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NEWS ANALYSIS

Brown and Obama find bipartisanship a difficult goal to reach

When the governor meets the president at the White House on Friday, he'll be looking in a political mirror. Both Democratic leaders promised to end the partisan gridlock that had plagued their respective capitals, and so far neither has had much success.

February 24, 2012|By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
  • Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a recent U.S.-China economic forum in Los Angeles. Like fellow Democrat President Obama, he has found bipartisanship a difficult goal to reach.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a recent U.S.-China economic forum in Los Angeles.… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Sacramento — When Gov. Jerry Brown sees President Obama at the White House on Friday, he will be looking in a political mirror.

Both Democratic leaders promised to end the partisan gridlock that had plagued their respective capitals, and so far neither has had much success.

Obama was unable to win any Republican support for his signature healthcare legislation and has seen his calls for further economic stimulus measures shot down by the GOP. Legions of his nominations have stalled amid Republican objections, as did his quest for a grand deficit deal last summer.

Brown spent most of last year pushing tax hikes, combined with changes to the overburdened public pension system, to be approved by voters. But the governor failed to secure a single Republican vote for the deal, which scuttled it. His budget and his ambitious plan to house more criminals in county jails instead of crowded state prisons ultimately passed without any GOP support.

Some Republicans who have worked with Brown say he has simply been unwilling to compromise when it came time to make a deal.

"When he first came in, we said this governor is someone we can do business with.... Now that's gone," said state Sen. Tom Harman (R-Orange). "He lays out his ideas and simply says, 'It's my way or the highway.'"

Republicans on Wednesday did announce their support for Brown's plan to overhaul public pensions, but the governor's office dismissed the move as a political stunt, meant to embarrass Democrats who have balked at the proposal. Brown was not notified of the endorsement, and his staff said there have been no pension negotiations with Republicans since talks broke down last year.

The governor said in a telephone interview this week that both he and the president are up against recalcitrant GOP rivals who have shown "perverse fidelity to each point in the Republican gospel." Finding little bipartisan success, both men seek to continue positioning themselves before voters as reasonable and centrist problem-solvers, dismissing the elected opposition.

"Each is going straight to the people and asking for their help," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Stanford University think tank.

While Obama takes his case for more taxes, mortgage relief and other issues to voters as part of his reelection bid, Brown is pushing for a November ballot measure that would raise taxes on sales and on incomes above $250,000 a year. The state needs the money to help balance the budget without deep cuts in education, he says.

Brown's visit to Washington goes hand-in-hand with his end run around Sacramento Republicans. In between meetings at the National Governors Assn., with the state's congressional delegation and with other states' leaders at the White House, he hopes to use his national profile to attract money for his initiative campaign.

He has already received substantial contributions from oil companies in Texas and a D.C.-based beverage association — the sorts of business interests that more often align with Republicans. A Thursday night fundraiser at the home of Democratic lobbyists Tony and Heather Podesta was expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Although Obama's constituency is a highly polarized nation and Brown's is a largely Democratic state, the governor may have the tougher row to hoe, some experts said. Brown is required by the state Constitution to balance his budget. Obama does not have to do that, and thus has more room to pick his battles.

The president, said Bruce Cain, executive director of the University of California Washington Center, can succeed by bashing GOP congressional leaders to boost his reelection prospects and allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of this year. For Brown, although his party dominates the California Legislature, some Republican votes are needed to reach the two-thirds approval mark for tax increases. So the governor is left to persuade voters to implement his policies themselves.

"He may have found a way around the Republicans, but now he has an entirely different problem," Cain said. "He has to make something happen."

anthony.york@latimes.com

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