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Field Poll: Jerry Brown riding high, but not his big projects

Gov. Jerry Brown remains popular, according to a new poll

But not the big projects he supports, which appear to weigh him down.

Although 56 percent of California voters approve of the job Brown is doing, according to a Field Poll released Tuesday, a majority fault him for favoring “too many big government projects that the state cannot afford right now.”

The poll comes as Brown, starting his fourth and final term, pursues two controversial infrastructure projects: construction of a $68 billion high-speed rail system and a pair of massive tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

“Perhaps the more expansive aspects of what he’s trying to do, there’s some reluctance,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.

The survey did not identify what big government projects voters might resist, but rail and water are the legacy-making initiatives on Brown’s agenda.

DiCamillo said “that’s probably what’s on voters’ minds.”

Brown acknowledged controversy surrounding major infrastructure programs when, at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the high-speed rail project in January, he said, “Everything big runs into opposition.”

The Democratic governor called the project’s critics “weak of spirit.”

The rail project is proposed to connect the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas through the Central Valley by 2028, but public support has fallen off since Californians authorized rail bonds in a statewide vote in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a water project estimated to cost about $25 billion, has generated opposition in the Delta. Brown promoted versions of both the rail and water plans when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and he has made them priorities since returning to office in 2011.

Brown’s public approval rating has remained above 50 percent statewide for two years, reaching a high of 59 percent in April 2014. Buoyed by an improving economy and a dearth of Republican opposition, Brown hardly campaigned as he breezed to re-election last year.

Brown’s job approval reflects California’s liberal-leaning electorate, with strong support from Democrats and independent voters and opposition from Republicans and strongly conservative voters.

Majorities of men, women and people of all ages approve of the job Brown is doing, according to the poll.

Yet the survey reflects a public assessment of Brown that would have seemed counterintuitive when he first held office and, relatively young and idealistic, became known as “Governor Moonbeam.” Brown is now 76 and less unorthodox than before, and praise for experience underpins his support.

“The things that people like about Brown have to do with just the way he’s managing the state, and how he’s managing the Legislature and kind of taking us forward on kind of a year-to-year basis,” DiCamillo said. “The idea part of Brown, where he’s trying to lay out a long-term set of policies that could become his legacy, there’s a little less support for that.”

Nearly 70 percent of voters, including a majority of Republicans, say Brown, son of the late Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, has “the right experience to deal with the problems facing California,” according to the poll.

A majority of voters give Brown credit for the state’s improved financial condition and say he “has the vision to lead California into the future.”

Before Brown took office, said Gloria Hernandez, a 42-year-old Democrat who participated in the poll, “the economy was way low.”

Now, she said, “I think it’s gotten up to be, you know, people can start to get better pay.”

Hernandez, who works as a fruit sorter in Stockton, also praised Brown for liberal policies on immigration, including granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

When asked to consider three negative statements about Brown, 41 percent of registered voters agreed that Brown at least somewhat favors organized labor too much, and 45 percent said he is not doing enough to help the average Californian.

But a majority of voters registered concerns about Brown’s big government projects, including 45 percent of Democrats and much larger proportions of Republicans and independent voters.

“I think he’s a moron,” said Carlyn Terry, a 59-year-old Republican. “And I’m of an age where I’ve lived through his dad, him as the governor once and now him as the governor again.”

Terry, a paraeducator from Elk Grove, called Brown a “socialist” and pointed to his support of high-speed rail as evidence of misplaced priorities.

“His train to nowhere,” she said. “That infuriates me beyond my wildest dreams.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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