The Curious Case of David Crane

Most Californians don't know who David Crane is. But they should.

He's important enough that the legislature effectively pushed him off the University of California Board of Regents.

Who is Crane?

He's a Democrat from the Bay Area who made big money in finance before retiring and going into government nearly a decade ago when his friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was elected governor.

Crane immediately began irritating people all over Sacramento. He had a broad portfolio that included responsibility for advising the governor on improving the state business climate.

He was full of provocative ideas, some of them very good, and many of them politically problematic, as they didn't particularly please Democratic or Republican constituencies. And he wasn't very bashful about sharing his unvarnished views.

Crane earned particular notice for making an issue of the state's unsustainable pension obligations. He was mostly right about this -- and prescient, since he started talking about the problem publicly back at the beginning of Schwarzenegger's term in 2003, before it was the major issue it is today.

Many Democrats and their labor backers never forgave him for this. A few years ago, he lost his seat on the board of CalSTRS, the state pension fund for teachers, for being a bit too right about pension problems.

Crane's detractors point out all the times he's been wrong or has overstated his case. And sometimes those detractors have been right.

Crane's latest gambit -- a nonpartisan effort to elect people with "courage" to the state legislature -- is poorly conceived. The legislature doesn't much matter in California's governing system, and it's unclear exactly what constitutes "courage" in a legislative context.

But Crane is precisely the kind of character that California government needs (and doesn't have enough of) -- people willing to take on the prevailing conventional wisdom.

The San Francisco Chronicle even editorialized this week against the legislature's failure to hold hearings on his reappointment to the UC Board of Regents, where he was asking inconvenient questions.

The Crane case isn't entirely a new one. Another wealthy Democrat with independent leanings, Reed Hastings, failed to win reappointment to the state school board in 2005 after offending some Democratic constituencies.

Hastings has faded into the background in state politics (he's been busy running Netflix). Here's hoping Crane stays in the game, and keeps irritating all of us.

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