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Walters: Brown reaping what he sowed

  • (TOM MEYER / meyertoons.com)

The biblical injunction “as ye sow, so shall ye reap” has a political version — what goes around comes around. Jerry Brown’s career is a particularly ironic example.

During his first governorship, he was in perpetual campaign mode, reacting to exigencies of the moment with little thought to long-term consequences. But they were waiting when he returned to office after a 28-year absence.

Brown’s decision to become a “born-again tax cutter” after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 — slashing state taxes while ramping up state support of local governments and schools — created operating deficits that haunted the state for decades, culminating in a Brown-sponsored tax increase last year.

By winning approval of a major water bill without broad popular and stakeholder support, he gave opponents of the “peripheral canal” an opening to kill it with a ballot measure, thus paralyzing water policy for decades. He’s now supporting a new version of the plan that voters rejected in 1982.

Then there’s the prison crisis.

As crime rates rose in the 1970s, it became a burning political issue. Brown, who faced re-election in 1978 against the state’s Republican attorney general, was concerned that crime fears could bite him. In response, Brown became a born-again crime fighter, signing lock-’em-up bills that a panicked Legislature sent to his desk.

Not surprisingly, the prisons, then holding about 20,000 felons, became crowded. Officials began clamoring for new capacity. Brown stalled but eventually agreed to place a prison bond issue on the ballot.

That began a massive construction program that added nearly two dozen prisons. Even so, as crime laws continued to proliferate, the number of inmates climbed to a peak of 170,000, and prisons became dangerously overcrowded.

Multiple lawsuits ensued. By the time Brown re- entered the office in 2011, federal courts had seized control of prison health care and were demanding an end to overcrowding.

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