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Jerry Brown's Future: Governor's Next Goals Depend On Legislative Bonds

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JERRY BROWN FUTURE
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On the eve of their swearing in last month, newly elected Assembly members gathered for a reception at the Stanford Mansion, where they were introduced one by one to Gov. Jerry Brown.

"Success," said the host of the reception, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, "is built on relationships," and the introductions Perez facilitated were meant to forge ties with Brown.

Though the Democratic governor enjoyed a relatively favorable relationship with lawmakers of his party during the first two years of his term, the institution is significantly changed from last year.

Brown's ability to win friends and influence people in the new Legislature remains critical to his efforts to pass a budget and pursue other policy goals in the second half of his term.

He is pushing a major overhaul of California's school funding system, a rewrite of the state environmental review law and a controversial plan to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.

After the November elections, the Legislature that convenes today will have its largest freshman class since 1966 and a Democratic supermajority -- sufficient to override a gubernatorial veto -- in both the Assembly and Senate.

"Even if (an override) is never used, the possibility shapes the relationship, just as nuclear weapons shape the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "I think the governor just needs to be attentive to the Legislature."

Most of the new Democrats were elected without any help from Brown, and some hardly know the 74-year-old, third-term governor.

"These are in many cases people who have no history with Brown," Democratic strategist Garry South said. "How that dynamic develops is just not knowable until we see it play out."

Despite occasional flare-ups between Brown and Democratic lawmakers over the past two years -- first over Brown's historic budget veto, then with various labor-backed measures he rejected -- Brown has been able to count on the Legislature's leaders and Democratic majority for support. Legislative Democrats consented to billions of dollars in unpopular spending cuts and to a controversial bill authorizing construction of California's high-speed rail project.

But Brown has not always enjoyed such a favorable relationship with lawmakers of his own party. When he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, Brown was subjected to veto overrides on legislation pertaining to the death penalty and to a state worker pay raise he opposed.

"One of Jerry's high points was he was pretty much available to everybody," said former state Sen. David Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat who served in the Legislature when Brown was governor before. "The low point was usually he was available on what the issue du jour was, which was his issue."

Roberti said, "He just has to recognize that legislators have their own agendas, too."

In his third term, Brown has been praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his outreach efforts. He followed a governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was widely criticized as being so out of touch that legislators of his own party once wore name tags to a meeting with him.

"I always felt that I got along fine with him," Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said of Brown. "As soon as we get back to Sacramento, I'll drop in and say, 'Hi.' "

Because Democrats do not need Republican votes to pass a budget or raise taxes, Huff said his party's role this year will be to "hold the Democrats and the governor accountable" and, the GOP hopes, advance some policy areas where there may be a "sweet spot of agreement."

Brown's relationship with legislative Democrats is far more significant and is likely to be more nuanced. After an election in which Democrats reveled in their legislative victories, Brown suggested he would serve this year to temper the more liberal tendencies of his party.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, suggested Brown and lawmakers may "all have different points of emphasis," but that their broader goals are in line.

"I think we all have a spring in our step," Steinberg said. "We start every year, or the last several years, asking how are we going to deal with the budget crisis, and this year, though we still have work to do, that's not the primary question. We have the opportunity -- both the executive and legislative branches of government -- to work together to build and to advance causes and priorities."

Steinberg and Perez, D-Los Angeles, said they have talked with Brown generally about budget priorities, though not in any detail.

"It's January. It's his opportunity to lay out a budget," Steinberg said. "January is not June. We have plenty of time to work together, and we will."

Brown enters the year buoyed by a major political victory, the passage in November of Proposition 30, his initiative to raise taxes. He has kept a limited public schedule since then, privately preparing his budget proposal and making appointments while being treated for prostate cancer.

Brown's office declined to make him available for an interview. His press secretary, Gil Duran, said of Brown's approach to lawmakers, "He's going to be real charming and nice."

Among the newly elected Assembly members at the reception at the Stanford Mansion was Marc Levine. The San Rafael Democrat was born in 1974 -- the year Brown first ran for governor -- and said working with him "will be a living history lesson."

"It was great to have him join us, to get to meet with each of us and our spouses," Levine said. "He took great interest in meeting us all individually, and that's always the first step in building relationships."

It was just one conversation among many Brown had that night. All of them matter, Steinberg said.

"There will come a time, whether it's this year or next year or the year after, when it's going to be crunch time and there's going to be a key vote," he said. "Developing relationships and maintaining relationships is very important."

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders. ___

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