Compromise is a rare and often courageous thing in politics, but this week’s agreement between Governor Jerry Brown and a mid-level special interest was neither rare nor courageous.
Compromise in politics usually means ceding something to a major player on the other team—not a relatively weak member of your own team. This wasn’t SEIU, CTA, the Ghost of CCPOA, or any number of influential special interests who have bought our Democratic leaders and control California’s government. This was the somewhat unknown California Federation of Teachers, a group with relatively little money or influence in the Capitol.
The Governor’s inability to muscle a minor-leaguer out of the picture is remarkable. He is just over a year into what could be eight-year tenure, so he has a lot of time left in power. He is relatively popular, particularly compared to other Governors and the Legislature. He has shown an ability to raise significant money from unions and business interests alike. He’s a charming, earnest leader who has delivered for the education lobby.
Brown sold himself as the adult in the room who was going to force Sacramento to swallow the hard medicine it needs. At the end of a long career in public service, Brown promised straight talk and courageous leadership. This week was the move of an expedient politician, not a principled leader.
Though he has abandoned his principles (he said just last week that the CFT approach was bad policy, right before he adopted it) it may prove to be the right political move. If he wins his tax hike in November he may save his first term; if he loses you’re going to start seeing stories about whether or not other Democrats will challenge him in 2014.
On paper, Brown should have had no problem pushing CFT aside. The fact that that he got rolled so easily is a troubling sign for his operation moving forward.