Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Winning is Losing For Brown's Tax Plan

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"Here's your guarantee: you lose."

That's what the political consultant played by Peter Boyle told the reluctant U.S. Senate hopeful from California played by Robert Redford in the film The Candidate.

Likewise for Gov. Jerry Brown, who couldn't get a deal from state pols to put his proposal for temporary tax extensions to a vote of the people three months ago -- when it looked like voters might approve the extensions.

But now that polling suggests voter approval of the taxes would be unlikely, Sacramento lawmakers are close to approving a deal that would put the measure on the ballot.

This isn't a coincidence.

Republicans and their backers are warming to the tax extensions precisely because they are a loser.

In other words, the GOP is much more willing to embrace temporary taxes if Republican legislators and pollsters are confident the taxes will never take effect.

So a tax deal becomes a win for them -- if it pairs taxes that will be turned down by voters with policy changes like a spending limit that they want (and are more likely to be approved by voters).

This GOP calculation eerily echoes the plot of The Candidate, the best movie ever made about California politics. 

The 1972 film brings Peter Boyle's political consultant to California, where he tries to persuade the idealistic, non-political son of a governor -- Robert Redford -- to challenge an incumbent U.S. Senator.

Boyle convinces Redford to join the race by giving him a guarantee written on a book of matches: "You Lose."

Redford shouldn't be afraid to jump in the race, Boyle tells him, because he's going to lose and his life won't change as a result.

It doesn't work out that way. On election night, when it's clear that he's won, Redford plaintively asks Boyle, "What do we do now?"

Talk about not having a Plan B.

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