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Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown was governor of California from 1974 to 1982. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels at the Pierre Hotel in New York on the evening of Oct. 7.

NATHAN GARDELS: Isn't this recall election in California really a legal coup d'etat? Only 1 million people out of California's 34 million sign a petition, and then whoever gets the most votes wins.

JERRY BROWN: No, it is not a coup d'etat. It is really more akin to a vote of confidence in parliament. The progressive reformist California governor, Hiram Johnson, designed it that way in the early 20th century to disrupt the party duopoly -- and it is having that effect today, in 2003. Though Schwarzenegger ran as a Republican, he was the candidate of voter rebellion who came from outside the party machinery.

GARDELS: But a vote of confidence in parliament requires a majority of elected parliament members in most countries, not a simple plurality, as is the case in California.

BROWN: Well, this is a rather raw version of plurality versus majority. It could happen that Gray Davis, the sitting governor, will get more votes than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but still lose.

GARDELS: How can that be described by any definition as democratic?

BROWN: It can't.

GARDELS: Is there a right-wing conspiracy on the part of the Republican Party, in your view, that has tried to take elections in Florida, redesign voting districts in Texas and overthrow the California governor?

BROWN: That may be true. But the real issue is what the aims of the Republicans are, and what are the consequences. They are trying to hold down taxes and expand the military. That's it. But that is not a viable long-term plan. We Americans are spending more than anyone else in the world on the military, and our taxes are lower than anybody else's. Something has to give. That is just not viable.

GARDELS: In California now, don't you have just what the American Founding Fathers were most wary of: a directly plebiscitary democracy in which whim, not wisdom, rules? The whole deliberative function of governance so important to James Madison is simply bypassed.

Because of voter-mandated initiatives and referendums over the years, almost 50 percent of the California budget -- from spending on schools to prisons -- is already set. Then, another 35 percent of the budget is federally mandated ...

BROWN: ... and also by politically "untouchable" items. For example, you can't cut back on aid to retarded children or maintaining highways.

So, the governor, in reality, has discretionary spending capability of about 1/2 of 1 percent. The idea that a governor of California has any real decision-making capacity is highly exaggerated.

However, George W. Bush, by his dramatically excessive borrowing to fund the war in Iraq on top of tax cuts, profoundly affects the American economy, California included. It will ultimately weaken America in the long term. Bush thinks that as long as people are focused on Osama bin Laden, they are not focused on the erosion of the sinews of American culture and economy.

Bush has cut taxes without cutting spending. There is a total sense of unreality about that which Schwarzenegger seems destined to replicate in California.

GARDELS: You talk seamlessly about Schwarzenegger and Bush. Even though California is nominally the sixth largest economy in the world, it is really totally dependent on the American and global economy.

BROWN: The idea that California is somehow autonomous economically is complete rhetoric. The economy doesn't stop in California or America; it is a porous, interconnected global flow of money and goods.

The key variable is the Bush shift to unilateralism and intrusive social engineering of a country called Iraq, which has little to do with the daily lives of Californians and other Americans. Schwarzenegger is inescapably tied to that agenda.

Gov. Schwarzenegger in California will only mean more of what Bush has given America: greater polarization between rich and poor exacerbated by a complete waste of resources in Iraq.

GARDELS: Ronald Reagan came to office in 1965 facing a huge budget deficit from your father. Though he campaigned against "big government" and taxes, in his first week in office he raised taxes by $1 billion! Will Arnold do that?

BROWN: The magnitude of the California fiscal deficit is so large, and the legal constraints preventing him from borrowing, can only mean that Schwarzenegger must raise taxes substantially. The only other choice is to double tuition at state colleges, release felons from jail and end health care for 600,000 poor children. This would create a kind of social polarization we've never seen in California before.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/8/03)