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GOP victories will test reach of Jerry Brown’s California-made agenda

Despite his easy re-election, Tuesday’s national Republican wave of victories may make it difficult for Gov. Jerry Brown to advance liberal causes outside California.
Despite his easy re-election, Tuesday’s national Republican wave of victories may make it difficult for Gov. Jerry Brown to advance liberal causes outside California. The Associated Press

Easily re-elected in this Democratic-heavy state, Gov. Jerry Brown looked to Republican advances in other states and reacted Wednesday with a shrug.

National elections served to “sharpen the difference between California and the rest of the country,” Brown told reporters.

However, the Democratic governor said, “Here in California, I think our pathway is relatively clear.”

Yet as popular as Brown remains in California, his agenda for a record fourth term now faces stiffer headwinds nationally than he has faced at any time since taking office in 2011.

Not only did Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate, but they also prevailed in key gubernatorial contests, defending several seats and unseating Democrats in others. Overnight, the political landscape became less hospitable to Brown’s efforts to export climate change, immigration and other policies to other states and countries.

“He can do what he wants to here in California,” said Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican legislative aide. “I don’t think those ideas are going anywhere at the national level.”

Brown acknowledged Wednesday that “the rest of the country is going its own way,” but he suggested the shift may not be long-lasting.

“These elections, they come and they go,” he said.

Still, the election served as a reminder of how difficult it may be for Brown to advance liberal causes outside of California.

While Brown was declaring victory in Sacramento, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz cheered Republicans in Texas, where it was Republicans – not Democrats – sweeping statewide office.

“In Texas we understand the unlimited potential of free men and free women,” Cruz said on election night. “The Texas ethos, I would suggest to you, is give me a horse and a gun and an open plain and we can conquer the world.”

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott fended off Democrat Charlie Crist, despite millions of dollars spent by billionaire environmentalist – and Californian – Tom Steyer’s political action committee. In Kansas, voters returned to office Gov. Sam Brownback, whose administration has been defined by the enactment of deep tax cuts.

When Brownback, a Republican, said on election night that the race showed “ideas and direction do matter,” it was a far more conservative set of ideas he was promoting than Brown.

For Brown, said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson, the election is evidence “there’s not a mandate out there, not a mandate in Congress nor a mandate with the American people to do something dramatic with climate change.”

“It’s just not there,” Whalen said. “So I think the governor is kind of whistling past the graveyard on that one.”

A long-standing champion of environmental causes, Brown has called California a “hopeful example” for bipartisanship in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. He has said he will soon propose more ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions in California, while promoting cap-and-trade and other programs in other states and countries.

“The science is becoming more insistent, it’s becoming more persuasive,” Brown said Wednesday. “So the fact that there may be a temporary stall in some states, or even in Washington, does not stop the climate from changing or does not stop the vast majority, almost near unanimity in the scientific community that we have to do something.”

Brown said climate change is “so fundamental and so real that whatever’s going on the next year or two won’t stop the general thrust, and I will continue my work to try to enlist others.”

Brown’s effort to make California an example on an immigration overhaul has been less forceful than on the environment. He has previously accused Congress of “foot-dragging” on an immigration bill.

Brown has also faced opposition from congressional Republicans over California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project. In a state budget victory this year, Brown secured ongoing funding from California’s carbon-emissions program for the project, but Republicans in Washington continue to denounce it.

Brown said recently that, regardless of Republican gains in Congress, “President (Barack) Obama’s going to be president for the next two years,” and in 2016, he said, “Democrats have a very good chance” of electing another Democrat president.

Inside Brown’s own statehouse, Republicans made gains Tuesday, blocking Democrats from regaining a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature.

Brown has suggested before that holding a supermajority was inconsequential, and he provided only minimal assistance to down-ticket Democrats.

On Wednesday, Brown said he could not have done more to improve turnout, which may have benefited Democrats.

“No,” Brown said. “Turnout is a global phenomenon that builds up over time and is the result of many things.”

He said that in legislative races, “I know that they tried hard, and I did what I could to bring more Democrats across the line.”

Now, Brown said, “My idea here is to work with the Democratic majority, but to include the Republicans whenever possible.”

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

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