One well-worn thought that has not been heard since Jerry Brown won his third term as governor in 2010 is the notion that California’s state Capitol needs some adult supervision.
That suggestion became commonplace among pundits and voters during the Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger years of massive budget deficits and, for just one example, bond issues in which more bonded debt was sold as the best way to pay off old debt.
For some clues as to what California government might be like with Democratic legislative supermajorities and a governor unlike Brown, it can be instructive to look at the actions of the state Democratic Party convention staged on a March weekend in Los Angeles.
There, the party — with virtually no dissent — adopted a platform endorsing complete legalization and then taxation of marijuana and also took a firm stance against any immediate hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the state’s immense shale oil and gas deposits, which some studies claim could produce more than 100,000 new jobs.
Because state legislators are both convention delegates and also pretty representative of delegates as a whole, those actions give a decent idea of what state government might be like without Brown.
A party that officially adopts stances like those is one that does, in fact, need adult supervision. It’s one that, without a bit of restraint, might push through not just those two policies, but also other notions currently popular among Democrats.
For example, legislative leaders want to restore not only all of the deficit-induced cuts to human services made both by Brown or kept on after Schwarzenegger’s departure, but they’d also like to add state-funded pre-kindergarten, a positive idea yet the kind of thing likely to put state budgets back into the red the moment a new glitch affects the economy.
State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento also wants to eliminate special elections for legislative vacancies, allowing the governor to make appointments effective until the next general election.
Steinberg apparently presumes that’s the best way to keep his party’s on-again, off-again two-thirds supermajorities intact in both the state Senate and Assembly, not recognizing the possibility that voters might one day elect a Republican governor, something they did as recently as 2006.
So far, Brown has shown little interest in either idea, or some more radical ones also put forward by other Democrats.
But it’s their actual platform planks that show how much of a curb Brown has been on overly exuberant Democrats.
Yes, Colorado has completely legalized pot for people over 21, while Washington state has granted some licenses to grow cannabis for non-medical purposes. Brown says he’s happy to let them experiment with it. “I’d really like those two states to show us how it’s going to work,” he said.
Brown worries about “how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
His thought more or less echoes those of Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal, founder of the noted Phoenix House drug rehabilitation program. Rosenthal warned in a recent essay that pot “damages the heart and lungs, increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia and can trigger psychotic episodes. Many adults appear able to use marijuana with relatively little harm, but the same cannot be said of adolescents, who are about twice as likely as adults to become addicted.”
Which suggests Brown is prudent to let other states be test cases, something that will happen now if only because the several proposed initiatives to legalize the weed in this state appear unlikely to make this fall’s ballot.
Meanwhile, Brown OK’d a go-slow approach to fracking, which has not yet been proven to have harmed water supplies despite many years of use on older oil wells in California, while it has created boom towns in once-desolate states.
That makes it seem premature to ban the process here. But it’s now the official party position and one that legislators most likely would adopt if they didn’t believe Brown would veto any such bill.
One thing to think about for the future: Even assuming Brown is re-elected this fall, who’s going to provide his style of non-confrontational adult supervision and restraint once he’s termed out in 2018?
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]