Brown Has Public Opinion On His Side, But So What?

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Read the new Field Poll (see #2371 on this list), and you'd think Gov. Jerry Brown would be getting his way in Sacramento.

More than twice as many people approve of his job performance (48 percent) as disapprove (21 percent). The legislature with which he's negotiating is reviled, with only 16 percent approving of its performance (vs. 70 percent disapproval). Previous polls have shown majority support for Brown's proposal to let voters decide whether to extend Gov. Schwarzenegger's 2009 temporary tax increases for five years.

In other states, a governor with that kind of public opinion advantage would have a hammer. But California doesn't work like other states. California has so many more fiscal rules and supermajority requirements than other places that the governor has very little power to get his way, even when the public agrees with that way. It's the California paradox: our voters, by installing so many rules that allow particular interests and legislative minorities to frustrate the popular will, have used democracy to limit democracy.

The real puzzle with Brown thus isn't why he can't get his way. (The answer to that is easy; the system doesn't let governors have their way, at least on fiscal matters). The real puzzle is why Brown hasn't taken on the governing system, and used his popularity to demand broad reforms that would make budgeting more responsive to the popular will. Yes, such broad-based structural reform is hard, but it's also the only way out.

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