California needs to go beyond party politics

Pat Brown

Is it the Jerry and Meg Show … or the Punch and Judy Show? For
me, the current campaign for California state governor seems like a
kids’ puppet pageant where the two starring characters keep bopping
each other on the head in their squabbles. It’s no secret the
aggressive tenor of the Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman slug-fest has left
voters uninspired.
Is it the Jerry and Meg Show … or the Punch and Judy Show? For me, the current campaign for California state governor seems like a kids’ puppet pageant where the two starring characters keep bopping each other on the head in their squabbles. It’s no secret the aggressive tenor of the Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman slug-fest has left voters uninspired. Too bad we can’t bring into this race the first Gov. Brown. I’m referring, of course, to Jerry’s papa … Pat.

OK, Pat Brown won’t be running for office any time soon. He died in Beverly Hills in 1996. But some leader like him might give us a chance to return sanity to Sacramento. The elder Brown was a true political chief, the kind of let’s-all-work-together-gang governor Californians are hungry to have at the helm to save our sinking ship of state.

Brown felt passionate about politics. He understood government’s job is to move society forward to a better place for all citizens. He stands in California history in the echelon of those rare leaders who provided real benefit to the state. In the eight years Brown served in Sacramento starting in 1959, his leadership ushered California into the modern era.

Brown is nicknamed the “Architect of the Golden State” largely because of his major public works projects. Because of his vision, we enjoy an extensive network of highways cris-crossing California. He also initiated the massive California aqueduct system, which state historian Kevin Starr called “the most significant public water project in world history.”

But Brown did more than build infrastructure. He also built brains. His master plan for higher education gave California the best public college and university system in the world. Those institutions of higher learning made sure our state – and particularly our own Silicon Valley region – became a global epicenter of technology and innovation. Brown also cared about people. His Fair Housing Act and the Fair Employment Act made sure our state’s citizens were not mistreated by unscrupulous landlords and bosses.

Unfortunately, in the four decades since Brown left the governor’s office, something sinister happened in Sacramento. The political process has been hijacked by heavy-handed partisanship. Now Republicans and Democrats wage war against each other as enemies in dual-to-the-death legislative combat. The elected officials on both sides of the aisle have made the halls and chambers under the state capitol dome a sporting arena. The goal of their game is to win by crushing the opposing team. This game makes losers of our legislators … and also of us.

The folks in Sacramento seem to have forgotten that they were not hired to play party games. They were hired to do a job. And their job description is simple: make life better and safer for all Californians. That’s a job description Pat Brown understood well and felt proud to perform.

If the spirit of the elder Brown might rise up from his Colma Cemetery grave, he would no doubt give our state legislators some words to ponder. What warnings might the governor’s ghost give to the men and women who work in our state capitol building? Perhaps he would advise them:

Beware the dangers of partisan power ploys. It paralyzes the democratic system.

The public sector must promote social mobility. Public servants should create prosperity by supporting entrepreneurs and the middle class.

Good government disciplines itself. Build a better state without busting the budget.

Good government inspires a sense of trust with the people. Build solid trust to build solid consensus.

Give the citizens of California a relentlessly optimistic vision for a better future. 

The elder Gov. Brown had a genuine love for politics and the benefits good government could provide the people of California. He also had an abiding respect for his fellow politicians no matter what party they belonged to. That respect is lacked by far too many of our current crop of politicians. The dysfunction in Sacramento today is generated by the animosity each party feels for the other. Regrettably, this dysfunction seems a national trait.

In the last year, some of our citizens have sought to “take back” America. From their colonial costumes, I suspect they want to take our nation back to the time of the American Revolution. Maybe we won’t have to go back quite that far. I suggest we take America back to the California of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when we had political leaders like Pat Brown who worked together in a spirit of pro-market progressivism.

California needs leaders like former Gov. Pat Brown. We need enlightened officials who serve the public effectively by going beyond party politics. Unfortunately, Californians probably won’t get that kind of leadership with either Jerry or Meg, the stars of our election season’s Punch and Judy Show.

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