When Jerry Brown was serving his first stint as governor three decades ago, he was often accused — accurately, for the most part — of flip-flopping on issues.
One example: Shifting overnight from a fierce critic of Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax measure, into a self-proclaimed “born-again tax cutter” who tried to ride the anti-tax tide into the White House.
When accused, Brown would figuratively shrug and often quote some variation of Walt Whitman’s aphorism that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Brown’s back in the governorship, having learned the hard way that a reputation for flip-flops is a political liability. However, his fellow Democrats in the Legislature demonstrated several times this year a penchant for inconsistency, even to the point of reneging on promises.
The most obvious example is Senate Bill 202, which not only requires all initiative ballot measures to go on the November general election ballot, but also shifts one measure to 2014, even though it was part of a 2010 political deal that broke a record-long stalemate on the state budget.
Democrats and their union allies despise the measure, a form of spending limit, but under the traditional, if unwritten, rules of politics, once they agreed to place it before voters in 2012, they should have kept their word.
So why did they renege?
Because they could, and Brown went along by signing the bill.
It was, however, not the only example. Another late-session bill that Brown signed, Assembly Bill 1319, basically bans the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups, even though there’s no compelling scientific evidence of danger.
Whatever other effect it may have, AB 1319 flies directly in the face of 2008 legislation that promised to have all such chemical issues submitted to a rigorous, science-based process of evaluation, rather than be subject to legislating based on supposition and emotion.
Still another example is Senate Joint Resolution 13.
Backed by unions, it urges the federal secretary of energy to reject permits for a wind-powered electrical generation project in Baja California — alleging that it would cost American jobs — even though the Legislature voted earlier in the year for a renewable energy program that specifically allows power to come from such out-of-state, but nearby, sources.
These measures send a message that when the California Legislature issues a policy decree, it’s not to be trusted — that for expedient political reasons, lawmakers will renege.
It means Republicans will be even more reluctant to make budget deals with Democrats. It means that business executives cannot trust lawmakers to give them regulatory certainty.
It also means the Capitol operates on whim, more like a tin-pot dictatorship than a trustworthy government.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.