Things to look for in 2013

Jerry Brown Photo: sonya abrams

At the beginning of every year, millions of Americans try to estimate how the new year will shape their lives. Psychics have their brief annual moments in the media spotlight as they’re asked to make claims of significant events in the coming year. They’re usually wrong, but it amuses people to think the future is predictable.

I’m not a psychic, so I will not try to tell you the change in GDP or the Super Bowl final score. But for everyone who follows the news and pays attention to current events, it can be helpful to look at some trends that will likely play important roles in shaping that news and those current events.

Local political scene: Expect the dynamic between Mayor Ed Lee and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to remain a central issue this year, even if plans to recall the sheriff have lost steam. Lee went out on a limb to try to remove the sheriff, and he’s not going out of his way – or even in his way – to work with the reinstated Mirkarimi, so there’s an unresolved tension that can not be ignored.

Mirkarimi is working to repair his public profile, as well he must, because his performance as sheriff and any possible future political career are at stake. If Lee wants to be remembered as the mayor of the business rebound and the no-drama City Hall, he will need to deal with this one way or another. Want to guess if Rose Pak will play a role?

State political scene: When Governor Jerry Brown was barnstorming the state this fall campaigning for his Proposition 30 school funding measure, he was laser-like in his dedication to remaining on-message. Heading into an auditorium to discuss the proposition, he passed a phalanx of journalists trying to ask him about lots of different things, but Brown merely repeated “Yes on Prop 30, yes on Prop 30.”

The voters gave him his wish, giving him some money to shovel into one budget hole. Now what? Kirk O. Hanson, the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, told me in a Week to Week political discussion program that “This is why, in order to have 30 on the ballot, we elected Jerry Brown. We elected Jerry Brown and said, ‘Use the fact that you’re an old fella that doesn’t have another election to run to do the right thing.’”

He might or might not have another election to run, but he’s got the rest of what will be a very busy term to fill. What is his agenda? Prop 30 was a stopgap measure to simply prevent things from getting even worse in our state schools; it didn’t make things better. If Brown is to have a successful governorship, he has to use his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to continue to make big changes in the state’s governance, especially including spending. Watch for the announcement of his next priority to see if he’s going big or if he gives any indication that he thinks things are stable now. If he goes big, he’s got a chance to be one of the great governors in the state’s history; if he thinks things are stable, he’s delusional.

National political scene: The year 2012 ended with a high-stakes standoff in Washington over the so-called fiscal cliff. As of this writing, things are still unresolved and the Mayans are looking like they had the right idea. But regardless of whether our political leaders jump off the cliff or come to a deal, the dynamic in Washington will not change.

The GOP was spanked in the November election, and it has been forced, kicking and screaming, to come to terms with the fact that it needs to change. The battle between the hardcore right-wingers and the slightly more moderate conservatives has already begun, but it will not end in 2013. This is something that takes years, as the Democrats discovered when they lost three consecutive presidential elections in the 1980s. So the civil war within the party will not stay within the party, because the hardcore-vs.-moderate struggle will be played out in Congressional votes; party leadership picks; grassroots initiatives and protests; gamesmanship with presidential appointments and investigations, and more.

Galactic political scene: This is more fun to contemplate than terrestrial politics, maybe because the United States has shifted its space momentum from governmental efforts to private companies such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. Speaking of which, Virgin’s leader, billionaire Richard Branson, has declared his intention to take his family into space in December 2013. He might or might not make that schedule, but here are two things to consider: First, it’s often a folly to bet against Branson; second, can we get him to take some of our politicians with him?

Again, I‘m not making predictions here, but I’ve highlighted trends to watch that will give insight into the year. I haven’t a clue where the Dow will be in December 2013 or where the gun violence debate will end up or who will succeed John Kerry in the U.S. Senate if he becomes secretary of state. But I know that government policy and its dysfunction will be crucial to determining all of those things, and more.

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