Since 2010, Governor Jerry Brown has given the state of California at least a facade of political leadership that casual national observers might perceive as competent or at least adult. That Brown has perpetuated a policy of massive tax increases and cynically used climate change and immigration politics to mask governmental dysfunction and massive, long term state pension and healthcare liabilities is probably only apparent to the local, astute observer.
However, Brown is term limited in 2018 and regardless of how problematic his performance has been, the prospects for his replacement are downright horrifying. A December poll pegged former San Francisco Mayor and Lieutenant-Governor Gavin Newsom at 23 per cent of the vote, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at 18 per cent and other challengers trailing in the single digits.
That both frontrunners are Democrats is significant. California has instituted a statewide policy of a June primary election that eliminates all but the two top leading vote getters who face each other in a November runoff. That the top two in most elections are Democrats insures that the state will remain a one party oligarchy and in this case that one of these two Democrats will be the next governor.
If nothing else, these two individuals personify the mediocrity that voters in this state are subjected to on a routine basis. Newsom’s grasping ambition has been evident since his days as a San Francisco City supervisor and entrepreneur bankrolled by members of the socialite Getty clan.
Elected San Francisco mayor in 2004, Newsom barely defeated a Green party candidate who became the alternative to Newsom’s wealthy, high society connections. At the time of his election, Newsom was married to attorney and high profile television personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, who he divorced in 2005.
He immediately embraced gay marriage as a priority, propelling the city to issue same sex marriage licenses. While the move set off years of referendums and litigation, it certainly ingratiated Newsom with San Franciscans and predictably generated nationwide attention. In 2007 he ran unopposed for re-election. His vow to eliminate homelessness met with less success, as any recent visitor to his former domain will attest.
Newsom announced in 2009 that he would run for Governor. His campaign went nowhere for two basic reasons. One was that Jerry Brown was seeking the same office, but the other was even more fundamental. Since his earliest days, Newsom’s evident slickness and glib, vacuous rhetoric has alienated most statewide voters who found him smarmy and calculating.
This skepticism seemed completely justified when it was revealed that Newsom had engaged in an affair with his best friend’s wife, especially as said best friend also happened to be his chief of staff, who immediately resigned. Trailing Brown by 20 points, Newsom then officially filed to run for Lieutenant-Governor, a position that has no relevance unless the Governor dies or is incapacitated.
Serving as a human place-holder for four years did nothing to enhance Newsom’s reputation but with no other viable political options, he successfully ran for re-election in 2014. Possibly to combat his image as a womanizing cheat, in 2011, Newsom married Jennifer Siebel, a wealthy, well connected member of San Francisco’s social and business elite (surprise!). Only six years later, and just in time for his gubernatorial campaign, sudden family man Newsom and his wife have four photogenic children. Other than that, Newsom has literally done absolutely nothing for seven years.
A long time ago, Antonio Villaraigosa was considered a rising, Democratic star with major national potential. Elected to the California State Assembly from the hardscrabble East LA neighborhood of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa quickly became influential as the Speaker of the Assembly.
After an unsuccessful race in 2001, Villaraigosa was eventually elected the first Mexican-American mayor of LA in over a century, in 2005. Unfortunately, this would be the high water mark of Villaraigosa’s popularity. His image as a competent, industrious public servant quickly melted under greater public scrutiny and the demands of actually having to administer one of America’s largest and most problematic cities.
Efforts to reform the school system, address the worst traffic in the nation and fix roads pockmarked with car-swallowing potholes went nowhere. Revelations that Villaraigosa employed more staff members than the President of the United States and spent only fifteen per cent of his time on actual city business began to perpetuate the perception that he was a PR driven, empty suit merely interested in the pursuit of higher public office.
Spending small amounts of time on actual city work was his hallmark and the result of frequent Villaraigosa boondoggles around the world and across the country, usually accompanied by dozens of staff members, at public expense. Trips to locations like Israel, London, Hawaii, New York, Washington, DC and Chicago raised eyebrows, especially when their purpose was officially described as “fund-raising.” By the end of his second term, Villaraigosa was practically a laughingstock, reduced to attending the Republican National Convention.
Villaraigosa has also had his share of questionable ethical behavior. His fathering of two illegitimate children in his twenties was largely a secret during his early political career. His actual surname is Villar, the “Raigosa” emanates from his first wife, an initially charming decision to combine their names when the couple married.
Unfortunately, Villaraigosa’s proclivity for adultery wrecked the marriage, the final straw occurring in June, 2007 when it was revealed that he was involved in an affair with a local Telemundo reporter that the Mayor was granting exclusive interviews. His wife filed for divorce shortly thereafter. Villaraigosa remarried in June of 2016.
While it still retains an international reputation as a social and economic powerhouse, California is a state beset with some fundamentally troubling concerns. Factoring in the cost of living, California has the nation’s highest poverty rate at 20.6 per cent and the worst homelessness in the country.
The official number of undocumented inhabitants is approximately 2.5 million people and is probably far higher, a development that strains already depleted government infrastructure. While the state population is growing, affluent taxpayers are leaving, a development California is addressing with additional gasoline and sales taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation.
The problem that literally trillions of dollars of pension and medical care liabilities will come due in future decades has never been addressed responsibly by anyone in governmental leadership. The near certainty that the next governor of the state will be either Newsom or Villaraigosa and that the voters and taxpayers will have to choose between these two mediocrities is utterly appalling.