Brown’s mixed le­gacy of big fixes, some cor­rup­tion

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - Thomas ELIAS Email Thomas Elias at [email protected] For more Elias columns, visit www.cal­i­for­ni­afo­cus.net.

About a month from to­day, a new gov­er­nor will sit in the state Capi­tol’s “horse­shoe” suite and face some prob­lems that not even the hy­per­ac­tive and of­ten con­temp­tu­ous soon-to-be-ex-gov. Jerry Brown could solve.

Those prob­lems will ob­scure nei­ther Brown’s achieve­ments nor his fail­ures.

When Brown took of­fice in early 2011 for the first term of his se­cond go-‘round as Cal­i­for­nia’s chief, the state faced a huge bud­get deficit of $27 bil­lion, which he turned into both a pos­i­tive and a large rainy-day fund via a com­bi­na­tion of par­si­mony and the po­lit­i­cal courage needed to run a ma­jor tax-in­crease bal­lot ini­tia­tive, one that now forms part of state gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial base.

He also in­her­ited from pre­de­ces­sor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger an over-bud­get High Speed Rail project that faced nu­mer­ous le­gal chal­lenges over items as ba­sic as ac­quir­ing the land for lay­ing tracks. The so-called “bul­let train” has not ex­actly pro­ceeded with bul­let-like speed and to­day is even more over-bud­get and be­hind sched­ule than when Brown took over, while still fac­ing most of the same le­gal prob­lems.

Mark that one as a prob­lem not solved, which Gov.elect Gavin New­som will in­herit.

Brown helped ap­point for­mer Ari­zona Gov. Janet Napoli­tano, also a for­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary, pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and did lit­tle while she and her aides ac­cu­mu­lated a $175 mil­lion slush fund at the same time stu­dents were as­sessed roughly the same amount in tu­ition in­creases.

He’s been a leader in the global move­ment against cli­mate change and last fall even dared the world to re­vive the “Gov. Moon­beam” tag once ap­plied to him by the late Chicago colum­nist Mike Royko, promis­ing Cal­i­for­nia will “launch our own damn satel­lite” to track global warm­ing. Royko coined the nick­name in the late 1970s, when Brown pre­vi­ously ad­vo­cated a state satel­lite.

Brown sees the pu­ta­tive new space project as one part of Cal­i­for­nia’s re­sis­tance to cli­mate change re­luc­tance from Pres­i­dent Trump, who or­dered fed­eral agen­cies like NASA and the Na­tional Oceano­graphic and At­mo­spheric Agency not to track world­wide tem­per­a­ture changes. New­som said in Oc­to­ber he likes the satel­lite idea.

If there’s a large neg­a­tive in how Brown is re­mem­bered, it likely will come over the cor­rup­tion his ap­pointees spawned at the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties and En­ergy com­mis­sions.

The PUC con­sis­tently fa­vors util­i­ties over their cus­tomers and never pe­nal­ized any com­mis­sion­ers who helped or­ches­trate a set­tle­ment be­tween the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son Co. and its cus­tomers on the costs of clos­ing the San Onofre Nu­clear Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tions. That deal was il­le­gally reached in a se­cret meet­ing in­volv­ing for­mer PUC Pres­i­dent Michael Peevey. Peevey has sup­pos­edly been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for his role, but that al­leged probe is now more than four years old, with no re­sult. Mean­while, Atty. Gen. Xavier Be­cerra, a Brown ap­pointee just elected in his own right, won’t say where it stands.

Sim­i­lar col­lu­sion by Peevey and other PUC mem­bers with Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co. has also gone un­pun­ished, while cost­ing con­sumers bil­lions of dol­lars.

At the En­ergy Com­mis­sion, highly ques­tion­able multi-mil­lion-dol­lar “hy­dro­gen high­way” grants fa­vor­ing au­tomak­ers and big pro­duc­ers of in­dus­trial fuel were first pulled back by com­mis­sion­ers af­ter this col­umn ex­posed the crony­ism be­hind them. Most were re-in­sti­tuted to the same re­cip­i­ents af­ter the com­mis­sion changed its rules a short time later. Brown did and said noth­ing about this scan­dal, then reap­pointed the com­mis­sion chair­man who over­saw it.

Brown also went along with al­most all de­mands of pub­lic em­ployee unions and signed every bill reach­ing his desk that elim­i­nated de­lays un­der the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Act and pro­moted large build­ing projects like the Golden State War­riors’ un­der-con­struc­tion new arena in San Fran­cisco. Sim­i­lar bills boosted the Los An­ge­les Rams/charg­ers com­ing new sta­dium in In­gle­wood, the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers’ nascent arena also in In­gle­wood and the Sacra­mento Kings’ al­ready com­pleted new home.

And he did noth­ing to pre­vent the “mo­tor voter” de­ba­cle at the De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles, which has mis-reg­is­tered thou­sands of vot­ers.

So how will Brown be re­mem­bered? Most likely as a gov­er­nor who solved some prob­lems he in­her­ited and worked hard against cli­mate change. But his le­gacy will also in­clude do­ing lit­tle about cor­rup­tion and vir­tu­ally ig­nor­ing the state’s big­gest fi­nan­cial prob­lem: Its mas­sive pub­lic pen­sion deficit.

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