Is Gov. Brown labor’s* champion?

It’s déjà vu all over again. Jerry Brown wants to be governor. So I visited his campaign website to see what he is about this time. Among other statements he says he knows how to fix the bi-partisan stalemate in Sacramento, but I fear what that implies. I know how to fix it too: either elect enough Democrats so that the 2/3rds vote requirement wouldn’t matter, or eliminate the rule altogether.

There is this thing called democracy — you may have heard of it — in which the majority decides. How anyone thought that the “tyranny of the minority” would be better than the “tyranny of the majority” is beyond me, yet that’s exactly what the 2/3rds requirement represents. We have laws to protect minority rights from the latter’s oppressions (the majority isn’t always just or constitutional), which have worked pretty well through our history. What protections are there for the majority against minority rule? There are none that I know of. Our system isn’t set up for it.

I suppose either of these scenarios is possible this November (either enough seats could “flip” party affiliation or Prop. 25, the ballot measure to change the 2/3rds rule could pass) but both are long shots. Besides, this is not what Gov. Brown means. I believe he plans to “work across the aisle” and not take so many “partisan” stances by taking a page from the Clinton Democrats: adopt the opposition’s programs and meet them halfway.

Outside of polling of “likely voters,” this makes no sense. Brown may win, but, either way, working people lose. What this says to me is that Whitman is controlling the debate. The election is being run on her terms and Brown has no intention of questioning that, let alone rising to the challenge of changing the terms.

If he follows this plan through, Gov. Brown will make the same mistake as President Obama. Remember, Obama promised to return to a more civil government. However, civil discourse only works when the other side is willing to listen and be persuaded by your arguments. How do your persuade this particular group of California’s Republican ideologues to meet you halfway? These are not the old-fashioned moderates who were in office the last time Jerry was governor, let alone the ones who worked with his father from 1959 to 1967 to make great strides in infrastructure and investment in our future.

There are lots of California examples of moderate Republicans working across the aisle. Gov. Pete Wilson saved us all a lot of time and trouble by proposing a budget that the Democratic Party majority could pretty much go along with. Arnold, on the other hand, tries to bully “girly-man” Democratic legislators across the aisle or to hold state employees hostage and to wear down the state until we all “cry uncle.” In spite of a Democratic Party majority in both houses, we have “government that doesn’t work.” This is all by design. Why would these extremist Republicans want government to work if they are not getting their way?

They understand the power they hold and they know what to do with it. They are not the least bit shy in this. For example, you can’t have a rational discussion on taxes with this group. All of them have signed conservative activist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. That’s the beginning and the end of the argument. Where is the space to talk about tax fairness? (A rational debate over taxes would question why we allow a tax break to yacht owners and must cut the already meager benefits to the socially needy [we are getting meaner and leaner so corporate America can supposedly “create more jobs”; how’s that workin’ for ya?]; or when you tally up all taxes people must pay to live, why the top income brackets pay a lower percentage overall [seven percent vs. 11, see CBP research]; or how the state income shifted from ever-shrinking corporate taxes to being more dependent on the more volatile personal income and sales taxes [thanks to Prop 13 and the bi-partisan project to serve the corporate needy]; or why we even tax income on lower and middle Americans at all — which directly affects their quality of life — while already-accumulated, real (and obsessive) wealth lives on with little tax. You might think our tax policy was more informed by Madison’s elitism rather than Jefferson’s egalitarianism. How’s that workin’ for ya?)

The way to reverse the downward slide of the last 30 years is to elect real champions of labor. As radio commentator Jim Hightower says, “If God had meant us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” We need to develop candidates who understand what working people need, candidates who get that public investment helps the quality of life for the majority of California’s residents beyond those with so-called independent wealth.

Is Brown our champion? Hardly. Unfortunately, if you believe what he says, we are in a lose-lose situation this November. But it’s a lose-lose worse situation. Should we do all we can to elect Brown over Whitman? Yes, if we believe in progressive values. Brown will do the right thing if pushed into it. Whitman’s agenda will continue Arnold’s main project: starve the public “beast” and feed their wealthy constituents at the public trough, and to hell with a California for the majority.

For California to turn around, it will ultimately come down to us, no matter who wins. We, the working majority, need to make our voices heard in Sacramento to make sure our elected “leaders” follow us and do the right thing.

Peace.

* What I mean by “labor” may not be immediately obvious. I mean labor as in working people and their quality of life, as opposed to organized labor as a political entity, which doesn’t always have the former’s best interests as its primary goal. The difference could also be described as the bottom-up, social justice labor movement vs. the business unionism of the post-McCarthy (Herbert Hoover) era. If social justice labor ever catches on, then images of Jimmy-Hoffa-corruption would finally be replaced in people’s minds when you say “strike” or “labor” with images of people in the streets demanding justice.

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