Opinion

Jerry Brown: California’s political chameleon wants to be governor of the Golden State again

While Meg Whitman has been reluctant to embrace conservative positions, her Democratic opponent for governor is starting to sound like the poster child for conservatism — or even for the Republican Party platform. In one of his latest television commercials, Jerry Brown says in his notoriously guttural manner “We need to live within our means, return decision-making back to the local level and no new taxes without voter approval.”

His words almost made me do a double-take. Fortunately, I have a DVR so I was able to record the commercial and watch it to make sure my mind was not playing tricks on me. It wasn’t. Jerry Brown was intentionally trying to sound like a conservative.

His populist, yet strikingly conservative message, signals his campaign’s realization that, to win in 2010, his message must be right of center, especially on fiscal issues. It also exemplifies the clever political tactics that have characterized Brown’s career, now in its fifth decade: his lifetime as a politician, his willingness to jump on whatever trend can get him elected, his alliance with unions.

Brown’s well-timed commitment to fiscal prudence might resonate with some voters, but don’t confuse his opportunistic move for principled conviction.

Jerry Brown has a history of running to the right and playing to the fiscal sensibilities of California voters more effectively than most politicians. This year, perhaps more than ever — and definitely more than during the previous times Brown ran for governor, in 1974 and 1978 — Californians want fiscal conservatism, even if they don’t call it that. Rhetoric invoking fiscal restraint will win the 2010 election, and Brown knows it as he did in ’74 and ’78. National deficits, local corruption in cities like Bell and staggering unemployment numbers, not to mention the unwillingness of Sacramento lawmakers to pass a pared-down, reasonable state budget in a timely manner, one not packed with goodies for special interests and unions, have voters demanding candidates for elected office, especially governor, to bring with them to office some semblance of fiscal sanity.

Listening to Brown’s rhetoric, one would assume he is a fiscal conservative. Don’t be fooled; his philosophy and record in government contradicts such an assumption.

Perhaps the best and worst examples of Brown’s credentials as a fiscally sensible taxpayer advocate were during his reelection bid in 1978 against California’s attorney general, Republican Evelle Younger. Voters in June 1978 passed Proposition 13, the most monumental taxpayer protection in the state’s history. Prop. 13 changed the way taxes were calculated, and thus levied, on properties. Gov. Brown opposed Prop. 13 during the primary campaign, as did most Democrats. Younger vehemently supported it, as did most Republicans.

Prop. 13 passed by a huge margin, almost a supermajority, with more than 64 percent of the vote. When the dust cleared after the June primary, the passage of Prop. 13 gave tremendous momentum to Brown’s opponent Younger. In fact, polling numbers showed Brown poised for defeat and Younger gliding into the governorship on a wave of taxpayer support. That was when Brown did a 360, adopted fiscally conservative campaign rhetoric and changed his tune on Prop. 13 in one of the most brilliant turnarounds in California political history…

(for the entire column: http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/brown-267018-prop-fiscal.html)

Brian Calle is an opinion columnist and editorial writer for the Orange County Register. He blogs at ocregister.com/orangepunch and freedompolitics.com.