The Northern Tail Wags the Southern Dog

With Villaraigosa gone, all major gubernatorial candidates from northern California

By Larry Gerston
|  Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009  |  Updated 5:53 PM PDT
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The Northern Tail Wags the Southern Dog

The decision by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa not to run for governor clears the way for a northerner to take the state's top office.

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It’s been nearly thirty years since a northern Californian occupied the governor’s chair, yet that possibility looms large with the decision of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa not to seek the Democratic nomination.  For the Democrats, that leaves San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown who, although officially in the race, is expected to run.

All the Republicans currently in the race for their party’s nod also have strong northern California ties—former Congressman Tom Campbell, State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

If no southern Californian of note seeks the governorship, then the fleet of candidates from the north will trip over each other with their SoCal “credentials,” whether they be relatives, college fraternities, or early internships.  All this takes on a kind of upside quality that northern Californians have only dreamt about for nearly three decades.   

Does it matter?  Sectionalism plays well in California.  Northern California and southern California aren’t the best of friends on a variety of issues including water, gay marriage, and immigration, to name a few.  Normally, such concerns wouldn’t matter, since the south is so much more populous than the north.  But these days, few things are normal in the not-so-Golden State, which may be why no one from southern California has jumped in the race.  After all, who wants to be in California’s version of Titanic? Maybe only northern Californians have such a death wish, but the outcome should be interesting.

By the way, the last northern Californian to occupy the governorship? Jerry Brown, 1972-1982.

Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, appears regularly on NBC Bay Area as a political analyst.

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