By David Siders
Published: Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 – 8:38 am
It’s been, by most accounts, a good first month for Jerry Brown.
The third-term governor settled into a trendy Sacramento loft, took in a corgi named Sutter, drafted a team of advisers and issued his first executive order: a popular, if heavily symbolic, measure recalling thousands of state- issued cell phones.
Just last week, a new poll found a majority of Californians are satisfied with the state budget he proposed.
Still, they’re not too sure about him.
In delivering his State of the State address this evening, Brown has an opportunity to influence perceptions not just of his agenda, but his leadership.
Only 41 percent of Californians approve of the job Brown is doing, and 39 percent haven’t made up their minds, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
The State of the State address, poll director Mark Baldassare said, is “unusually important for this governor.”
“His approval ratings are such, particularly the number of people who say they’re not sure what type of job that he’s doing, that he now is at the point where he will need to communicate directly to the public,” Baldassare said. “This will be the start.”
Brown, whose image was bruised by last year’s campaign, so far has focused almost exclusively on the state’s $25.4 billion deficit, which he is seeking to close through spending cuts and a ballot measure extending temporary tax increases on vehicles, income and sales.
Asked on Wednesday about the speech, Brown said, “To tell you the truth, I haven’t started.”
He said he will address the budget but will be optimistic, too, despite the dismal economy and statewide unemployment at 12.5 percent last month.
“The budget is a key point,” Brown said. “But we have to have some optimism, too, about how great everything is and how rich California is and how we’re going to create all these jobs, and have enough water, and fix our schools, and deal with, you know, curriculum.”
While Brown has presented the case before and enjoyed widespread media attention, including of his inauguration and budget release, no stage has been as large as the State of the State.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was still popular with the electorate when, within months of taking office, he campaigned successfully in 2004 for his own budget-related ballot measure, including a $15 billion bond to refinance state debt.
Five years later, it didn’t help Proposition 1A that Schwarzenegger’s popularity had tanked. That measure also sought to extend increases on auto, sales and income taxes.
Brown has “got to start making that case to voters in a way that Arnold Schwarzenegger never made in 2009,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Brown has “made all the right moves so far” in his term. He said the speech is “an opportunity for him to talk about the vision after we get this (budget deficit) behind us.”
Brown adviser Steve Glazer downplayed the significance of the address.
“What’s different from this to going down to L.A. and speaking in front of the Board of Supervisors?” he asked. “There would still be nine TV cameras that would cover it, and it would be broadcast throughout the state.”
The State of the State address, Glazer said, “tends to be a benchmark that’s more easily remembered over the years for historians and reporters.”
It was in his 1976 State of the State address that Brown declared, “We are entering an era of limits,” hoping to build a “prudent surplus as a hedge against an uncertain economy.”
The rhetoric was similar in subsequent speeches. In 1980, Brown talked about a “common agenda to meet the needs of the state.” The following year, he warned of “painful choices” necessary to reduce state spending by 10 percent.
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