Extra resources for students of State and Local Government 180, an upper-division GE class in the Government Department at Sacramento State University
Monday, January 2, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle: Governor Brown faces tough new year
Gov. Jerry Brown faces tough 2012
Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
San Francisco ChronicleJanuary 2, 2012 04:00 AM
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Photo by Max Whittaker / Special to The Chronicle
California Gov. Jerry Brown talks about milestones and accomplishments from 2011 with reporters in his office at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., December 27, 2011
In his first year back as California's leader, Gov. Jerry Brown was unable to get what he wanted.
Voters returned Brown to the Capitol for a third term after he campaigned as a seasoned, no-nonsense veteran who knew how to get things done. But Brown didn't anticipate how much Capitol politics had changed in his 28-yearabsence.
He re-entered office last January pushing a plan to allow Californians to decide whether to raise taxes or face further cuts to government services. The effort failed because the governor did not get a handful of necessary Republican votes to place a tax measure on the ballot.
Reflecting on 2011, Brown said last week that the stalwart opposition by the GOP was something he did not expect.
"I learned that the Republicans can't vote for a tax. That was not evident," Brown said.
Still, despite that loss, Brown is well regarded by voters and hasn't let the past year get him down. His office released a 31-page document late last week listing "milestones and accomplishments" of his first year.
"I can't tell you how much I like being governor of California," Brown said in an end-of-the-year interview with news media last week. He said he finds the job "exhilarating and exciting."
In this new year, the governor will have to persuade the public to support a tax increase. Brown is leading the effort to collect signatures for a ballot measure to raise the sales tax along with the income tax on wealthy residents - individuals making over $250,000 a year. If the measure qualifies, he'll have to campaign to persuade voters to approve it in November.
The new revenue could put California's finances in order next year due largely to spending cuts Brown was able to push through the Legislature.
What the polls say
Polling shows the public is receptive to Brown's proposals, though even after a full year nearly 30 percent of adults have yet to judge his performance, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Mark Baldassare, president of the institute, said Brown's ratings, including approval of 42 percent and disapproval of 30 percent, are good given the public's current disdain for politicians and state government.
He said people are giving the governor time.
"They haven't lost patience with Gov. Brown yet. They're still waiting and seeing before they pass judgment," he said.
The governor seems relaxed and comfortable in his position. He married in 2005 after a lifetime as a bachelor, and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, is serving as an unpaid "special counsel" to the governor. The two are constantly together.
Sutter, the first dog
Brown even appointed a "first dog" - Sutter, who is a Pembroke Welsh corgi. The dog often is at the Capitol with the governor, and recently a short biography of the pooch was added to Brown's official website. The dog's religious views are listed as "Zen Jesuit although I am not burdened by dogma (but I do like dog bones)."
Brown twice ran for president during his previous terms as governor and said that this time in office, he doesn't have such ambitions.
"I'm more focused on being governor and less on what might lie afterward," said Brown, who added that he does not look out the windows of his office and envision another run for higher office.
"I look out these windows, and I just see the Capitol park," Brown said.
His reviews for his first year have been mixed, though.
The political blog Calbuzz recently solicited year-end ratings of the governor from influential Republican and Democratic political consultants, and the governor received a score of 6.1 out of 10, with high and low marks from people of both persuasions.
But even some of Brown's political opponents aren't declaring his first year a failure.
"I give him an 'incomplete,' " said Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County). "However, I'll give him an A for having a great dog. I love Sutter."
Dutton received some blame from Brown for the impasse with Republicans during negotiations on the governor's original tax plan. Dutton, who will soon step down from his post, said his advice for the governor is to act more decisively.
"The governor just needs to decide what he wants to do for the future. He told me he wants to build things and was going to rip off the Band-Aid and bring us into balance, and he needs to focus on that," Dutton said.
Brown has a tough year ahead of him. He will soon release his budget plan for the year that he has said will include more cuts to government services. That comes on top of midyear cuts from this year of nearly $1 billion that were built into the current budget because revenues did not meet expectations.
He also has proposed changes to public employee pensions that are under consideration in the Legislature and that will be a tough sell to lawmakers in his party.
More cuts ahead
But Democrats in the Legislature will approve more spending cuts in the budget, said Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.
"None of us are excited about that notion, but we're all sober in our responsibility," Perez said.
The governor's ability to extract spending cuts from the Legislature may help to persuade voters to send more money to Sacramento, said Corey Cook, an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco who specializes in California politics. He said that will be the governor's primary job this year.
So far, Cook said, Brown has racked up "a remarkable set of achievements," noting his proposal on pension law changes; spending cuts in the budget, which was signed on time; and the shifting of responsibility for some criminals from state to local control.
"You can argue that it's a good change or a bad change, but he's doing more than just making speeches," Cook said.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a longtime political analyst who also teaches at the University of Southern California, said Brown's first year has shown significant changes in the governor, whom she calls Jerry Brown version 2.0.
"He's a different kind of governor than he was the in his first go-round. He's more mellow, he's less abrasive, he understands to a greater degree what he needs to do to govern," she said, adding, "he is no longer Governor Moonbeam. He is more focused on the minutiae of governing."
But she said Brown also made a "major miscalculation" in thinking he could persuade Republicans to go along with his plan to ask voters to raise taxes. That has forced him to try to circumvent the Legislature and seek to implement his plan through a voter initiative.
"What did he sell himself as? Someone who has the skills of an insider and the perspective of an outsider, someone who knew how to make things work in Sacramento," Bebitch Jeffe said. "But he didn't, because it's a different Sacramento."