A Note from California: This Governor's Race Is Excruciating Torment

by Mat Honan


It’s a glorious goddamned day in San Francisco right now. The temperature is mild, just warm enough to be comforting; just cool enough to keep you from sweating. The sky so blue it almost looks to have been choked to death. And from where I’m sitting, I can look out my window across the Bay, over to Oakland and Berkeley and the rolling hills of the East Bay. It’s not a bad view.

It’s the kind of day that makes me realize why I’m still here, and why I’ll likely never leave. I arrived a dozen years ago, intending for San Francisco to be but a brief stop on my route to a powerful media career in Manhattan. And yet here I am. Content and happy and looking forward to running through Golden Gate Park this afternoon (which I can see out my other window, when I look to my left).

I’ll run to the ocean and back again, stopping to pause and stare out across the Pacific. Outside my open window, I can hear the ca-clack ca-clak ca-clack of a skateboard passing by, and the requisite drunken hoarse-throated hollering of a fulltime outdoorsman who lives in the park, one block below. On the table before me sits a locally-grown tomato, so round and juicy and perfect that to compare it to a sexual organ would only denigrate its form. It’s fucking beautiful.

And yet. Across that same Bay, in those same hills, lurks a menace. Not just to California, but all of America. Yes, I’m talking about Jerry Brown. Governor Moonbeam. Mr. Call-My-800-Number.¹ Mr. “My $1.8 million house is a sign of my thriftiness.” The never-frowning former governor the Dead Kennedys wrote their only good song about. He’s back.

See, here is the thing about Jerry Brown: He is a dangerous madman bent on destruction. By which I mean, he’s essentially ineffectual.

I have no idea what he accomplished during his tenure as the state’s Attorney General. (Well, okay, he did fight Prop 8. Sort of.) Nor could I tell you what he did for Oakland when he was that city’s mayor from 1999–2007. Oakland is a fucking disaster — from its Brown-run gentrification program, to its shoot-first police force, to its entrenched crime problem to its utterly corrupt city hall — and that it did not burn to the ground or slide into the Bay during his reign is, I suppose, a credit to the man.

What I do know is that if Brown is removed from political office, he loses his physical form, and returns to his natural state: swamp gas. You’ll note that Brown’s last private sector job was hosting a radio show. That was because it was one of the few jobs Brown could find that required no corporeal presence. Brown is a purely political creature so embedded in the status quo of California governance that his election would guarantee that nothing will change in the nation’s most populous state. We need a leader who can unite the splintered partisans who have ground governance to a halt in Sacramento. We need someone who will speak forthrightly about the need to eliminate the property tax-capping Prop 13, and who can call for an entirely new constitution with authority. Someone who will lead the people of not only San Francisco and Los Angeles, but also Yuba City (prune capital of the world!) and Visalia and Susanville and a hundred and one other small towns you have never heard of, but in which millions live.

Jerry Brown is not that governor.

And then there’s Meg Whitman, a power-mad, bullying, shoving, former CEO who, after purchasing the Republican primary, seems poised to buy the general election. Perhaps this is appropriate. After all, she is essentially running on the platform that she is a billionaire, and you are not. But as our nation’s first CEO president proved, experience running a business that runs itself doesn’t translate into effective executive governance. (Although, to be fair, I’m sure she will be just as competent a governor as W. was a president.)

I can’t get sense of Whitman. I don’t know what she wants. She has rarely bothered to vote, which I suppose should only be troubling if you believe that voting is a civic duty. Or that democracy works. Or if you are aware that California is a direct democracy state. Or if you think that a person who wants to manage something should be familiar with how it works, or what it is.

Whitman understands none of this. She has no experience in either government, or politics. And thus she will almost certainly accomplish nothing in Sacramento, at a time California desperately needs action. And so our state government will descend further into chaos.

Yes, California. No matter who wins, our next governor will be a horsefuck of a disaster. But you do not care! You do not live in California, so you do not care! And why should you? Â²

I find it hard to care myself, especially on a day like this. Look! There is the Transamerica Pyramid, and before it Alamo Square Park. I can see a dog running across the grass. From downstairs, I can smell my neighbor’s high-grade, legally-obtained marijuana. I’m ready to cut open this tomato, devour it slice by slice. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be okay, even if it is not.

¹ Dear Youth of America. This is a reference to Jerry Brown’s failed 1992 presidential bid, during which he used much of his debate time to urge voters to call his 800 number. 800 numbers were the websites of a bygone era, that existed because it once cost extra money to call a phone number located in a different geographical area. People made these calls using phones that were tethered to one location by means of a cable, and could not move them about. I know, it was totally insane! That’s how old this fucking guy who wants to run our state is.

² At $1.85 trillion, California has the largest economy of any state, and the eighth largest economy in the world. One out of every nine people in the United States lives in California. We make your movies, and wine, and search engines and avocados. Oh, God, no! Not the avocados!

Mat Honan is a Wired magazine contributing editor. He lives in California.

Photo by The Nickster, from Flickr.