HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown, with wife Anne Gust Brown and their dog, Sutter, watching, acts on bills Friday.

Amid failures, Jerry Brown's job approval rating rises

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2011 - 6:57 am

While politicians all around him watched their popularity plunge in the weak economy, Gov. Jerry Brown ducked the slide.

Despite California's high unemployment rate and major legislative failures in his first nine months in office, Brown's job approval rating ticked up three percentage points since June, to 49 percent, according to a new Field Poll.

"He's the only guy who seems to have a positive rating in California these days," poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Brown's job approval rating isn't anywhere near as stratospheric as the 67 percent it was in 1975, in the first year of the governor's first term. Nor is it as high as Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis or Pete Wilson posted early in their tenures.

But as President Barack Obama and Congress – even four-term Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein – saw their standing among California voters tumble, Brown persevered.

"He's presiding over a state that most voters think is going in the wrong direction," DiCamillo said. "Yet he's still seen as doing a good job."

The share of California voters who approve of the job Brown is doing is now 17 percentage points higher than those who disapprove, according to the poll. A majority of Democrats, 64 percent, approve of the job Brown is doing, while a majority of Republicans, 52 percent, disapprove.

The measure follows a difficult summer for Brown, who failed in two major initiatives: first to broker a bipartisan budget deal and second to pass a tax and jobs plan.

But Californians credited him for trying.

"I really feel for anyone who tries to rule the state," said Michael Bower, 59, a music teacher from Modesto, "because I really feel it's ungovernable."

Bower, a Democrat, said he found Brown a "little flaky" last time he was governor, but he thinks Brown is more focused now that he is 73 and in his third term.

"He's one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel," Bower said. "He doesn't have a thing to lose. … I think he just kind of tells it like it is."

Brown likely is benefiting from that image and, among other things, from the popularity of a series of symbolic measures he used early this year to demonstrate his frugality in the state's budget crisis, including recalling thousands of state-issued cellphones and cars.

Though Brown's job performance is viewed favorably overall, voters' opinion of the budget package he signed is mixed. By a greater than 2-1 margin, voters disapprove of a measure requiring automatic cuts in schools and other services if revenue this year falls below projections.

Brown last week vetoed legislation that would have altered the provision. If further cuts are required, DiCamillo said, perceptions of him could sour.

"That's a cloud that's looming on the horizon for the governor," he said. "But so far, the governor has escaped the negative kinds of criticisms that are kind of taking hold for most other elected officials."

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters all think the budget provision was a bad idea, but perhaps for different reasons.

"If a cut needs to be made, then have the courage and integrity to say, 'This is a cut we're going to make, we're going to make it now,' and deal with it," said William Sonnefeld, a 45-year-old Republican and unemployed accountant from Tracy.

Of spending cuts already included in the budget Brown negotiated with legislative Democrats, 29 percent of voters think they were about right, while 27 percent of voters think they went too far and 33 percent think they didn't go far enough, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, the Legislature's job approval rating remains dismal, at 20 percent. Majorities of voters disapprove of the job that both Democrats and Republicans are doing in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, though Republicans are viewed even more unfavorably than Democrats.

Voters maintained their dreary assessment of the general direction in which California is heading, with 65 percent of voters feeling things are seriously off on the wrong track, according to the poll.

Brown's approval rating is unlikely to surprise him. He said recently that his numbers looked "awfully good," though he is aware they can be fleeting.

"It's tough out there," Brown said when asked last week about Obama's declining popularity. "And one thing you know as a politician, when people feel bad about the country, they're going to feel bad about you. That's the nature of the business we're in."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by David Siders



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