The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 changed the political landscape both within California and nationally. Thirty-two years after its passage candidates for governor still vie to convince voters that they are the strongest supporters of this landmark law. Undoubtedly this would make Prop 13 author Howard Jarvis very happy.
Ironically 1978 was also the last time Jerry Brown ran for governor. The “boy governor” was running for a second term against then Attorney General Evelle Younger. The overwhelming 65% vote for Proposition 13 in the primary election spurred both candidates to scramble to be identified with this big winner.
Brown who had originally opposed the measure and Younger who had given only lukewarm support both approached Howard Jarvis asking him to cut television spots on their behalf.
In a move that many thought crazy Howard Jarvis agreed to accommodate both. Howard was crazy; crazy like a fox. Although he said this did not represent an actual endorsement of either candidate it certainly communicated his approval of both candidates based on their work on behalf of Proposition 13 once it passed.
In ads seen throughout the state Jarvis praised Younger’s defense of Proposition 13 in the courts and Brown’s implementation of the tax limiting measure.
But in the eyes of the public whether or not Howard’s message represented “approval” rather than an “endorsement” was a distinction in search of difference.
So what did Howard hope to accomplish? The wily political veteran knew that by soliciting and accepting his help both candidates had locked themselves into a pact to support Proposition 13. No matter which man was elected governor he would be compelled to be a friend to Proposition 13 — no small matter during the time the law was first going into effect. To Howard the passage and protection of Proposition 13 was much bigger than partisan politics.
So how would Howard regard the current governor’s race that includes the return of Jerry Brown? First he would be pleased that Brown is still touting his “endorsement” from thirty-two years previously and would be chuckling over how his strategy of approving both candidates back then had worked. However he would also be chastising Brown for failing to show more enthusiasm for a measure that has saved homeownership for thousands of Californians and today is still making it easier for new buyers to own their own homes by providing them the security of knowing what their taxes will be from year to year. Brown’s current position of saying he sees no need to change Proposition 13 is hardly the ringing endorsement Howard would demand. And Howard would be wary noting that Brown has chosen to closely ally himself with the state’s government employee unions unquestionably the most extreme anti-Proposition 13 element in the state.
So if Jerry Brown is going to try to reassure taxpayers with stories of his relationship with Howard Jarvis the record must not be left incomplete.
If one wants to know what Howard really thought about Jerry Brown there is no need to speculate. Howard was still vigorously involved in protecting taxpayers when Brown left the governor’s office in 1982 and this is what he had to say “No governor in our state’s history äó_ has been so destructive. From all-out opposition to Proposition 13 and Proposition 7 [indexing the income tax to inflation another Jarvis initiative which passed] to hundreds of millions wasted on the unnecessary med fly disaster [a fruit-fly infestation] Jerry Brown did all wrong. Good riddance!”
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.