The good news for Gov. Jerry Brown is that twice as many California voters like his initial performance as governor than dislike it.
The bad news is that his approval rating in a new Field Poll is just 48 percent, the lowest level for any governor’s first weeks in office since George Deukmejian in 1983.
He could take solace from the Field Poll finding that he’s three times as popular as the Legislature. But as predecessor Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned the hard way, a governor’s popularity means almost nothing in dealing with legislators.
Within months of assuming the governorship, Schwarzenegger had become so disgusted with legislators’ recalcitrance on the state budget that he denounced them as “girly men” afraid of bucking special interests.
Brown hasn’t gone that far, but he’s clearly dismayed that the capital’s political culture has changed so much from what it was 30 years ago during his first governorship. His complex plan to close the budget deficit is sinking in ideological quicksand, abetted by outside interests.
Brown’s frustration is evident in a YouTube video he released Sunday, telling the voters who elected him, “This is a matter of we the people taking charge and voting on the most fundamental matters that affect all of our lives. So, let me know, let your legislators know, would you like the chance to cast this vote, or would you feel it’s appropriate to shut out the people of California?”
The old/new governor needs at least four Republican votes to place billions of dollars in tax extensions on the ballot, and he has been negotiating fitfully with five GOP senators. But while they’re being hammered by anti-tax groups and their own party for daring even to negotiate, Brown is being pressured by unions and other liberal interests not to deal on pension, budget and business-regulation reforms.
Schwarzenegger believed that his celebrity, centrist politics and independence would allow him to succeed where other governors had failed. Brown told voters that his age, experience and lack of ambition beyond the governorship would allow him to do what needed to be done in Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger learned otherwise, and Brown appears to have even less maneuvering room, given the debt he owes unions for his election financing and the hegemony they and other liberal groups wield in the Legislature.
Time is rapidly running out on Brown’s hopes of a June tax election. The capital is rapidly turning to the array of Plan B’s.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.