Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses election results Wednesday after his Proposition 30 tax victory. He says his relations with legislative leaders are good as a potential supermajority emerges.

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What kind of working relationship will Gov. Jerry Brown have with the Democrat-dominated state Legislature?

Jerry Brown plans to restrain Democratic desires at the Capitol

Published: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 - 12:11 am

The din of election night parties spilled into morning as California Democrats soaked in their victories, but the politician who had perhaps the most to celebrate – Gov. Jerry Brown – had gone home.

He was preparing to address the media, consulting a Bible and measuring his words.

"I've been around this business a long time," Brown said on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday, "and I know that whatever happens one night, there's always another challenge the next day."

Overnight, Brown, who had just succeeded in passing his ballot initiative to raise taxes, had somehow also become the most conservative force of any consequence at the Capitol, a difficult position for a Democratic governor.

Democrats were poised to gain supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate for the first time in more than 100 years. If they gain that advantage, Brown will have to rely on legislative Democrats to approve his policies while laboring to restrain the more liberal tendencies of his own party.

"Every Democrat in the Legislature ought to be thankful that Jerry Brown decided to pick this fight against all odds, and he fought it and won," former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte said of Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30. "That said, the half-life of gratitude in Sacramento is about a week."

Immediately after the election, Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said Californians "need to take a hard look" at corporate tax breaks. Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said passage of Brown's tax measure was "only Step 1."

"California public education continues to be underfunded," Pechthalt said.

Brown moved after the election to temper Democratic expectations. Asked at a news conference if electoral victories would inspire Democrats "to push their agenda," Brown said he had reviewed the book of Genesis in preparation for the question. He suggested the state must save in abundant years to prepare for times of famine.

"I don't underestimate the struggle over the next couple years to keep on a very calm, clear and sustainable glide path," he said.

The potential for conflict is great. Brown upset Democrats when he vetoed a budget package last year, and this year when he vetoed several labor-backed bills, including a measure to provide overtime and other benefits to domestic workers.

With a two-thirds majority in the Legislature, Democratic lawmakers could override future vetoes, something that has not been done in California since Brown was governor before, in 1979.

"I have more experience with veto overrides than any other governor," Brown said when asked about the potential this week, "and I can handle the problem without too much difficulty."

Veto overrides are exceedingly rare, even for Brown, and a spate of them is unlikely. In the long run, it is in the Democratic Legislature's own interest to have a powerful Democratic governor. In the short run, the Legislature is likely to be cautious of Brown's political strength.

"If the Legislature wants to exercise its newfound muscle with the two-thirds, it's going to have to do so with his blessing," said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego.

The challenge for Brown, Kousser said, will be to avoid disappointing lawmakers so frequently that they abandon his policy goals. Brown's agenda includes changes to the state education funding formula, a massive water project and high-speed rail.

"If he becomes this governor who's constantly saying 'no' to the Legislature," Kousser said, "he's going to lose the ability to move his own agenda."

Brown's relationship with Democratic lawmakers was at times strained when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. But he has worked relatively well with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

Brown said "our relationship has deepened" in recent months. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said a two-thirds majority will not change his relationship with Brown, and Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said his rapport with the governor is excellent.

"We will have disagreements," Steinberg said. "But we're on the same side here, and we have the same goal, which is to help California begin a new chapter where we're building, not just hanging on and dealing with crisis year after year after year."

Following Brown's victory on Tuesday, liberal activists who helped him win trumpeted their involvement in the campaign, and his supporters thumbed their noses at the many politicians and political observers who criticized Brown's campaign while it was being run.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had criticized Brown's campaign rhetoric as misleading in a recent radio interview.

On Twitter on election night, Gil Duran, Brown's press secretary, sent Newsom a clip of Elvis Presley singing, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"

Brown himself was subdued. He has a budget proposal to prepare by January, and spending requests to field.

He recalled studying Zen meditation in Japan in the 1980s.

"Each night before going to bed, I would say with the other meditators, 'Desires are endless. I vow to cut them down.' "

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by David Siders



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