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Is kicking the state's neediest 'manning up'?

The governor was off base in telling the Legislature to 'man up.' He's the one who's hiding behind the voters in trying to raise taxes.

April 18, 2012|George Skelton | Capitol Journal
  • Gov. Jerry Brown speaks before the California Medical Association meeting in Sacramento, Calif.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks before the California Medical Association meeting… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — Surely it was just a casual throwaway line. Regardless, Gov. Jerry Brown deserves to have it thrown back at him.

There are too many things that rub wrong — even rankle — about the governor scolding the Legislature to "man up" and cut state services.

First, unlike when Brown was governor the first time in the '70s, the Legislature today is 28% female. (Back then, 8% tops.) Are the women of the Legislature supposed to man up too? Just a throwaway thought.

Second, there seems to be something inappropriate about proclaiming that it's manly to cut services for the politically weak: poor welfare moms striving to become self-sufficient and old disabled people who need help at home so they can avoid costly nursing homes.

Third, if anyone needs to man up in Sacramento it is Brown, who has been hiding behind the voters in trying to raise taxes rather than using the constitutional power granted him to hike them himself with legislative cajoling and coercion.

Here's what Brown said about the state budget deficit in an interview on Friday the 13th with KGO-AM radio host Ronn Owens in San Francisco:

"We're trying to be as prudent as we can. And that's why the Legislature has to man up, make the cuts and get some taxes and we'll make it."

Let's assume that he wasn't really saying that it's the Legislature's responsibility to raise taxes. Because he is now bypassing the lawmakers and is going to the voters through the ballot initiative process.

Back to manning up: Aaron McLear, press secretary for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, immediately tweeted: "Uh-oh…. Sounds a lot like 'Girly Men.' "

At least Schwarzenegger's controversial line eight years ago smacked of humor.

I persistently pounded on Gov. Schwarzenegger for ridiculing legislators as "girlie men," writing that this was no way to build a productive relationship. So there's no reason not to be an equal opportunity pest and also jab Brown, even if his comment was humdrum by comparison.

You may recall the Schwarzenegger boorishness: Performing at an anti-Legislature rally in Ontario, the governor called the lawmakers "girlie men" and said they should be "terminated."

Rob Stutzman, now a political consultant but then Schwarzenegger's communications director, remembers standing backstage and following along on the prepared text.

"It had been his standard speech," Stutzman says, "and all of a sudden he breaks out the 'girlie man' line. And I'm flipping through the pages wondering, 'Where did that come from?' "

"It had been a raucous crowd," Stutzman continues, laughing. "For Schwarzenegger, it had more to do with playing to the crowd than being angry at the Legislature. He thought it was funny. When you get 3,000 people roaring at every line attacking the Legislature, it's easy….

"A third of the crowd was there just to see a movie star. They didn't know what he was talking about."

Yes, one thing you cannot take away from Schwarzenegger as governor, regardless of other faults: He was always interesting.

Brown? Not so much.

What'd Stutzman think of Brown's "man up" admonition? "I'm not sure he's macho enough to say it," he answered, grinning.

I asked state Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), who heads up the 34-member legislative Women's Caucus. (Details: 12 senators, 22 assemblywomen; 25 Democrats, 9 Republicans.)

" 'Man up' doesn't really apply here," she said. "It's a poor choice of words.

"But it does provide an opportunity to talk about things that are happening to women. The governor's budget cuts would fall primarily on women and children. That makes the choice of words so unfortunate."

Here's the budget situation: The deficit is projected at $9 billion and growing. We'll get a fresh bad-news update next month.

Even if voters approve Brown's tax increase in November — generating $9 billion for the first 18 months — the Legislature must cut at least $4.2 billion in spending, according to the governor's math in his proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Of that total, roughly two-thirds would be chopped from welfare, Medi-Cal, in-home supportive services, child care, other safety net programs and Cal Grants for college students.

These cuts would be on top of previous deep slashes in recent years.

One example of a new cut Brown is proposing: Eliminate child care and significantly reduce grants for welfare moms after two years, rather than four, if they're not working at least 32 hours a week. Now they can work 20 hours and attend school 12 hours, trying to upgrade their job skills.

And for those who think these are welfare queens, the maximum monthly grant for a family of three is $638. Back in 1989, when Republican George Deukmejian was governor, it was $694. Only about 25% currently receive the maximum grant, according to Mike Herald, lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

But much of the deficit hole could have been filled if Brown had manned up and used the governor's power to push taxes through the Legislature — as did his dad, Pat Brown, and later Ronald Reagan, Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Schwarzenegger.

Instead, Brown was cowed by Republican opponent Meg Whitman two years ago and, in a campaign gimmick, promised voters they'd have veto power over any tax increase.

Brown wasn't far off base when he also told the radio interviewer: "For a Republican today to vote for any tax … would be like Pope Benedict approving birth control and women priests."

Still, I like what Wilson once said about using gubernatorial power: "Twist arms, I? Gentle, persuasive fellow that I am? I will break arms if it's necessary."

That was manning up.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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