03/01/2012 08:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jerry Brown Makes Some Splashy Moves

Governor Jerry Brown is in the midst of a series of moves to raise his public profile and set up much of his operations for the rest of this year and beyond. It's a big change from most of last year, when he focused largely on inside baseball moves to manage California's chronic budget crisis.

After spending two days hosting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, set to be the ruler of the world's second largest economy next year, on his visit to California, Brown made a five-day trip to Washington, centering around the annual National Governors Association meeting, which ended earlier this week.

Brown didn't go to Washington last year for the NGA because he was closeted away in endless behind the scenes talks on the state's chronic budget crisis, in which he made a very serious dent without in the end getting any needed Republican legislative votes to even place tax extensions on the ballot. This year, of course, he's going the initiative route, bypassing one of the most far right state Republican parties in the country, which is saying quite a lot.

Brown, who might be just as happy rolling on his own as he often does, traveled with a very small crew consisting of First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown and two senior staffers, gubernatorial executive secretary Nancy McFadden and press secretary Gil Duran. While there, he visited with President Barack Obama and top Obama Administration officials, coordinating on renewable energy and high-speed rail and working to get the administration to go along with more of his proposed cuts on health and welfare spending. The administration doesn't seem accommodating about the cuts, which most legislative Democrats want to avoid while hoping for more revenue that hasn't yet materialized.

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Governor Jerry Brown appeared on Meet the Press this past Sunday for the first time since his 1992 presidential campaign.

Some imagine that Brown is at last embracing the way of his father, the legendary late Governor Pat Brown, widely credited as the builder of modern California, in developing what might be called an Edifice Complex. But that's not quite it.

Jerry Brown famously differed with his father -- whom I knew pretty well, last lunching with him the year before he died -- earlier in his career but later developed more of an appreciation for him and what he called "the family business." (This is an intriguing topic fit for its own article.) But pop psychology doesn't capture the dynamic in question.

This Governor Brown is more into what might be described as developing the infrastructure of the future. Rather than preside over the building of dozens of nuclear power plants, as was the wont of the big utilities during his first tenure as governor during the 1970s and early 1980s, he put California on a course of energy efficiency (known in those days as energy conservation) and renewable energy.

As a result, California became for many years the most efficient user of power in the country. Governors of both parties kept on the efficiency path, though they strayed off of renewables. Brown's former chief of staff, Gray Davis, renewed the renewable course, and Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ramped things up dramatically, turning the path into a superhighway. Brown, naturally, is continuing that.

His focus on high-speed rail, which he shares with Schwarzenegger and Davis, is a focus not on expanding existing transport infrastructure but developing a new path. A new path in America, that is, which is why he is working closely with the Obama Administration on it. In Europe and Asia, high-speed rail is well-established.

In Washington, Brown followed his earlier hosting of Xi with lunch meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui. Following that, he met with State Department officials. Brown, who had earlier announced new California trade offices in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as a California/China task force, not surprisingly plans a China trip later this year.

Brown also appeared at a fundraiser for his revenue initiative hosted by lobbyists Tony Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff, and an old colleague of mine from Gary Hart for President days, Mike Stratton.

On Sunday's edition of Meet the Press, Brown appeared opposite Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who announced her endorsement of Romney and continued bashing Obama, who was vigorously defended by Brown. Brown decried the drift to war with Iran and noted how his blend of pragmatic (budget-cutting) and visionary (high-speed rail, renewable energy, etc.) programs, which confounds some, is actually the same thing in a dynamic environment.

Last but by no means least, Brown also held private talks with national labor leaders, pushing his own November revenue measure, which would raise income taxes on the wealthy and sales taxes on all for five years. He wants them and their California affiliates to not only line up behind his initiative, but also help persuade the backers of two other tax hike measures to back away.

Brown had received good news in the form of the latest Field Poll, which shows that his initiative is favored by nearly 60% of California voters. The potential rival "Millionaires Tax" initiative, is also around the 60% mark, doing marginally better than Brown's at first blush.

But the latter, of course, is far more likely to draw heavily funded opposition, and the coalition of a few smaller unions and left-wing groups probably lacks the resources for a hotly contested campaign.

Not lacking in resources is the proponent of of a third tax hike measure, heiress Molly Munger, whose billionaire father is Warren Buffett's business partner. But she does seem to be lacking in political sense.

As I've been saying and writing all along, Munger's measure, which would raise income taxes on most everyone in the state while raising money for education, does not fare well in polling. In fact, the Field Poll shows its starting out losing, with a plurality of voters in opposition.

This is simply Politics 101. You don't start out a tax hike campaign in a losing position in California and end up winning. But, of course, extremely rich people sometimes imagine that they are immune to how things actually work.

In fact, she hasn't taken the hint at all. She's told her operatives to start gathering signatures. People seldom get paid much, if anything, to tell the wayward super-rich in politics to save their money.

But at a certain point, the light will dawn.

On his way back home from Washington, Brown stopped over Tuesday in LA to meet with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

It should be noted that the AFT is the national parent of the California Federation of Teachers, the number two teachers union in California, which is pushing the Millionaires Tax initiative for November rivaling Brown's revenue initiative. Which is itself backed by the state's largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, which has far more in political resources than the AFT's state affiliate.

On Wednesday, the head of the powerful Service Employees International Union in California, David Kieffer, spoke up again on behalf of Brown's initiative, urging those who back potentially rival measures to cease and desist.

While Brown operated in Washington, the California Republican Party had the first of its two annual conventions last weekend at a San Francisco airport hotel. It was a desultory and largely irrelevant affair.

The Republicans have no serious candidate to run against U.S> Senator Dianne Feinstein and have failed in their dead-ender strategy to try to derail the work of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

They made a big mistake in not following the path set out for them by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his September 2007 convention speech outside Palm Springs, in which he urged the party to arrest its slide toward the right. Instead of following the advice of Schwarzenegger, who had won a second landslide election as governor of California less than year earlier, the party instead accelerated its dash to the far right, embracing cynical talk radio hosts like KFI's John and Ken -- now suspended for calling Whitney Houston "a crack ho" -- blogger ideologues, and Beltway anti-government lobbyist Grover Norquist as their spiritual guides.

Conservative Republicans last week barely qualified a November referendum to do away with the bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission's new maps for state Senate districts. The effort, which cost the state Republican Party more than $2 million which it does not otherwise have, made it to the ballot with fewer than 7000 signatures to spare.

Will the party now spend the many millions more it would take to try to win the election? Or will it accede to the obvious, that it has no hope as a sour grapes effort, especially in light of its failure before to get the state Supreme Court to draw new lines even if the referendum qualified?

I expect the latter, because there is simply no money. Indeed, state Senate Republican sources say their money will go to try to defend their districts and try to win one or two swing districts, rather than pursue the referendum. Which makes California Republicans' big strategic move of the past several months a total bust.

While Brown operated on both coasts and the Republicans spun their wheels, the man whose centrist advice the California Republican Party so notoriously ignored, Brown's predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, made ready for some big events.

This weekend in Columbus, Ohio, he is hosting the annual Arnold Sports Festival. What began in 1989 as a bodybuilding contest has become the biggest multi-sports event in the country, since the U.S. Olympic trials are conducted separately by sport. In fact, the Arnold, as it's called is the Olympic trials in weightlifting.

It went international last year, with Schwarzenegger hosting the first Arnold Classic Europe last October in Madrid, Spain.

From Ohio, Schwarzenegger moves on to Switzerland next week, where he will speak at a climate and energy conference at the University of Geneva and meet with the R20, the United Nations-affiliated organization he first announced at the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen and formed at his third and final Governors Global Climate Summit at the University of California at Davis in 2010. I was just off-stage filming that founding event and will show some of that later this year.

What Schwarzenegger has done is pull together a number of subnational, i.e., state, provincial, regional, and municipal officials from around the world to work on climate, energy, and sustainable development issues. Working with European Union and UN officials, he and the R20 are hosting a "Road To Rio" conference next week at the international conference center in Geneva, where R20 has its headquarters.

While reviving his movie career and dealing with controversy surrounding his personal life, Schwarzenegger has made a number of high-profile speeches on these issues, including an appearance at the United Nations in New York last fall and a speech last month at a UN conference in New Delhi, India.

Which is complementary with what Brown is doing, and why he appeared at Brown's California conference on climate change in December in San Francisco.

When it comes to splashy moves, there are still a few things that Brown, the past and present master of California politics, can learn.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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