Brown leaves Newsom a managerial mess at DMV

Jerry Brown’s last days as governor have been filled with laudatory media accounts of his half-century-long political career.

Many of the plaudits were deserved. Some were not, such as claims that he single-handedly rescued California from the brink of a financial meltdown. Even he acknowledges that luck – eight years of unleavened economic expansion – played a big role in balancing a budget drowning in red ink.

Missing in the positive descriptions of Brown’s career was any mention of his penchant for shunning responsibility for shortcomings in the state government he managed for 16 years.

Infamously, he replied “shit happens” when asked about huge cost overruns and construction flaws in the project to replace a third of the San Francisco Bay Bridge – and that’s been pretty much his attitude on other problems.

He’s refused, for instance, to accept responsibility for whether a huge change in school finance he proposed and shepherded through the Legislature actually has its intended effect of improving the educations of poor and English-learner students.

In public statements, and even in responses to lawsuits, Brown has taken the attitude that having provided the extra money meant to help those kids, he should not be held responsible for whether it works.

Rather, he preaches a doctrine he calls “subsidiarity,” shifting the onus for what happens to local school officials – a handy rationalization since so far, the Local Control Funding Formula has not appeared to have much positive impact.

And then there’s the Department of Motor Vehicles, the state agency that Californians love to hate – with good reason.

The DMV and its director, career bureaucrat Jean Shiomoto, came under fire in the Legislature last year after revelations of hours-long waits at field offices for even the simplest of transactions.

The Legislature was on the verge of ordering State Auditor Elaine Howle to delve into the agency’s obvious managerial shortcomings when Brown intervened and privately persuaded members of the Legislature’s audit committee to back off. A critical report from Howle would have been a black mark on Brown’s gubernatorial legacy.

But no sooner had Brown dodged that bullet than it was revealed that the DMV had made many errors in automatically registering Californians to vote when they did business with the agency – errors so grievous that Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who oversees California’s election system, demanded a managerial overhaul.

It was embarrassing to Padilla and other Democratic politicians who had touted “motor voter” as a way of expanding voting in a state that has a very low participation level.

Late last year, Shiomoto saw the handwriting on the wall and announced her retirement. But then another DMV imbroglio surfaced.

The federal government had notified DMV in November that it was using a faulty process in implementing “Real ID” driver’s licenses, meant to defeat counterfeiting that would allow terrorists to board airliners.

California had already issued more than two million licenses or identification cards and the DMV claims – or hopes – that they will be honored even though the agency didn’t fully follow federal guidelines for confirming the identity of cardholders.

Beginning this year, DMV said, it will require applicants for Real ID to provide additional proof of legitimacy. Real ID will be required to board commercial aircraft in October 2020 and the agency was already way behind schedule on implementing the program.

The Real ID problem will fuel new efforts in the Legislature for a top-to-bottom audit of the agency’s managerial mess and how incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom deals with them will be revealing.

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