California's race for governor is too close to call, because after spending $140 million or more, 54-year-old Republican candidate Meg Whitman has yet to put away her 72-year-old Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, who was elected governor of the state for the first time when he was half his present age.
Brown, now the state's attorney general, has been hanging in there, despite having to apologize for an aide who used the word "whore" in a discussion of Whitman's relationship to a police union. Brown saved most of the $32 million he raised for the last weeks, while Whitman has spoken of supplementing the roughly $20 million she has raised for her first run at elected office with as much as $150 million of her own.
Whitman's campaign has been troubled, not only by the staggering weight of its media buys but also by her story of employing an undocumented worker unawares. Given the salience of the immigration issue in California, this episode has raised as many eyebrows as the sexual allegations against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did when he first ran in 2003.
Brown and Whitman each have much to offer on the positive side, too, of course, and in the end they are probably the smartest pair of major-party nominees for governor anywhere in the country. So why does either one want to run a state with a population approaching 40 million, seemingly insuperable problems and a paralyzing partisan split in its power structure?
Some say the campaign has been so negative and nasty that both deserve to lose.
But wouldn't it be far more fitting punishment if both won?
It's just a modest proposal no one's admitted to thinking of before: Sacramento with not one but two governors. Partners. Co-governors. An executive tag team.
Make them work out their differences before proposing a budget, or flip a coin before making an appointment or commuting a death sentence. At a minimum, it would make great reality TV.
(One caveat: We couldn't stage it in the governor's mansion. Brown passed on living there when he was governor in the 1970s and rented an apartment. For her part, Whitman can probably afford something much nicer.)
Sure, they're going to remain at odds after the ballots are counted and they've both been declared the winner. But what difference would that make in Sacramento? Who would notice? This is a state where keeping officeholders at war with each other is practically part of the Constitution.
And besides, as a tandem, they might be able to at least talk to both sides of the divide, even if they can't bring them together. That puts them one step ahead of the last few governors.
After all, here you have a woman and a man, a business perspective and a government perspective, a hands-on doer and a world-class talker, a Republican and a Democrat, someone who made a billion on the Internet, and someone who started his education training to be a Jesuit priest. This is covering quite a few of the bases.
This fall, the big miracle in Sacramento was the enactment of a budget more than three months late. The nominally Republican Schwarzenegger has been at war with the heavily Democratic state legislature throughout his seven years in office. And when either side has tried to end-run the other with ballot initiatives and other maneuvers, it's usually worked.
Civic-spirited or high-minded efforts to break the logjam? Not so much.
Much of the credit or blame, to be fair, goes to the voters themselves. They have repeatedly enacted laws of their own through ballot initiatives that force the state to spend on certain programs (such as education) while also limiting its power to tax anyone to pay for it. The state continues to cling to its Proposition 13, which limits revenue from property tax increases and favors long-time property owners over more recent ones.
It also requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. That's a high bar considering that most Republican legislators would rather resign.
But that's just for starters, the state also has a voter-enacted provision that requires a super-majority each year for the adoption of a state budget. It's a marvelous notion to induce compromise and consensus, but as a practical matter it is a disaster nearly every year. And it hamstrings public governance of an economy that would rank eighth in the world if California were a country.
A generation of gerrymandering, raised to an art by computerized line drawing, has created too many llegislative districts the Democrats cannot lose and too many the GOP cannot lose. Therefore, each party's primaries tend to produce the most partisan, least-compromising candidates available for the fall (when the outcome in each district is all but a foregone conclusion). Who can be surprised when these people get to the Capitol and turn out to be hard liners?
Given all this, what would be more appropriate than a standoff in the governor's office suite, too?