California’s chronic mess has left many governors defeated 

When former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spectacular betrayal of his marriage was discovered, some pundits tried to make it connect to his failings as governor, but one has nothing to do with the other.

Mostly, when Schwarzenegger failed, it was not because of his own lapses. California’s political structure generates failure regardless of who occupies the office.

Gov. Jerry Brown, his successor, has spent all of his adult life in politics and has no history of personal scandal. But he is not faring any better than Schwarzenegger on cutting the budget deficit.

By now, we all know that illicit sex involving political figures is nothing new. Some who were touched by scandal were effective political officeholders and some were duds. Schwarzenegger’s record as governor, positive and negative, stands on its own and has nothing to do with the out-of-wedlock child he fathered before entering politics.

On the positive side, he engaged on issues that other politicians had ignored, such as the state’s deteriorating infrastructure, water supply, flood safety and reforming the truly scandalous way in which legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years. And he made some progress.

That said, he made many errors of political judgment, mostly out of naivete, squandered his early opportunity to balance the budget and left a whopping deficit behind.

Schwarzenegger certainly should be held responsible for his mistakes — especially his ill-begotten decision to partially pardon the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who took part in a vicious and fatal knife attack.

U.S. Supreme Court Judge Anthony Kennedy, a Sacramento native, made California’s crisis of governance part of last week’s decree that the state must end overcrowding in its prison system — even if that requires releasing tens of thousands of inmates.

“The court cannot ignore the political and fiscal reality behind this case,” Kennedy wrote. “California’s Legislature has not been willing or able to allocate the resources necessary to meet this crisis absent a reduction in overcrowding. There is no reason to believe it will begin to do so now, when the state of California is facing an unprecedented budgetary shortfall.”

In other words, the prison crisis reflects California’s chronic inability to govern itself effectively. And that certainly cannot be pinned on Schwarzenegger.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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