From RINO to Redux

(Please read this post at The Daily Caller, since they’re interested in how much traffic their authors generate. Thanks!)

Today, Arnold Schwarzenegger signs his last gubernatorial documents and spiffs up the governor’s office so he can get his security deposit back as the next tenant prepares to move in tomorrow.

The man who promised his charisma was sufficient to break down the boxes that hobble Sacramento leaves the place with all its boxes intact, and more than a few new boxes to boot – they’re just painted a greener shade of regulatory over-kill.  As it turns out, the Schwarzenegger legacy isn’t governmental and budgetary reform; it’s AB 32 and SB 375, California’s hysterical global warming twins, and the passel of business-strangling regulations spawned in their wake.  The incoming governor is apparently intent on protecting Schwarzenegger’s green legacy with the appointment of John Laird, co-author of AB 32, as Secretary of Natural Resources, ensuring that natural resources, not resourceful humans, will continue to be the focus of California state government.  The leftist YubaNet.com declared the Laird appointment “sets off green fireworks,” adding:

On the first day of the New Year, Governor Brown showed that he is committed to a green agenda by appointing John Laird as the Secretary of Resources. … From waste reducer to wildlife protector Laird is sure to make 2011 a great year for the environment.

But California’s regulatory crusade to coddle the environment without care for the cost is not going to be the focus for Jerry Brown, as much as he might like it to be – it’s going to be the budget, debt and the ever-less-sustainable public employee pension funding gaps.  If Jerry Brown is going to succeed on that score, he’s eventually going to have to take on the public employee unions he empowered in the 1970s when he signed the law giving them truly impressive collective bargaining rights.

It was the unions that terminated the Terminator.  When Schwarzenegger put four mostly sensible reform initiatives on a special election ballot in 2005, he was handily disposed of by the unions, particularly the California Teachers Association, which mortgaged its headquarters to buy even more anti-Schwarzenegger ads.  By most accounts, Brown is also plotting a special election strategy to fix the budgetary mess.  First, he will get a budget through Sacramento (now, thanks to Proposition 25, requiring only the votes of the Legislature’s Democrats) that will include sweeping cuts in spending for popular state services, then he will call a special election and ask the voters to do what even the state’s all-powerful Democrats don’t have enough votes to accomplish:  raise taxes and fees.

He should be able to count on union support for the higher taxes, but the voter’s mid-term rejection of Prop 21’s “park tax” and their approval of Prop 22’s and Prop 26’s restrictions on Sacramento’s non-tax revenue generation tricks indicates Brown’s going to have a tough time pulling off a special election win.  Even if he does – and especially if he doesn’t – he’s still going to have to deal with pension reform if he has any hope of fixing the state’s fiscal mess.  Meaningful reform seems just about impossible under Brown, as Orange County Register opinion columnist Mark Landsbaum wrote today:

Considering their clout, if public employee unions had a better candidate to run for governor, wouldn’t they have run him? Why didn’t they? Because Jerry Brown’s candidacy was their dream come true.

California’s future will be anything but golden unless Brown pulls off a “Nixon goes to China” with the state’s public employee unions and brokers sweeping and significant changes to public employee benefits.  Tweaking at pension formulas isn’t going to be enough.  Even the wholesale selling out of younger public employees by older pension-rich ones isn’t going to pull California out of the hole.  No, dialing back California’s half-trillion-dollar unfunded pension liability before the state’s finances collapse entirely is going to take the kind of reform that will pose a threat to the future clout of the very public employee unions that swept Brown into office.

Can he do it?  I don’t think so.  His appointments thus far, while still few in number, indicate that the Jerry Brown we’re getting is the Jerry Brown we feared we’d get – Moonbeam Redux.  He will use the Democrat’s complete control of Sacramento and the money and influence of his union benefactors to do everything he can to protect the status quo, because unlike where Sacramento was when he first came into office on the heels of Ronald Reagan, Sacramento today is exactly as he would like it to be – fat with government jobs and programs, committed to environmental over-regulation, and firmly in the hands of the unions he knows and loves.

Jerry Brown’s real challenge arises from the fact that the status quo will be impossible to protect unless the state’s businesses shake off the national recession and the state’s obsession with business-flogging and somehow begin to generate more jobs and more tax payments.   Short of that unlikely salvation, it’s anyone’s guess how Brown will succeed in keeping his benefactors happy while dodging California’s looming fiscal black hole.

Crazifornia Exclusive! Jerry Brown, Oil Baron

I’ve done a lot of interviews researching the Crazifornia Project; this one was by far the most interesting.  There’s a lot more to this story, but this op/ed – indicative of the kind of things you’ll read in Crazifornia – appeared in the Washington Times on-line edition on April 16, 2009.

Pearce:  Jerry Brown, Oil Baron

Little-known Foreign Oil Holdings Might Tint Decisions

By Laer Pearce

When Jerry Brown recently held his first fundraiser as an official candidate for governor, he chose as the venue the Sacramento apartment where he lived the last time he held that office, after famously declining to live in the governor’s mansion. Faced with multimillionaire Republican opponents, Mr. Brown wants to be seen as just a regular public employee, trying to hold his own against tycoons at the top of America’s wealth disparity. While politically expedient, the image of Jerry Brown as everyman is patently false.

Mr. Brown has a lot of money – how much exactly is not public – and unhappily for his environmentalist and global-warming-alarmist supporters, it’s oil money. Even more unhappily for his campaign managers, it’s money that may have led him to an attack against California’s largest employer and a rewriting of state regulations to feather the family nest.

Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters spent months researching the source of the Brown family wealth 30 years ago and recently shared the story with me in his small office crowded with family pictures, catty-cornered from the Capitol.

In a nutshell: After Jerry’s father, Pat, left the governorship in 1967, he was introduced to the Indonesian generals who had just overthrown the country’s post-colonial dictator, Sukarno, and set up a military junta. The former governor was able to cobble together a consortium of banks that lent $12 billion to the junta – “a lot of money in the late ’60s,” Mr. Walters said. The banks were interested in the immense Royal Dutch Shell petroleum holdings in Indonesia, which Sukarno had nationalized and the junta controlled.

The grateful generals then set up two trading firms – one in Hong Kong and one in California – that handled the oil-exporting paperwork and were rewarded with a fee for each barrel, “a little taste, as they might say in the Mafia,” Mr. Walters said with a grin. Pat Brown was given 100 percent ownership of the California brokerage and half-ownership of the Hong Kong office. The deal was a very lucrative one because California’s early clean-air standards set a sulfur limit for the fuel burned in power plants – a limit only the clean, low-sulfur oil from Indonesia could meet.

Jerry Brown, alone among the Brown children, didn’t get a share of the business, but that changed after Alaskan oil came on the scene and threatened the monopoly Indonesian oil had in California’s power plants.

Chevron had just finished building a refinery in El Segundo that was designed to process Alaskan crude to compete against Indonesian oil for the California power-plant market. Before the facility could refine a barrel of North Slope crude, however, Jerry Brown’s Air Resources Board – headed up by his former campaign manager, Tom Quinn – passed a new air-quality standard for sulfur just barely too high for Chevron to meet with Alaskan oil. That cemented the Indonesian monopoly, and the Brown family, as the only oil provider to the California power industry.

Not surprisingly, when Jerry Brown left the governorship, Pat Brown finally gave him his own cut of the family oil business.

“To this day, Jerry’s very sensitive about it,” Mr. Walters told me. “He just hates the idea that people will bring it up because what it is, is the Brown family is in partnership with these corrupt, murderous dictators. It’s not something that a Jerry Brown wants to be associated with.”

The junta generals of Pat Brown’s day have given way to the more transparent, democratic government that rules in Indonesia today. The question here in California is: Will Jerry Brown also become more transparent and share with voters the details of this foreign influence on his personal finances?

Laer Pearce is a 30-year public-affairs professional currently involved in the Crazifornia Project, chronicling egregious policies responsible for tarnishing the Golden State.