California is like a beautiful woman who always falls for losers. In just the past 13 years, voters put on the governor’s throne Gray Davis, who was so bad he was dumped from power in the state’s historic 2003 recall. He was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to “terminate” California’s problems, especially its endemic $20 billion yearly budget deficits, but treated his campaign promises with the same contempt as he did his wedding vows.
In 2010, voters figured they would go with experience and turned to Jerry Brown, who previously served two terms as governor (1975-83). In 1976, columnist and inveterate California mocker Mike Royko, then at the old Chicago Daily News, wrote that Brown appealed to “the moonbeam vote.” Royko later disavowed the moniker, but it stuck.
In Brown’s first days in office in 2011, I had a minuscule hope that he might have a “Nixon goes to China” moment on the state budget. In 1979, during his first go-around as governor, Brown endorsed, and voters passed, the Gann Limit, which prevented state spending from increasing faster than the rise in population plus inflation. It worked well until 1990, when voters, duped into thinking they were voting for road construction, passed an initiative that repealed Gann, sparking two decades of budget chaos.