Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown? Yuck

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Every time I check on the campaign for governor, I’m struck by the same thought: Can’t we do better than this?

Our choice is between a very successful businesswoman who did not bother to vote until a few years ago, and a very successful politician who has run out of new offices to seek.

I don’t usually write about politics for A News Café. But as something of a public policy nerd and a native Californian frustrated with our state’s downhill slide, I can’t help weighing in on the 2010 governor’s race.

It’s easy to overlook the public enthusiasm for this contest, because there is so little. My friends in Sacramento who eat, drink and breathe politics tell me that not even many of the party faithful are heavily involved. Republicans are wary of Meg Whitman because she has absolutely no record in public office or with the GOP. Even Republicans see her as a very wealthy person trying to buy her way to the top, and as unwilling to gain the experience necessary to lead the party and the state. Meanwhile, Democrats are frustrated with Jerry Brown because he won’t go away. He’s already had his chance as governor (and attorney general and secretary of state and mayor of Oakland and chairman of the state Democratic party), and Democrats are eager for fresh faces.

If the party loyalists are not fired up about this race, it’s no surprise the rest of us are either watching quietly from the sidelines or ignoring the whole thing. The campaign itself sure has not helped the situation.

It’s no secret that California is in desperate straits. The unemployment rate is stuck at more than 12%, and the underemployment rate is significant. The poverty rate of 15.3% is the highest since 1992. One in five California residents lacks health insurance. The real estate meltdown continues to rack up new victims. The state budget is a train wreck in need of structural reform. California’s public infrastructure is consistently rated among the worst in the country. Our natural resources are severely strained.

Forty years ago, California was the envy of the world. The state was an economic and education powerhouse without limits. Today, we can’t keep parks and libraries open, and school music and art programs depend on bake sales.

With that backdrop, you would like to think the campaign would center on real issues and well-defined policy proposals.

Nope. The focus of the campaign for governor is on someone calling Whitman a “whore,” and on Whitman’s employment and subsequent treatment of an undocumented worker.

Let me be blunt: I don’t care what name Jerry Brown or his wife called Meg Whitman. I don’t care if Meg Whitman employed an illegal immigrant and then turned her back on the woman. Even assuming these unfortunate things are true, they barely rise to the level of trivia.

Rather, I care about California’s public education system, especially the community colleges and universities. I care about California’s economy and getting people back to work inventing, making and growing things the world needs. As someone fascinated with land use and development, I care about strategies for ensuring our roads, transit lines, airports, water delivery systems, hospitals, power plants, energy grid and telecommunications facilities are adequate for future generations. I care about the vitality of our cities and the integrity of our rural areas. I care about people getting enough to eat and having access to medical care.

I bet you have your own list of serious concerns. So why can’t Californians have a sober, adult conversation about this stuff? Do the candidates refuse to engage on real topics because we won’t let them? Do we lack the knowledge and attention span to have a direct but polite discussion about real issues? Is it just easier for us to titter (and Twitter) about who called whom a name than to spend time analyzing genuine public policy platforms?

Our state has people who are knowledgeable enough and creative enough to improve California’s lot, as well as people with honed leadership and decision-making skills. These are the people we need running for office, especially for governor. Is it possible that we – that’s you and I, my friend – have abetted an electoral system that chases away people with useful ideas and skills? Maybe we have two uninspiring candidates and an insipid campaign for governor because that’s exactly what we’ve asked for.

I’m going to suggest that we – voters, candidates, the media – need to halt the game of political gotcha. Instead, we should pledge our time, energy, money and votes to candidates who are willing to express complex, nuanced thoughts and who don’t simply recite slogans. We need a civic – and civil – dialogue. Name-calling and hysterics are not helpful.

I’m not an idealist by any stretch. I recognize that people disagree on things. Politics has winners and losers. All of that is fine. But it doesn’t excuse us from behaving as adults with responsibilities to future generations who will live with the decisions we make today.

Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown? Really, California could do better.

shigley-mugshotPaul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and will hold his nose in the voting booth. Paul Shigley may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.
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33 Responses

  1. Avatar Ken Brown says:

    This is one of the first political commentaries that I have agreed with. I have frequently wondered why these are the best two canidates available. I do remember Jerry Brown telling us "less is more" many years ago and his being scoffed at, maybe we should have listened back then. Is it possible that any politicos with long term political goals are avoiding running because they know that the current problems in the state and country are not solvable with sound bites and quick solutions? That it takes time to turn an economy around and the public appears to lack anything remotely like patience? The current mess we are in was caused by policies dating back to both Bush and Clinton. It will take years to work through this and expecting any quick fix (such as selling government office buildings) to solve our problems is naive and short sighted. What keeps me going in these times is remembering the 1980's when the Japanese were projected to run the world, just like the Chinese are today. Interest rates where at record highs and banks and savings and loans (remember them) were failing. The country and the state will recover eventually, but we are in for several more years of this economy. Some attempts at long term solutions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    Thank you, Paul, for your insightful article. I agree that this election is ho hum and that I am not at all excited about either candidate, but I will vote because I always do. I will vote for the least worst and hope for the best.

  3. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    Toward the end of his article, the author hints at the opinion, "People get the government they deserve." It is doubtful Lincoln, Washington or TR could win election for dog catcher today. Reform has to come from within, from a genuine desire and personal belief that government not be everything to everyone. Meantime, the circus continues a little while longer.

  4. Avatar Sharon says:

    So many good points. And I would argue that in our search to find better candidates, we would do well to move beyond a two party system and work for a greater diversity of candidates who ask different questions rather than providing slightly different responses to the same questions.

  5. Avatar CoachBob says:

    I received an email today that had three (3) catch-phrases at the bottom of the piece. I agree with each and every one of them. Just FYI….

    "GO GREEN: RE-CYCLE CONGRESS IN 2010"

    "FIGHT ORGANIZED CRIME…RE-ELECT NO ONE!" (And, to that I'd include oldies that want back into the game)

    "TAKE OUT THE TRASH ON NOV. 2nd"

    Now, this isn't my opinion ALWAYS…every election. Just this one in particular. This is a very good year to set a very good example that we won't accept the status quo and if that means electing someone with "no political experience" (that might be a plus…considering political experience usually means some sort of corruption)…then that's the way it goes. I hope we send a serious message next week…across the entire nation.

  6. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    It is indeed unfortunate that the media have focused on ridiculous trivia, rather than the issues. However, both Brown and Whitman have websites that address most of the issues described above with a fair amount of detail and specificity:

    http://www.jerrybrown.org/solutions http://www.megwhitman.com/platform.php

    Their opinions and approaches are quite different. It is worth spending a few minutes of web-browsing before voting.

  7. Avatar TJ says:

    I am a republican voting for Jerry brown. He and his democratic legislature will be unable to fix California's problems. Then maybe we can get a republican governor and legislature. This is my dirty trick.

  8. Avatar J P Adams says:

    Paul, I can understand half of your argument though what exactly is yucky about a candidate having loads of experience… in your opinion?

  9. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    It's interesting that we, the people, express a desire to 'take back government" but I have yet to hear any of 'we people" take any of the blame for where we have landed (financially) in this state.

    We, the people, voted to mandate programs that dictate a very large portion of our state budget. We did that! We voted for various mandates that have come across the ballot in the past 20 years. This leaves the legislators a mini-pie to divide up among maxi-pie programs.

    We, the people voted for the Jarvis Prop 13 which hobbled our property taxes, in many years, to below inflation rates. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed the halt on property taxes as much as anyone; however, if we aren't going have income to pay for the voter mandated programs, then we'd better cinch in our belt and live without some of the "good ideas" placed on the ballot, no matter how good they sound. It may be good and healthy to have steak every night, but if the family budget won't support it, you'd better learn to make do with hamburger!!

  10. Avatar Marcia says:

    Thank you for expressing what most people are afraid to express. Actually I was told the other day that I should vote for the lessor of two evils. I still wish that they would put something on the ballot that says NONE OF THE ABOVE.

    The reason that we can't get good people to run for any office is because no one unless they are rich has the money to run. It is truly amazing what we have allowed ourselves to become.

  11. Avatar Jan Gandy says:

    Paul, Adrienne and Randy — you are right in your observations. I am so depressed . . .

  12. Avatar Pat J says:

    They didn't call Jerry Brown "Gov. Moon Beam" for no reason. Among other things, he appointed Rose Elizabeth Bird as California Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who was removed by a retention election. There is lots of info on the net re: Brown and Bird.

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      Yes, there is a lot of information about Rose Bird on the internet, but it is pretty well divided along party/ideological lines. There don't seem to be many impartial articles about her tenure or about the campaign to remove her from office.

  13. Avatar Pat J says:

    Perhaps you didn't look far enough, but I also have a long memory. A Judge is suppose to follow the law…not personal feelings.

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      Again, I'm just not seeing anything that isn't strongly pro or con one way or the other. There are lots of articles about how the election was funded by business interests who opposed her, and about how Bird voted her conscience as opposed to the law (there were other judges removed at the same time, I think), and that the death penalty law was poorly written… but I'm not seeing anything truly impartial.

  14. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    My question is; why DON'T we have more eligible candidates to choose from? Is it because anyone with brains won't take on the horrible debacle that California has gotten itself into? Or are we all stoned and indifferent? :>)

  15. Avatar pmarshall says:

    I agree. We don't have a real good choice. However, maybe we should take a new approach and see what Meg can really do. However, there are many poor people (immigrants) who truly believe Jerry will keep on giving and giving. One problem we have is it is always Democrats vs Republicans and, as for some cooperation, there seems to be none.

    • Avatar Laurie says:

      "There are many poor people (immigrants) who truly believe Jerry will keep on giving and giving."

      Huh?

      Are you saying that poor people are all immigrants (or that all immigrants are poor) and that many of those supposed poor immigrants expect Mr. Brown to "keep giving and giving" — er, whatever it is you think he's giving?

      Xenophobia and racism are all too evident in our county, but basic logic should not elude us…

  16. Avatar Laurie says:

    It's pretty clear what Meg can really do: under her reign, eBay's profits plummeted. Now she's trying to buy California.

    Here's a lively response to that attempt, with some interesting stats on Meg & her money: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z4TtNgpnqs .

  17. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Keep the faith Paul. That was an interesting article about Jerry and Meg.

    I remember a time when the legendary actor , Bedtime for Bonzo, Gov. Ronald Reagan, closed all the state hospitals putting thousands of EMT's and doctors on the street and cut a number of important people programs like day care centers. Meg wants to do the same.

    During the Brown's terms, Edmund G. and Jerry's two terms, the state truly lived up to it's Golden state name. We had hospitals open. Napa State Hospital handled the needed mental health program and we didn't outsource to Nigeria.

    The mighty CVP, which includes Shasta, Hoover and several other dams became even stronger as did the CHP and the DMV.

    Don't fret, Jerry will be a fine governor again.

    • Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

      Bud, I want to hear more from people like you who have been around, and paid attention as time went by. I'm being to think that politics has a serious case of amnesia and selective rememberation.

  18. Avatar Francis says:


    The question is–how many illegal aliens are voting for Senator Barbara Boxer and Gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Brown? California–The Sanctuary State, is a poor excuse for secure citizen voting. Just as one example. Blatant voter fraud happened in 1996 Democrat Loretta Sanchez defeated long-term Republican incumbent Republican Bob Dornan in a bid for the House seat in California’s 46th congressional district. Dornan’s loss was the result of votes cast by non citizens for Sanchez. Guaranteed–that before this election has ended, there will be serious inquiries into fraudulent registration on behalf of Democratic-Lib extremists.

    Are you ready for another $2.6 Trillion dollar tax bill (Heritage Foundation analysts), to add to the growing 13 Trillion dollar US treasury Deficit? Then you just vote for any Democrat, who is going to stick that bill on you, your grandchildren–with another illegal alien AMNESTY.

    Dump Senator Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and all the Pro-Amnesty, Anti-Sovereignty Democrats and Liberal fringe, including Governors, Mayors, Police Chiefs and elected officers. GOOGLE–Voter Fraud; Illegal alien costs; illegal aliens and Social Security. Search the facts for yourself, because Huffington Press, Washington, Post, Los Angeles Times and the New York Times and the left wing open border fringe media, will spit on the truth and tell you a bunch of lies and propaganda.In conclusion–Keep an eye on absentee ballots and the polling stations, as illegal aliens were caught voting in Houston, Texas. You don't think it cannot happen in your state? GUESS AGAIN.? Dems are posturing again to win vote with a high speed bullet train, with a $900 Million loan from Washington. Another question that needs to be asked? Is how many Contractors are going to be hiring illegal aliens to fill their pockets with large profits, while there is approximately 15 million citizen-workers without jobs.

  19. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    The largest state in the United States, a huge agricultural force in the world and, according to some sources the 8th largest economic force in the world is not run or ruled by one person. The job of just keeping this beautiful parcel of land peaceful and productive is immense. No one person can know enough to step in and make decisions about agriculture water usage, crime, education, wildlife preservation, health care issues, economic growth, oil production, transportation infrastructure, population growth, air quality, logging……..without teaming up with the people who know what they're doing.
    Our current economic problems were caused by the people who think that, because they still have checks, they must be able to cash them whether or not they have money in the bank

  20. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    No mention of the latest mud on Meg? To keep her son from being kicked out of Princeton for rape, she gave $30 million.

  21. Avatar Anonymous heckler says:

    Paul,

    Strangely, I'm feeling optimistic. Neither candidate is perfect — no candidate for any office ever is — but both are extraordinarily talented, intelligent and accomplished people. Campaigns themselves are least-common-denominator affairs, but that's politics in a mass-media age. As for what California needs, there's no shortage of good ideas, but there has been a shortage of effective follow-through.

  22. Avatar Christian says:

    Wait! STOP THE PRESS! Politics is not nice, clean, pretty, and doesn’t smell like fresh spring roses? Oh, is that why Princes Meg didn’t even vote for most of her privileged adult life, because politics is, well you know, like just too, you know, yucky? OMG! Do you think Meg’s 170 Million spent on this race makes politics smell better?

    Redding is amazing. Princes Meg, another Quean Palin of Tea Party endorsement, and darling of the Redding Teabaggies, will win in Redding, where a startling many of Reddings COTs (conservatives on tea) believe Obama is satin incarnated, is not an American Citizen, is a Muslim and a Hitler protégé. Oh, that’s why we’re voting for Meg.

    Meg, whose mission is to punish poor for losing their jobs, stop unemployment, cut taxes for billionaires, export tens of thousand’s of Middle Class jobs and people of color (like the people that cleaned her toilets for YEARS until the hypocritical truth was exposed), who as a board member helped guide an position Golden Sachs to be the drain the US economy is circling on the way to becoming a third word county, while making the top 10% of the oligarchy, that control 70% of the American wealth even RICHER at the cost to the Middle Class, will win Redding but THANK GOD not California!

    Please people, get real, buck up and take a stand! Vote who you will but do not let people tell you “oh, it’s all so mess and so not nice. I’ll just sit it out…… Step up to the plate!

    • Avatar Johnnybravo says:

      So let me get this straight, Meg employs this person that had a c.a drivers license, social security card, and had said she was legally in this country and you blame Meg? That's funny. How much money has good old Jerry Brown gotten from special interest? Code pink? And again the war on the rich, it reminds me of Stalin making the rich land owners the enemies of Russia right before they killed them and took their land. And you bring up Obama, ok so tell me what man would spend so much money to block a request to show a birth certificate? (a real one ). But to tell you the truth its not the tea party folks bring up that fact it you lib's that keep trying to label the tea party, so why do you fear the tea party? Lower taxes for all, stop illegal migration, less spending, sounds real bad to me, dang them tea party folks lol.

  23. Avatar Dolores says:

    Paul,
    thanks for a GREAT commentary. Very well said!