Jerry Brown made an appearance Wednesday, hosting a public budget forum to describe just how bad the state’s finances are. There were Brown’s top financial aides, independent analysts, state and local lawmakers and one big giant elephant in the Memorial Auditorium. The specter of a special election hung over the meeting as an unavoidable conclusion to this process that now begins for real. Safe money is on a June vote. But there was a cautionary hint in there as well. Among the muckety mucks seated on the dais, there was an empty chair – and it wasn’t for the prophet Elijah. Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton opted to watch the proceedings from the cheap seats instead of taking his seat on stage, where the other legislative leaders sat. When asked why he didn’t take the stage, Dutton said he was only there to listen. But I think we heard his message loud and clear.

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