Two years ago, a Republican lawmaker complained that Anne Gust Brown yelled at him during budget talks with Gov. Jerry Brown.
The remarkable thing was not that the first lady raised her voice, but that she was in the room at all.
Previous first ladies have advised governors and pursued their own, sometimes-ambitious agendas, but none in recent history has been more involved in the administration than Gust Brown, a 54-year-old lawyer and former Gap Inc. executive.
Last weekend, Gust Brown accompanied Brown as they arrived in Washington for a meeting of the nation's governors. As they deplaned, they were alone.
"Jerry, I am it," Gust Brown said, noting the absence of other staff.
Halfway through Brown's third term, Gust Brown has been instrumental in sharpening the attention of a governor prone to disorganization and peripheral thinking. She is relied on for her political advice, business expertise and, on occasion, her willingness to stand on her seat on Southwest Airlines packing luggage into the overhead bin.
"She's just advising me on all projects," Brown said. "She works on everything. We work together. We're a team."
Gust Brown, whose late father, Rockwell "Rocky" Gust, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Michigan alongside George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, was an unpaid senior adviser to Brown when he was state attorney general.
She helped him win that office in 2006, a year after they wed. She then helped oversee Brown's November ballot initiative to raise taxes and consulted on Brown's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Gust Brown is sensitive to even the smallest political openings afforded Brown: It was the first lady who suggested at a farm show last month that Brown pose the first dog, Sutter, on a tractor, sure it would be good for publicity. It was also Gust Brown who, seeing her 74-year-old husband lingering at one booth at the farm show, gripped the waistband of his pants to move him along.
"She pulls things together in a very focused way," said Brown's health and human services secretary, Diana Dooley, who joined the governor and his wife on a later flight in Washington last weekend. "She sees the relationship of his ideas, and how they can be implemented."
Dooley, Brown's legislative secretary when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, said Brown is "every bit as creative and intense and dedicated to big ideas and moving them forward as he was then."
His partnership with Gust Brown, Dooley said, "just seems to add kind of a make-it-happen dimension."
Brown, a Democrat, was widely criticized for lacking focus when he was governor before - what Senate Republican leader Bob Huff called a "long, storied tradition of kind of shooting off the cuff and being a little scattered."
"I think Anne is a moderating force and helps keep him focused," said Huff, R-Diamond Bar.
Like her immediate predecessor, former NBC News journalist Maria Shriver, Gust Brown was highly successful in her own, corporate career before coming to Sacramento. Unlike Shriver, who expanded the California Museum and worked on poverty and women's issues, Gust Brown has developed no policy forum outside of her husband's administration.
Her private-sector experience is helpful to Brown, a lifelong politician, in his dealing with influential business interests, and she joined the Democratic governor for most of his private meetings at the weekend conference of the National Governors Association.
In a discussion with several Wal-Mart executives about U.S. manufacturing at the JW Marriott, the conference hotel, Gust Brown explained to the governor what a company official meant when he talked about shipping inventory in "cubes."
While at Gap, Gust Brown had overseen the practices of the company's overseas suppliers, among other activities.
"I can talk their lingo," Gust Brown said. "Jerry's like, 'What do you mean, a large cube?' ... I understood all of what they're going through."
Gust Brown is fiercely protective of Brown and his public image. In 2011, before Brown underwent a medical procedure, she said a bandage he was wearing was for a "little thing taken off" for a test, but that it was not cancerous. He ultimately had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his nose.
It was that same year that then-Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton complained that Gust Brown yelled at him during a budget negotiation, highlighting the depth of Gust Brown's involvement in decision-making at the Capitol.
"If you were talking to Robert Dutton, you would have yelled at him, too," the governor said on NBC 4's "News Conference" at the time. "The fact is that he was filibustering for 45 minutes. Now, I understand that's his right, and I was listening. But my wife, you know, is from business. She's not used to the games and antics of politicians."
Brown said, "Quite frankly, you know, I think she has some level of impatience with that kind of nonsense."
With the governor, Gust Brown exudes patience. As they arrived in Washington for the governor's conference, Brown carried a garment bag through the terminal, and he let it hit the floor.
A retired minister from Joliet, Ill., told him, "You shouldn't drag that."
Brown and Gust Brown were to attend a dinner with other governors and their spouses at the White House, and Gust Brown said, "It's only my ball gown."
Later, when they got on an airport tram, Brown stood with his back to the end of the car, his hands on a ledge behind him.
Gust Brown encourages exercise, and she said to her husband, "Oh, you're doing little push-ups, huh?"
Brown said, "That's good," and she replied matter-of-factly, "Yeah."