In his first 17 days as governor, Jerry Brown has set the tone for the next four years: He’s impatient, grouchy, restless and combative. He’s anxious to repair the state’s fiscal woes. He wants to cut programs, raise taxes and shift state authority to the locals. And while he wants to empower locals, he also wants to force those same locals’ redevelopment agencies – all 425 of them – into extinction. They are not happy.
There are other contradictions.
His 17-minute inaugural speech sounded a call to sacrifice and bipartisanship, although his top aides and first round of 21 major appointments were fellow Democrats.
His no-frills, simpler-is-better, back-to-basics public image, which appears to be resonating with the public, is carefully honed and powerful, a 180-degree departure from the black Suburbans and Hollywood hoopla of his predecessor.
But Brown, 72, guards his own image as carefully as Schwarzenegger ever did. Brown takes walks with his wife, cute dog in tow. Schwarzenegger moved amid movie-style security. Brown jogs and even wears his sweatpants in the Capitol. Schwarzenegger, nearly a decade younger, doesn’t jog. Brown goes out of his way to confront reporters. Schwarzenegger hired staff members to do that. Brown lives in a midtown loft, Schwarzenegger lives in L.A.
Brown recently stalked a Capitol corridor, angrily waving a copy of a newspaper story in his hand that mistakenly reported that he had arrived at an event in a BMW (actually, it was a Pontiac). Brown collared the newsie and they had a brief and candid exchange. It was an editing error that appeared in the last paragraph of a story and it was quickly fixed – but it also was ample proof, if any was needed, that Brown reads about himself, and not just the lede.
That’s the Brown style – talk directly to the reporter and make a case. That, more than anything else, is why he moved his press office closer to his private suite inside the Capitol.
Democrats are more in sync with Brown than Republicans, but there’s plenty of time to anger Democrats. In fact, he already has.
And when the full-throated debate over social service cuts hits the floors of the Senate and Assembly, that anger will intensify. If his first two terms as governor are any indication, he will be battered by legislative Democrats for his cuts as much as by Republicans for his taxes, perhaps more.
Lawsuits are waiting in the weeds on virtually every major piece of his budget, and the courts already have the doctors’ challenge to Medi-Cal reimbursement cuts. Leveraging public support at the ballot box – by June at the latest, but maybe earlier – is a formidable task.
Redevelopment agencies, facing Brown’s budget knife, are lining up for court, as are the cities. Public employee unions, most of whom backed Brown during the campaign, are waiting to see what the new governor will do – especially the 28,000 correctional officers who, despised by the Schwarzenegger administration, remain without a contract.
The California Teachers’ Association, the state’s most powerful union and a big campaign supporter of the governor, also is watching.
The stampede across the state by locals to get billions of dollars worth of redevelopment projects approved may wind up as a legal double-whammy – challenges from the cities against Brown for his plan to cut redevelopment agencies in the first place, and a challenge from the Brown administration against the cities for trying to get approvals to make an end run around the new budget.
The Republicans, meanwhile, are afraid to offer their own budget blueprint, fearing that they will be tarred by the very cuts they’ve been demanding for years. They’re right.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a San Francisco Democrat, has questioned Brown’s proposed $500 million cut to the University of California – an odd departure for a lieutenant governor in the same party as the governor, even if the governor is only planning one term. If nothing else, it shows that Newsom, just days after he was sworn in, is starting to position himself away from Brown and define himself independently for the 2014 election. Then, he is all but certain to face Kamala Harris, the newly elected state attorney general, in the Democratic primary.
For decades, Brown’s public persona has been that of a bright and disorganized man with a brief attention span. But there’s a difference now: The disorganization appears dramatically lessened, perhaps because the influence of his wife, who by all accounts is strong-willed, well-organized and Brown’s closest adviser, both officially and unofficially.
The state’s dismal finances dominated the campaign and have dominated his first days in office. But his other policy plans – such as downsizing the bureaucracy or combining the PUC and the Energy Commission – are going forward.