Reading Kevin Drum today about how Californians hate all their pols got me thinking about just how pathetic their pols have been -- not in the Senate, where I think both of California's Senators are perfectly good pols, or in the House, where they've produced several outstanding Members, but at the statewide level. Or, more specifically, their gubernatorial candidates. OK, granted, this is mostly subjective, but, that's not going to stop me. I lived in CA through three elections for governor, well, as I said, I think that Diane Feinstein is a pretty good politician. Mostly, though, it's been a lot of hacks and nonentities. That includes winners (Gray Davis, George Deukmejian), losers (Bill Simon, Phil Angelides) and Browns (Jerry, Kathleen, Jerry again). I can't say I know anything about Houston I. Flournoy, even whether he was a good political scientist, but I think I'm on fairly safe ground in saying that as a pol, he wasn't exactly a heavyweight. Tom Bradley, maybe? I suppose I'd think differently about him (and some of the others) had he won, but then again that can cut both ways, can't it?
I don't know...as I said, it's subjective, but I don't see any Bill Clintons there, or Mario Cuomos, or Tommy Thompsons, or Jeb Bushes. All of whom have various weaknesses, but all of whom have or had excellent reputations as pols, whatever one thinks of their ideology. (One of the Iron Laws of Politics, by the way, applies here: all governors with national reputation are thought to be overrated by their actual constituents, who think that if the rest of the nation only knew what we know...).
Now, Pat Brown, everyone agrees, was first-rate. I'll skip over Ronald Reagan -- he certainly wasn't a nonentity, but if you think he was a good pol, start the string after him; if not, start it after Pat Brown. At any rate, it's been at least a very long time since California had a governor who was well-regarded, and most of the losing candidates didn't really get anyone very excited, either.
I have no idea why California doesn't produce good governors. Expensive campaigns? Screwed up political system (the initiatives, the supermajority-requiring budget, the other initiative-imposed constraints)? Something about the way the parties are organized? I suppose they haven't had any disasters on the scale of Rod Blagojevich or Evan Mecham...hmmm, that's a good question: how many states have had a governor either resign in disgrace, wind up in jail, or both over the last, say, fifty years? Just off the top of my head, we have IL, AZ, NJ, NY, OH, LA, all in the last few years.* Can anyone top Arizona, with two? I'm sure I'm forgetting some; feel free to leave them in comments.
No, that's not California's style; the poster boy California governor since Reagan is, in my opinion, clearly Gray Davis. Dull, never had any enthusiastic support to begin with, reelected anyway because the opposition was even weaker, and then disposed of and forgotten as soon as people were able to do so.
*Want to be clear about one of these, New Jersey: that Jim McGreevey was gay was no disgrace, but stepping down because of an affair does constitute "resigning in disgrace."