Political Notebook

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown continues old habit

Over his half-century as a practitioner of California politics, Jerry Brown has proven himself to be consistently inconsistent.

Indeed, he has claimed that tendency as a virtue, once sneeringly dismissing “small minds that slavishly adhere to foolish consistency.”

It should not be surprising, therefore, that skimming through the hundreds of bills from the 2015 legislative session that Brown signed and vetoed reveals little consistency of principle or philosophy other than a willingness to contradict himself.

For example, although Brown first sought the governorship in 1974 as the sponsor of a ballot measure to reform politics, including more filings by politicians on their personal finances, he vetoed a bill (Assembly Bill 10) that would have made those disclosures more detailed.

“This bill,” he wrote, “adds yet more complexity to existing reporting requirements without commensurate benefits, and I am not convinced that this bill will provide more useful information to the public.”

It would have done exactly that for the public, but Brown, having amassed considerable personal wealth, apparently finds greater virtue now in having as much financial privacy as possible for himself and fellow politicians.

One of the odder combinations was his signature on a measure that would allow the terminally ill to end their lives and his veto of another measure that would allow those stricken with “life-threatening conditions” to try experimental drugs.

Brown made his signature on the “right to die” bill a personal matter, saying he might someday want that option for himself, should he face a terminal illness, but denied the “right to try” experimental drugs to those in equally desperate straits. It just made no sense.

It was equally odd that Brown signed a bill to require a few rural California high schools to stop using “Redskins” as a sports team name, thus agreeing that it’s demeaning to Native Americans, but vetoed a measure to remove the names of Confederate figures such as Robert E. Lee from schools and other public buildings.

Thus, he would compel schools to adhere to a new standard of public nomenclature in one instance, while declaring in the other that local officials are “quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom.”

The latter is another version of Brown’s oft-voiced reverence for “subsidiarity” – in essence, letting local officials decide matters for themselves. But he violated it – not for the first time – with his signature on the “Redskins” bill and also in signing Assembly Bill 331.

The measure, carried by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, at the behest of public employee unions, is aimed at shutting down the practice in some cities, called “Civic Openness in Negotiations” or “COIN,” of keeping constituents informed about costs and other facets of pending labor contracts.

It would do so by forcing COIN cities to go through elaborate new procedures for issuing contracts, even under competitive bidding, to private firms.

The unions hope the cities will abandon COIN, hiding contract details from the public, rather than comply with the onerous new rules of AB 331.

It’s not only bad public policy, but violates the “subsidiary” principle Brown is fond of citing when it’s politically convenient for him to do so.

However, maybe only “small minds” would think so.