Gubernatorial Performance in California

Nearly always too soon to tell.

When asked by Henry Kissinger in 1972 for his thoughts on the French Revolution, Chinese Premier Zhou En-Lai reportedly answered that it was “too soon to tell.”* The same may be said about gubernatorial performance in California. For example, who knew in 1968 that the granting of collective bargaining rights to public employees by Ronald Reagan would lead to public employee domination of California’s politics today? Or that Jerry Brown’s support for California’s Determinant Sentencing Law in 1976 would lead to an explosion in California’s prison population decades later?

Nowhere is Zhou’s admonition more apparent than in California’s budgets. Because California’s tax revenues are dependent upon capital gains, California governors always shine during bull markets. Gray Davis rode the first dot-com boom to consideration as presidential material. As housing and stocks roared, some suggested amending the US Constitution so Arnold Schwarzenegger could run for president. A long bull market has Jerry Brown thinking about running for president again. But bull markets always end and when they do, an admonition from Warren Buffett takes over: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” After markets fell Davis was recalled and Schwarzenegger departed office with less than robust approval ratings. Brown is hoping revenues don’t fall before he leaves office January 2019.

California’s political history is littered with deferred consequences from actions taken by governors long ago. A silly budget maneuver by Pete Wilson in 1991 led to a change in fiduciary obligations at state pension funds that contributed to massive unfunded pension liabilities that are devouring funding for schools, colleges and universities today. That’s why GFC bases its support for candidates on characteristics as much as policy. We believe that intelligent, financially-literate and temperamentally-well-suited legislators who care about something greater than themselves will best serve citizens over the twelve years legislators are permitted to serve.

While GFC is not endorsing a candidate for governor (we and the legislators we support must work with whoever wins), voters should consider employing a similar approach when selecting a candidate to support, with one addition: Also consider the ability of a candidate to obtain 62 votes in the legislature for their agenda.

*Some believe that Zhou thought Kissinger was asking about the French protests of 1968. Still, just as with the performance of California governors, four years is also too soon to tell.