California gas tax a victory for Leftist Gov. Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown

Editor’s Notes: As soon as the gas tax  goes into effect and we can track the money, we will again find that the California democrats and the leftist governor will begin “stealing” these funds for other purposes. And who will get the various jobs used for some of the projects?  The buddies of demos and the governor, that’s who.

SACRAMENTO — The $52 billion transportation deal that would either become a hallmark of Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy or a hard-fought political disaster hung in the balance late Thursday afternoon as the governor sat down outside an emergency meeting of the Democratic caucus, instantly drawing a crowd of reporters and photographers.

The night before at the governor’s mansion, Brown had won over Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Central Valley Republican, with the promise of $400 million for an ACE train extension to Merced and a new $100 million parkway — two of several sweeteners worth nearly $1 billion promised to four lawmakers in the space of 24 hours. But the vote count in the Assembly was hard to pin down.

At 10:30 p.m., the tension on the floor was as thick as gooey asphalt as three Democratic lawmakers agonized over their decision in plain view, waiting 10 minutes to cast their “yes” votes.

The nail-biter revealed what political insiders know well: Having a Democratic supermajority is no guarantee of success, given the ideological, regional and socioeconomic differences within the party.

Enter Jerry Brown 2.0 — a governor showing a newfound willingness to engage in some hardcore deal-making as he nears the end of his fourth and final term. And that was key to the narrowly won victory — allowing him to claim the rebuilding of the state’s broken roads, bridges and highways as a cornerstone of his legacy. Next on his big to-do list is convincing the Legislature to extend the state’s hallmark climate-change law — “cap and trade” –by a two-thirds vote.

“Jerry Brown 1.0 was someone who didn’t reach out — he didn’t do politics,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a veteran political analyst at the University of Southern California.  This time around, “Jerry showed that he understood the system and that he could use the system.”

At one point in a day filled with political drama worthy of a primetime TV slot,  some top Democrats thought the deal might be dead. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon huddled with Brown and Senate leader Kevin de León in the governor’s office, as the deadline loomed, to talk about what to do. In addition to the political challenges, there was a medical one: One firm supporter, Orange County Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, had become ill and was rushed to the emergency room.

De León held off the Senate vote as the arm-twisting continued in the other house. The Assembly discussed adopting a state dinosaur. The Senate went into recess.

Just before 5 p.m., de León walked briskly into his office. The Senate would reconvene at 5:30, he said, when asked by a Bay Area News Group reporter for updates.

Did he have the votes?

“I always have the votes,” he said, flashing a smile as he ducked behind the door.

The side deals of the day — first the transportation projects in Cannella’s district, and then a $427 million earmark for Riverside County, a swing district represented by Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes and Sen. Richard Roth, both Democrats — have elicited scorn and cynicism from the right.

Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes confronted his colleagues during the floor debate, saying it looked like they had been “bought off.” GOP insider and former California Republican Party official Jon Fleischman, who now writes the conservative FlashReport blog, tweeted that Cannella was a “high-priced prostitute” after the deal was reported.

“You saw politics in action last night — ‘House of Cards’ meets Sacramento,” said East Bay Republican strategist Matt Shupe, who designed a Facebook ad for the Contra Costa County Republicans targeting one of the holdouts, Democrat Tim Grayson of Concord. “They wanted to ram it through — and they did.”

But some political scientists say that cutting deals, as Brown and legislative leaders did, is not necessarily “dirty politics.”

“People may hold their nose at deal-making, but the leverage those holdouts have is so profound that if you want to get the job done, that’s what you do,” said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State.

Brown defended the deals — “arrangements,” as he called them — in a celebratory news conference outside his office.

“Everyone has to face the voters, and they want to face them with their best foot forward and we want to help them do that,” he said.

Alluding to the deal on the ACE train extension that he struck with Cannella, Brown quipped, “Does anyone want trains more than me? No!”

By convincing two-thirds of the Legislature to pass a tax — even with a defection from East Bay Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer — “he was able to lift a weight that has eluded him,” said Bill Whalen, a longtime GOP strategist who is now a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

His father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, “could work a room and slap backs and wheel and deal,” but wheeling and dealing is not one of the son’s strengths, Whalen said.

On Thursday night, Brown listened to the rancorous and highly partisan debate, which included Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego, mocking the Republicans for the GOP’s failure in Washington to repeal and replace Obamacare.

When the Assembly called the vote at 10:30 p.m., it seemed as though there may have been a political miscalculation. There were only 51 “yes” votes on the board, including the ailing Quirk-Silva’s, and they needed 54. The suspense was intense as Rendon made a beeline to one of the undecided voters, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and pulled him out of the room for a talk. Cooper later described the conversation as “passionate.”

Bebitch Jeffe and others said it reminded them of the “good-old days” when passing a budget required a two-thirds vote — and plenty of wheeling and dealing. That all changed in 2010, when voters who were tired of the antics passed a ballot initiative saying that a simple majority was enough.

“I am delighted that it all came down to good old-fashioned logrolling,” she said. “This is the way you get policy. It’s not dirty. Think about it — you got something out of a compromise.”

Where does Brown go from here?

“Now that it’s passed, he has to make sure it’s spent effectively and that it’s not looted like other transportation funds have been,” said Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Sacramento State.  “It would go a long way if he foregoes the bullet train or something else as a quid pro quo. That would be an optimal way to say thank you to voters.”

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