Gov. Pete Wilson suffered a power outage over his Prop. 187 assault on illegal immigrants. Gov. Gray Davis self-destructed over runaway spending policies that hurt just about everybody. And the politically ambivalent Arnold Schwarzenegger's big ideas went up in the cigar smoke emitted from the tent where he schmoozed with cronies from both sides of the aisle.
Gov. Jerry Brown is in a different position. Having been there before, and now with super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, he can do just about anything he wants. So what happened in the recently concluded legislative session offers some guidance about where California is headed.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story misstated the proposition regarding people not in this country legally.
Take for instance the multitude of issues affecting the quarter of the California population who are legal or illegal immigrants from other countries — about twice the national average. From what went down in the state Legislature, you might think they mattered more than the 75 percent who are actually U.S. citizens.
The most significant legislation on the subject was a bill that was revived and passed at the last minute with the approval of the seemingly all-powerful governor and even a few Republicans.
It would allow those here illegally to get driver's licenses that would be marked in some way to identify their status so that, theoretically, they couldn't be used to get work, public benefits or vote.
Despite the complaints from some that this is a reward for illegal behavior, it is long overdue. It will prompt a lot of the 1.4 million eligible immigrants without proper documentation to provide photos and fingerprints to get licenses, buy real insurance and register their vehicles — and leave those without licenses facing legal consequences including fines and 30-day impounds, laws that have been shelved in Los Angeles and other sanctuary cities.
In a lot of places in California, unlicensed drivers account for up to 25 percent of all drivers and a lot of them are responsible for giving the state the highest rate of hit-and-run accidents in the nation.
Other legislation, like allowing legal immigrants to serve as jurors, poll workers and lawyers, seem more like a slap in the face to those who take citizenship seriously.
Do we really not have enough lawyers, poll workers or jurors? Don't people involved in these roles have to have a clear sense of what America is about as the land of the free as well as an allegiance to the Constitution?
And what possible benefit to public safety and public interest is there in the state banning local jurisdictions from holding arrestees in this county without permission until Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can process them? Don't we want to get them out of the country, rather than back on the streets?
It really doesn't matter much, since the governor was full in charge of the legislature in a way we haven't seen in a long time; so he felt the need to offer no more justification for the preoccupation with immigration than that he was sending a message to Washington to pass a long-overdue immigration reform bill.
In fact, he was giving the left what it wanted on largely secondary issues — like making it harder to fire bad teachers and muddling the rules on student testing, like requiring overtime for domestic and home care workers, and making serious youth offenders eligible for early parole unless they got life sentences.
By pandering to the left on these issues, Brown — with a long history of canoeing a little bit left and a little bit right — was able to hold the reins on the legislature's runaway spending proclivities while giving the business community everything it wanted, with one exception: He agreed to a 25% hike in the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
As usual, the governor and legislature left a lot of important issues in a total mess — issues like prison overcrowding and the expanded funding of schools with income from Proposition 30 and sales tax increases. Voters bought the school funding plan believing it would restore harsh cuts imposed on every school district. But instead of delivering on that promise, the governor chose to redistribute the money from good schools to bad schools and left school officials everywhere in the dark about how much money they will actually get.
Still, the day of reckoning is coming, the day when the total domination of California politics leads to the fulfillment of the long-ago prophecy that the nature of democracy in America would inevitably lead to a tyranny of the majority.
That is already true in Los Angeles, where the political system has total and absolute control without effective countervailing power unless dissidents have the resources to go to court.
The real question at this point is when that will happen in the Legislature.
Brown has been able to able to forestall pressure from labor and business to write loopholes into Proposition 13 and the state's environmental laws, and he may even have been able to put them off through the 2014 elections, when it appears the 75-year-old governor intends to seek re-election and the Democrats are likely to retain their super-majorities.
So then what?
When business and labor are as happily in bed with each other as they appear to be, you have to wonder how the 88 percent of workers who aren't in unions and the 99 percent who are not capitalists will fare.
That leaves the fate of California in the hands of Republicans. They could field candidates in swing districts with centrist views that appeal to mainstream voters or they could continue to demand the same ideological purity that we see pushing the nation to the brink of catastrophe in Washington, D.C.
Personally, I believe in a world where everybody is worthy of respect and inclusion, even those I disagree with, if they are sincere in their beliefs.
Why do I feel so alone?
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.