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Jerry Brown Gathers the Troops

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Jerry Brown Gathers the Troops

Mike Rhinehart

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown invited state lawmakers and local government officials to a budget forum.

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He's not even governor yet, but that didn't stop Jerry Brown from having a huge Kumbaya meeting with state legislators, local officials, key bureaucrats, and just about any else who wanted to weigh in on California's massive budget crisis. This week's gathering, an outgrowth of a campaign promise, was an attempt by Brown to get as many officials as possible on the same page regarding the budget mess. Getting them in the same room may be the only tangible outcome of the effort, however, but even that could be an important step on the state's congested budget highway.

On Wednesday, Brown pledged to do everything he can to get California's budget back on track when he takes over from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January but warned solutions will be painful.

The meeting may pay off for Brown in two respects. First, by consulting, Brown has gone a long way in separating himself from predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, both of whom took rather imperial views of their positions versus the other branches of state government. That approach only created divisions that deepened over time, with massive gridlock as the result. This way, Brown is showing elected officials and the public alike that he is open to new ideas from  political friend and foe alike.

Second, there is no doubt that Brown will take a tax hike package to the voters in the future. The only questions are what kind of package and when? By consulting with the major players in advance, Brown will be able to show that he had no choice,given the other hopeless alternatives for the state. And because of Brown's outreach efforts, opponents may not be quite so anxious to take hard stands against the new (again) governor.

In politics, much of the governor's power depends upon the cooperation of 120 legislators--individuals with 120 huge egos. Unlike the Jerry Brown of 35 years ago, the new Jerry Brown realizes seeking the input of others may go along way toward improving his position with them and the voters. And if path to the electorate can be smoothed out through consultations and compromises, Brown may be on the road to forging a consensus environment that was abandoned many years ago.  

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