Even if it was only casual interest, Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for state data on the oil and mining potential on his backcountry ranch shows a lack of judgment. It’s a misstep he should own up to and acknowledge.
Brown’s move was revealed by the Associated Press, which reported that last year the governor asked the state agency overseeing oil drilling to give him an appraisal on his 2,700-acre spread in Colusa County, a longtime family holding he uses as a weekend getaway.
It should surprise nobody that within 24 hours of his phone call to a top official, the governor was hand-delivered a 51-page heap of data, maps and information. If you have any further questions, governor, don’t hesitate to call.
The upshot was a big nothing, since the chances of riches beneath the soil were roughly zero. The Colusa countryside isn’t east Texas, which the savvy Brown may have suspected. Also, the paperwork was within the public domain, with no special probing or testing involved. The episode could be an example of Brown’s restless curiosity about the ranch land in his family since Gold Rush days.
But it’s thoughtless at best, with a dash of hypocrisy. Brown, who has cast himself as a international figure campaigning for renewable energy, wanted to know about the chances for oil and gas on his property. His clean-and-green image, which has made him a leader is redirecting California energy policy, is taking a beating.
Then there’s the big-shot handling of the issue. He expected special treatment and got it. A governor doesn’t wait in line at the DMV or dangle a phone while on hold. He goes straight to the top and gets a personal answer on his desk within hours. Politicians aren’t like everyone else, especially when it comes to tending to their economic interests.
Also of note is a follow-up message from Brown to the oversight agency reminding the top executive to avoid putting the request in a traceable e-mail. Brown made a quiet phone call to ask for a personal favor on the taxpayers’ dime and didn’t want to leave any evidence.
Brown hasn’t said a word about the episode, but his surrogates have put out a message that the governor hadn’t done anything wrong. Anyone can ask and receive similar data upon request.
The nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog suggested that other property owners consider doing just that, and 200 people sent in requests for a Brown-like report. Not surprisingly, all were told to supply more details and wait for the results. That’s the type of bureaucratic response no governor is ever going to get.