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Will Proposition 30 Be Jerry Brown's Legacy?

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    MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: California Gov. Jerry Brown (C) speaks as California State Sen. Alex Padilla (R) and Google co-founder Sergey Brin (L) look on during a news conference at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    Elected officials are important not only for what they do (or don't do) in office, but how they are remembered after they leave office.

    The higher the position, the greater the opportunity is to leave a memorable legacy of a key moment in an administration.

    While the legacy is not always noble, the signature event often overpowers everything else that occurs during the leader's stay in office.

    California has a rich history of governors who have been branded for their legacy.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest moment may well have been the passage of AB 32, a cap-and-trade energy bill, which has become a role model for other states as well as the national government.

    The legacy Gray Davis left behind was far less positive, notably the fact that he was the only governor in California (and second in the nation) to be removed by recall of the voters. Clearly, Davis would like to be remembered for other accomplishments, but those have been drowned by the terms of his departure.

    And so it goes for other for governors.

    Pete Wilson's legacy was his firm stand against undocumented immigrants, while his predecessor George Deukmejian is remembered for his tough stand on law and order.

    All of which takes us to current incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown, who is now completing his second year of his current term (remember, Brown served two terms as governor before the term-limits era), and may even serve another four years after his present run.

    What will be his legacy?

    One way or another, it may well be Proposition 30, the Nov. 6 initiative that proposes to raise income taxes for the wealthy for seven years, along with a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax for four years.

    Brown has staked his reputation on the passage of Proposition 30, a proposal that promises to bring in enough revenue to allow the public schools to complete the year without massive cutbacks and stops the bleeding of the state's higher education institutions.

    He has campaigned tirelessly up and down the state, seeking newspaper endorsements and the support of opinion leaders. He has raised more than $38 million, an amount that exceeds every other ballot measure except for the campaign against Proposition 32.

    In addition to substantial amounts from teacher groups and unions, he has secured support from major leaders in industry.

    Most important, Brown has managed to avoid opposition of conservative groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, which has taken no position on Proposition 30. A recent poll conducted by the University of Southern California has Proposition 30 passing by a margin of 55 percent to 36 percent.

    That's beyond the simple majority required for passage, but less than the 60 percent or so proponents of tax-related propositions like to see going into the vote.

    Brown has put his reputation on the line, saying that if it fails, he will carry out the will of the people by making draconian cuts in public education to balance the state budget and not campaign for another tax increase.

    It's a pivotal moment for Brown and the state. And it may well be the legacy of his governorship -- one way or another.

    Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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