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Joe Guzzardi Why is Jerry Brown taking on the toughest job in politics?

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, December 4, 2010 12:00 am

Why Jerry Brown, a 72-year-old career politician, would want to govern California is a mystery. Hasn't he had enough? Maybe Brown wanted to save the state from Meg Whitman, the most unqualified gubernatorial candidate since ... well, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Politics has no tougher job than governing California, the majority minority state with at least three different geographic subsections: north, south and central. What may be good policy for one is bad for another.

Brown's best starting point would be to follow his own long ago advice. Back in the 1970s, during his first gubernatorial term, Brown said, "Small is beautiful," his reference to California politics and lifestyle that earned him the nickname "Moonbeam."

Four decades have passed since Brown made his prescient comment. During those 40 years, in the most improbable of scenarios, Brown is again California's governor-elect.

The one word Brown won't be using to describe today's California and its myriad of woes is "small."

California's huge $20 billion budget deficit grows daily. The unemployment rate is over 12 percent. In the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley, unemployment approaches 20 percent.

Since the state's unemployment insurance fund is broke, California borrows $40 million every day from the federal government to make payments to the out-of-work. Crippling interest accrues daily.

Overpopulation, which feeds the challenges that have forced California to the brink, is Brown's biggest problem.

When Brown paid tribute to "small," California's population was 20 million. Today, it's more than 38 million. Using the U.S. Census Bureau's projection of 2 percent annual growth, by the time Brown's second term expires in 2018, California's population will be more than 45 million.

All of California's woes would be minimized by fewer people. Overcrowding in schools and hospitals, highway congestion as well as the demands on limited water supplies, welfare and dwindling jobs could all be lessened if California had fewer residents.

In what represents good news from a population perspective, people are moving away from California. The problem is the painful reasons behind their departure, like high unemployment, the budget deficit and a sour housing market that appears to have no solution.

By far, California's most worrisome concern is housing, which has yet to reach the bottom. Only a few years ago, people with modest incomes that once would not have qualified for a mortgage could purchase lavish homes. That market, which includes upscale neighborhoods like Newport Beach and Malibu, has completely collapsed. As the real estate market enters its weak winter selling season, Southern California reported that October home sales had their secondworst month in a decade.

Values are further depressed by not only a huge backlog of unsold homes, but also what is known as "shadow inventory," those houses that are close to foreclosure but not yet listed or properties that owners don't want to offer at depressed prices.

In a recent survey, Zillow found that nearly a third of homeowners would consider selling their homes if the market were better. Nationally, that would mean between 11 million and 30 million homes that aren't listed but are waiting on the sidelines.

Employment and real estate are variables beyond Brown's control.

Without strong recoveries in both, Brown can't turn California around. I'll return to my original question: What motivated him? At his age, the golf course should be beckoning.

Joe Guzzardi is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization.

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