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In Pinpointing What Ails CA, Governor Brown Misses the Boat

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Does Gov. Jerry Brown understand what's wrong with California?

It may seem a strange question to ask of a man who has been in public service in California longer than your blogger has been alive.

And Brown just got a nice burst of attention for taking on a clueless Washington Times reporter who seemed to think the state is in bankruptcy. But Brown's appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday begged that question.

At the end of Brown's joint appearance with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, host David Gregory asked if California was ungovernable compared to what it had been his first time as governor more than 30 years ago.

To that, Brown gave an answer so wrongheaded, so divorced from reality that was it breathtaking. Here it is:

"No, It's different. But I think it actually will be more governable, and one thing we have in California that you don't have in the United States government, we can appeal to the people through the initiative process. So when we have a breakdown of the two parties, we can go directly to the people as the tie-breaker, and I think that's the way we're going to break the logjam."

Ok, this may sound like a boilerplate, and politically timely boilerplate at that; Brown is pushing a ballot initiative to provide funds for his realignment plans and the budget. But it's demonstrably not true.

The state is less governable by almost any standard than it was three decades ago.

There are simply more rules, more complexity, more diversity. The constitution is longer and full of more contradictions. There are so many more budget rules that it may be impossible to balance the budget.

The initiative process hasn't saved anything.

The process has been a major cause (though hardly the only cause) of what makes California so hard to govern. Much of the complexity and contradictory rules and budget formulas were put in place by voters (though legislators, governors and the courts must bear a big share of the blame too).

California's initiative process has made this nearly impossible to change because the only way to change an initiative in California is via another vote of the people.

But what's really outlandish is the notion is that the initiative offers a way to break the logjam. The initiative process, as we've seen again and again, merely adds to the logjam, even when the measure is unintended.

Initiatives can't solve a complex governing system because initiaitves must be limited to one subject. California needs redesign of its system, and redesign is too complicated to be done by initiative.

Hopefully, this was a thoughtless, throwaway line. If Brown really believes what he said, he's beyond stuck. He's looking to a form of solution that can't provide solution. Initiatives are part of the disease. They're not a cure.

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