Brown's Challenges, Whitman's Adieu

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Every election finds the gap between the winner and loser widening at an exponential rate after the results come in; winners become leaders-in-waiting, losers find themselves knee deep in the muck of criticism and post-game analysis.

So no one should be surprised how fast the worlds of Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman are moving in opposite directions.

No Easy Task

First, the governor-elect. Brown begins today a one week vacation, after which he says he'll be nose-to-the-grindstone on the state budget. And he's got his work cut out for him in Sacramento.

As I reported in two separate radio stories since Tuesday for The California Report, the worlds of state government and Capitol politics are far different today than when the Democratic governor-elect left his future job in 1983.

First, the mess that is state government. Brown may have been fond of telling audiences during the campaign that he's been in "the kitchen" of government before, but that kitchen is now full of dirty dishes and broken or off-limits appliances. Just consider this partial list of budgetary laws enacted since he left: a constitutional guarantee on school funding levels, restrictions (and after Tuesday, an apparent ban) on borrowing cash from local governments; taxes on tobacco and millionaires earmarked for specific purposes and non-transferable without voter approval. And that's not even taking into consideration the effects of Proposition 13, not yet fully realized when he left, or things like term limits and federal court control of prison health care.

"It's an entirely different state," said Mark Paul, senior scholar at the New America Foundation and co-author of a recent book on the state's dysfunction and reform needs. He says it's not just the levers of government; it's also those who hope to grease the movement of those levers. "Jerry is coming into a Sacramento that has five times more lobbyists than when he left, spending 10 times more money," said Paul.

California is also much more diverse and populated in the almost three decades since Brown was governor; official state data shows the population alone has grown by a third since 1983.

And then there's the oh-so-beloved California Legislature, and the experiences of the last two governors in trying to find, as Brown defined it on Wednesday, "unity and clarity out of muddle and division."

But today's legislators share little with those of the past; they are less experienced, more politically polarized, and -- perhaps -- not as awed by the power of governors.

"He's going to find a Legislature that's much less interested in what a governor thinks, and much more interested in what the special interests think," said former GOP legislator Jim Brulte during a Sacramento post-election event on Thursday. Both Brulte and Susan Kennedy, chief of staff to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said that the state's powerful interest groups, on the left and right of the political spectrum, have the money and muscle that can overshadow a governor's influence on rank and file lawmakers.

And Brown, a Democrat who will end seven years of Republican chief executive opinions, could find his biggest foils to be fellow Democrats. Garry South, the political consiglieri to former guv Gray Davis, said this week that Dems often jammed the moderate Davis with a bill that he "was either damned if he signed it or damned if he vetoed it." There have been a number of Democratic priorities that have been vetoed these last few years, from single payer health care to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. Brown's victory Tuesday night came after a campaign in which he made clear that he would be a pragmatist, not an ideologue; will his more liberal Democratic allies support that agenda?

Defending The Meg-A-Disaster

It's been a relatively quiet few days for those involved in the campaign of Meg Whitman. Some are looking for jobs, others taking a long delayed vacation, others... going on national TV.

This morning, top Whitman strategist Mike Murphy was invited to opine on Tuesday's election results on NBC's Meet The Press. For the most part, the veteran operative stuck to talking about the big victory for the national GOP. But after a few minutes, moderator David Gregory asked Murphy about Whitman's Poseidon Adventure:

Murphy's promise to take responsibility for the loss notwithstanding, he seemed to offer a number of excuses for what happened -- some which don't square with the facts. Though he says California is a "very blue state and it's getting bluer," the official registration data shows that there's only been a small uptick of the percentage of Democrats of late but an overall steady decline since 1994. The bigger problem for a GOP candidate like Whitman is how small her party has become --now only three in ten voters are Republicans.

Murphy also said that "we could win the Republicans (and) win the independents" but not Democrats. Well, the Tuesday exit poll cast doubt on this excuse, too. If that survey is accurate, or close to accurate, Whitman's showing among independent voters would still have needed to be by a larger margin -- similar to Schwarzenegger in 2003 and 2006 (Murphy's former client). She also seemed to do badly with Republicans, both those who apparently voted for Brown and those who didn't show up. That last point is especially important; as I wrote on Tuesday morning, Republican politicos like Murphy were adamant that the GOP turnout would be 34% or more of the electorate. Not so.

And while he also said that voters across the nation weren't buying CEO candidates selling "tough medicine," he also dismissed the issue of Whitman's Meg-a-spending. Saying the public employee unions "run California politics" (except when they don't -- 2003 recall, 2006 gubernatorial, just to name two elections outside of Murphy's losing experiences in 2005 and Tuesday), he then said, "if you're a self-funder, the press then wants to make that money the issue."

Murphy suggested a time machine might provide a different outcome. Perhaps, then, he'll take solace in the final Whitman video released online a few days ago... a gauzy, feel good look at the effort, where some of the folks saying "Thank You!" to the camera appear to be, in fact, paid campaign staffers.

Update 7:50 p.m. A valuable caveat pointed out by Calbuzz scribe Phil Trounstine: the exit poll is not a reliable way to determine whether or not Whitman actually eeked out a win among independents. As such, the paragraph above has been modified from its original wording. --JM

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Peter

    It’s probably better that even Mike Murphy cannot figure it out. Why shouldn’t Californians react with disgust to some billionaire CEO and her millionaire advisors lecturing them with Murphy’s “tough medicine” propaganda? Schwarzenegger and his spokesman McLear played the same tune, and they rake it in from the CalChamber types for their contemptible “painful sacrifices” charade. If Republican and Democratic conservatives and their business pals hadn’t succeeded in letting the Wall Street wolves into the chicken coop, we wouldn’t be facing such a poor future to start with.

  • TexasRangers

    With Jerry Brown in Sacramento everything in California will be solved…no more foreclosed homes, no tax increases, no job losses, just Heaven on Earth! I would add, no bail out from Washington’s friends!
    Best of luck with your choices.
    A proud Independent

  • Trace

    Hopefully the door doesn’t hit Meg too hard.

  • Logathis

    One can(futilely) hope this will send the message to self-funded candidates that running a business has very little to do with running a political campaign or government. And it was great to see Murphy try to explain away his loss. If he truly knew and believed all the factors he listed as the reasons for a potential loss, why would he run a campaign bound for defeat? I guess Meg’s money convinced him otherwise…

  • MYama

    “Tough medicine”?! Whitman was espousing some voodoo economics of cutting spending and giving more tax breaks. And also getting the state somehow out of its crippling current deficit. It was Brown who clearly stated that he’d have to make some fiscal decisions that wouldn’t be popular at all.

    Murphy’s a pathetic clown. He had an essentially unlimited budget (and a outrageous consultant’s fee to boot) and he and his team screwed up. Totally outmaneuvered by a smarter and more resourceful opponent.

    Man up, Murphy. You and your staff dropped the ball.

  • lumpenprole

    Hey Texas Ranger, are you in California? Don’t like Libruls? Not to be inhospitable, but you could go to Texas. Oh, you’re making more money here? Yes, that’s because this is a sophisticated place that elects Libruls! So we’re smarter, and have more money.

  • GR

    LOSER! Go away Meg! And all of your staff – they all tried to pull a fast one on California. We are not REPs – we are not wowed by money! BYE NOW!