Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
What do you think of John Chiang docking the pay of legislators?
–Doubtful in Delano

Dear Doubtful,
A smart move by the state’s top bean counter and the opening move in his 2014 campaign for governor. Of course, if he did this when I was speaker, I would have whacked him good and he would have quickly found the next budget devoid of funding for the controller’s office.

But that was then and now is now. Chiang’s move was smart because he looks like a tight-fisted money-manager devoid of partisan politics – which he isn’t – and a canny political strategist unafraid to make a gutsy move – which he is.

He seems to follow a low-profile for months then pops up all of a sudden, like a snake on a hiking trail. He’s a mix of policy wonk and strategist – two attributes of all good politicians – and he’s ready to put the controller’s footprint on things outside his office, which can be very, very bad if it’s not done right.(Remember Gray Davis and the milk cartons?) Another common mistake of controllers: They want to be on page 1 five days a week and even expect their communications people to get them there. Chiang has avoided this.

I knew when Chiang easily knocked off mighty Joe Dunn that he was a comer and he’s proven me right. He’ll get a chance to prove this again in 2014 when he runs for governor – and he is running, because Brown’s a one-termer. You heard it here first. Mark my words. Lt. Gov. Hair Model will be happily ensconced in Congress by then, and Kamala Harris might find that AG isn’t the best launching platform when your last name isn’t Brown.  

But nobody knows Chiang except his inner circle, and perhaps one in a thousand people would recognize him walking down the street, even in Sacramento, where lots of politicos walk down the street. So along with his steadily expanding name recognition must come a visual recognition linking his face with the job, a tall task given that he is pretty boring, essentially. In a good way, I mean.

Thus far, his move has paid off. Democrats in both houses appear in disarray, especially in the Assembly, where Speaker John Pérez appears to have little taste for combat, and acknowledged that the next budget will take Chiang’s wishes into account. Imagine: The Assembly considering budgeting on the say-so of the controller! The Senate probably won’t be far behind.

It’s an outrage. Yet another, miserable example of the impact of term limits.

Brown is putting together a Plan B budget that cuts the Republicans out of the loop, but wonders how that is going to work and what Brown will have to do to sell it to his increasingly restive Democrats.

The double-whammy of Brown’s veto and Chiang’s order has thrown the 2011 budget negotiations into a spin, and the budget may not be the only casualty after the smoke clears.

California’s much-amended, arcane and opaque constitution is ripe for reform and that’s exactly what may happen. One possibility: A unicameral Legislature, something I pitched for years as an efficient way to improve government. On its face, the single-house Legislature appears unconnected to the budget fights. But in reality having to go through only one house instead of two is a big plus. And it’s easier to lobby one house than two, which I like, although the public seems to think that’s a means to an end engineered by fat-cat lobbyists.

I love big government, of course, but not in the Capitol. I like the Capitol to be lean, and the bureaucracy bloated and comfortable. All great states and nations through history have had huge bureaucracies.

But back to Chiang. Round One goes to you. But let’s see if you can follow the play book with Brown from here on out.
And both of you should remember that old saying: “Never trust a politician.”

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