Four days before the election, Gov. Jerry Brown briefly ducked into a union hall in San Francisco to denounce an initiative that threatened to imperil his high-speed rail and Delta water tunnel projects.
“I just want to cut to the chase here,” Brown said of Proposition 53, paid for by wealthy Stockton-area food processor Dean Cortopassi. “It’s bad for California. ... All of the projects that are so vital to our prosperity, economy, jobs and our environment can be slowed down.”
But Brown, in his fourth term and seeking to continue his unblemished record of late at the ballot box, refused to view his urging of Californians to reject the measure as a way to shield his own legacy.
“Look,” Brown said, conjuring images of his family ranch in Colusa County, the perfect place to escape the complexities of infrastructure bonds. “I am going back to the plow. And on my plow I won’t know about all these projects.”
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Brown proved instrumental in narrowly scuttling Proposition 53, which was leading by a wide margin before he began campaigning against it in the final weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
The ballot measure was trailing by more than 200,000 votes, or 49 percent to 51 percent, when The Associated Press called the race Tuesday night after two weeks of counting late-arriving mail and provisional ballots.
“The defeat of Proposition 53 is good news for California and our future. It means one less roadblock in the way of solving our water and transportation problems,” Brown said in a statement.
The measure’s failure keeps intact Brown’s unblemished record in ballot fights: Four years ago, he muscled though a temporary sales and income tax hike, Proposition 30, that provided considerable breathing room in the state budget.
He returned two years later with successful statewide measures to authorize a $7 billion water bond and institute a rainy-day budget reserve.
Along with stopping Cortopassi this year, Brown pushed a broad overhaul of criminal sentencing that will empower the parole board to grant early releases for inmates whose crimes the state considers nonviolent. Brown’s Proposition 57 passed with well over 60 percent of the vote.
Although he didn’t advocate for Proposition 55, which extends for 12 years the income tax hike from his Proposition 30 levy, its overwhelming passage this month means Brown will leave the office in far better financial shape than when he arrived amid massive deficits.
In all, he spent just $4.1 million each on the two ballot efforts this year, with $2.4 million against Proposition 53 tagged as a loan.
The wins put Brown in position for a last political act, including a possible 2018 measure to extend his nation-leading efforts to address climate change. Separately, the success of Republican President-elect Donald Trump bolsters Brown’s standing as a potential counterweight on the West Coast.
As Brown enters his final two years, a time in which many politicians begin to accept their lame-duck status, he and California leaders have pledged to be on guard over potential clashes with the federal government over the environment, immigration and health care.
Assessing the landscape, Brown strategist Sean Clegg stressed that there won’t be anything “lame about it.”