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The Game Done Changed, Governor Brown

• November 05, 2012 • 3:21 PM

Election Day is tomorrow, and Prop 30, a California ballot initiative notable for its tax hike on the wealthy to fund education, is hanging by a thread if recent polls are any indication. This is a huge deal, given the budget cuts the state will face without additional revenue.

For the measure’s supporters, it must have been frustrating to read California Governor Jerry Brown’s butt-covering maneuvers (he’s championing the initiative) in the New York Times yesterday:

The money is needed for schools. I don’t want people to wake up the day after the election and say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I am telling you.

This, from a man whose most noteworthy messaging attempt in support of his own measure was unleashing his dog, Sutter, a corgi, as a campaign surrogate for the initiative. Only months earlier, with Prop 30 polling stronger, here was Brown to our own Marc Cooper:

I have an acute sense that people have only so much tolerance for the political face. There was a fellow in Greece called Aristides the Just, and he offended some people in Athens, and they decided to ostracize him. “Why are you voting to ostracize me?” And the guy said, “We are tired of hearing from Aristides the Just.” So based on that, I like to limit my public exposure.

The game has changed since Brown’s first governorship decades ago, and especially since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen’s United decision: as reported today, a bunch of non-Californians (Arizonans!) have managed to funnel (or even launder, depending whom you ask) $11 million into the campaign against Prop 30. It appears the Kansas-based Koch brothers are also significantly involved, meaning national politics impinged on this very local issue in a dramatically non-transparent way. And so Brown’s latest tenure is starting to remind me of one of The Wire’s more poignant subplots…

A major question for another time: If Prop 30 goes down, will it be regarded as an ominous bellwether for Obama’s proposed tax hikes on the wealthy (assuming he’s re-elected, of course)? National polling indicates tremendous support for tax hikes on the wealthy, but the failure of such an initiative in California will surely prompt a host of “if California can’t, how could America?” columns from the DC commentariat.

Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald is an associate editor at Pacific Standard. He has previously worked at The New Republic and Oxford American Magazine.

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