray a lack of passion for changing the educational system. There's nothing new here, and nothing incredibly visionary. It's lukewarm and uncompelling, though I guess that's a step up from her actively terrible public safety material.
Brown, on the other hand, might have won my vote with this alone:
We must also reverse the decades long trend of transferring state support from higher education to prisons. We can do this without sacrificing public safety. For example, as Attorney General, I recently blocked a proposed $8 billion prison hospital expansion—which was unnecessarily expensive and which would have added substantially to our state’s deficit. By relentlessly pursuing similar cost savings, we can channel needed funds to our higher education system.He gets it. Plus, he talks about community colleges, burdensome standardized tests, school principals' importance to reform, and in much more detail than Whitman can muster. Brown wins this one, no contest.
I'll briefly mention the Prop 8 case. Brown wants to drop it and let gays and lesbians get civilly married and Whitman doesn't. Your mileage will vary here, but it's a point in Brown's favor to me.
Of course, the economy is pretty important here in California, and it's worse here than the average. Whitman has some decent ideas, but it's all mostly small-bore. Eliminating the $800 business start-up tax isn't going to help the economy too much, as I would hope someone starting a business would have more than $800 to spend starting out. Cutting capital gains (presented here as a job creator, weirdly) doesn't seem likely to actually save many jobs, but I guess it's a Republican litmus test these days. (In related news, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office agrees with me.) In fact, almost all of the job creation efforts are tax cuts of some sort or other, and it's all conventionally Republican. Brown wants to actually take some actions to restructure the economy, mostly by actively promoting green energy, which is something California still leads at, as well as some of the same tax cuts Whitman wants to do. There are specifics here that sound good, and much of it revolves around new standards to encourage free-market innovation. Sounds good to me. Whitman's cutting of capital gains means that the money has to come from somewhere else, and some unmentioned welfare reform program seems to be the golden goose. In this state? I think not. I've got to give it to Brown here.
So, now we get to Whitman's proposals to cut spending. Great! Only one sheet of ideas, though, with the rest of it campaign boilerplate. What are her new ideas? Well, they are:
- Instituting a strict spending cap
- Defending the 2/3 budget requirement
- Turning Sacramento into a part-time legislature
I could go on (Whitman's environment page isn't too bad, to be fair), but enough is enough. It's true that campaign literature doesn't exactly translate into a governing agenda, and I'm sure a lot of Whitman's items are things that the base wants more than she does. The same might well be true of Jerry Brown's agenda. But if this is basically all I have to go on, the choice is clear. Sure, Jerry Brown is running for governor because he wants the job and thinks he can win, but at least this guy is putting out a lot of specifics that, even if they don't all happen, at least reflect a passion for wonky detail and institutional reform. After reading Brown's material I'm quite a bit more comfortable with his candidacy and have a pretty clear view of where he wants to take the state, and I'm mostly fine with it. He's not nearly radical enough, but in many respects at least he'd be a step forward. And he actually bothers to put plausible, substantive ideas on his site, which might not be sufficient in the long run, but at least reflect a fundamental respect for the public and voters. I'm not fully sold on the guy, but his stock has gone up significantly on writing this. Whitman, on the other hand, offers hardly any specifics, has mostly old and uninspiring ideas, defends the worst aspects of California governance, and offers not a clue of what her "New California" would look like, aside from being likely as dysfunctional and sclerotic as the old one. What's more, there's little reason to believe she'd have any more influence with the state's Republicans than Arnold has had, a situation which has not exactly been a roaring success outside of the 20% of Californians who still like Schwarzenegger. I now think I get why Jerry Brown wants to be Governor. I have no idea why Meg Whitman wants the job. And since she doesn't speak to the press at all and seems to think that she can buy her way to the governor's mansion, I can't particularly say she's done anything to earn it.
In the words of another press-avoiding female Republican, thanks but no thanks.