“Amazingly”, Anyone Can Run For California Governor and Get Votes

Link: Same Race, Same Opponents, Three Decades Later

“Mr. Darling, you see, is running for governor, going head to graying head in the Democratic primary with Mr. Brown, a man he last challenged in 1978, when Mr. Brown was governor and Mr. Darling was trying to stitch up the San Andreas fault to prevent earthquakes. (More on this later.)

“Amazingly, Mr. Darling, who used a fake hand to greet voters and a pair of fake lips to kiss babies, got more than 60,000 votes in the 1978 primary.”

I guess you could call it “amazing” if a crackpot received 60,000 votes in a small city council election or something, but 6.9 million Californians voted in the gubernatorial election in 1978. That means that this guy got 0.87% of the vote — pretty much what you’d expect from a fringe candidate. It’s hardly fair to call that “amazing,” unless you’re working from a journalistic playbook that regularly characterizes California as provincial and backward. All things considered, I’ll take the occasional crackpot on the ballot over New York’s seemingly endless succession of corrupt and inept politicians any day of the week.

I’m actually in favor of this guy’s single issue (repealing the undemocratic and crippling prohibition on new taxes without a two-thirds majority in the legislature). But as the campaign for governor begins in earnest with the entry of Jerry Brown into the race, I’m concerned with the way that the national media lazily characterizes our politics. When national writers focus on quaint stereotypes of California it’s not only lazy, but more importantly, it screws up the political discourse.

Brown, in particular, often did not got a fair shake from the national press, who were often more interested in spinning up simple amusing anecdotes than covering actual issues. Focusing on the personal and ideological quirks of the various candidates — it makes news reporters complicit in the homogenization of political discourse, forcing readers to look at everything through a very narrow (and, essentially, conservative) lens. And a lot of Brown’s different thinking (such as Brown’s pledge during one of his presidential runs to only accept $100 donations from individuals — no donations from corporations or lobbyists — can only be characterized as genius).

It’s worth pointing out that the nonsensical and mindless nickname given to Brown by the national press was not something that came out of California (it was assigned to him by a Chicago columnist, Mike Ryoko, and was barely on the radar during the election of 1978 — it certainly didn’t hurt him in the election, since he won it handily). The writer of this piece, NY Times San Francisco bureau chief Jesse McKinley, resurrected this lazy and inept characterization in another piece written in March.

I’ve seen a few pieces that refer to Brown’s “comeback,” which is only half-true. He never really went anywhere — he’s dedicated his life to public service and has spent the last twelve years in elected office (as mayor of Oakland and state Attorney General).

Importantly for those who might characterize Brown as a far-left progressive, Brown has smartly gone on record as saying that he won’t approve new taxes without the approval of California voters. This is very smart, since it defuses the most likely Republican attack against him, although I worry that it may be the kind of campaign promise that backs him into a corner once he regains the governor’s office. We have serious problems in California that the mindless conservative mantra of empowering big business and lower taxes simply won’t solve.