California Gov. Jerry Brown talks about milestones and accomplishments from 2011 with reporters in his office at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., December 27, 2011.

Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Monday, January 2, 2012

Sacramento –In his first year back as California’s leader, Gov. Jerry Brown was unable to get what he wanted.

Voters returned Brown to the Capitol for a third term after he campaigned as a seasoned, no-nonsense veteran who knew how to get things done. But Brown didn’t anticipate how much Capitol politics had changed in his 28-year absence.

He re-entered office last January pushing a plan to allow Californians to decide whether to raise taxes or face further cuts to government services. The effort failed because the governor did not get a handful of necessary Republican votes to place a tax measure on the ballot.

Reflecting on 2011, Brown said last week that the stalwart opposition by the GOP was something he did not expect.

“I learned that the Republicans can’t vote for a tax. That was not evident,” Brown said.

Still, despite that loss, Brown is well regarded by voters and hasn’t let the past year get him down. His office released a 31-page document late last week listing “milestones and accomplishments” of his first year.

“I can’t tell you how much I like being governor of California,” Brown said in an end-of-the-year interview with news media last week. He said he finds the job “exhilarating and exciting.”

In this new year, the governor will have to persuade the public to support a tax increase. Brown is leading the effort to collect signatures for a ballot measure to raise the sales tax along with the income tax on wealthy residents – individuals making over $250,000 a year. If the measure qualifies, he’ll have to campaign to persuade voters to approve it in November.

The new revenue could put California’s finances in order next year due largely to spending cuts Brown was able to push through the Legislature.

What the polls say

Polling shows the public is receptive to Brown’s proposals, though even after a full year nearly 30 percent of adults have yet to judge his performance, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Mark Baldassare, president of the institute, said Brown’s ratings, including approval of 42 percent and disapproval of 30 percent, are good given the public’s current disdain for politicians and state government. He said people are giving the governor time.

“They haven’t lost patience with Gov. Brown yet. They’re still waiting and seeing before they pass judgment,” he said.

The governor seems relaxed and comfortable in his position. He married in 2005 after a lifetime as a bachelor, and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, is serving as an unpaid “special counsel” to the governor. The two are constantly together.

Sutter, the first dog

Brown even appointed a “first dog” – Sutter, who is a Pembroke Welsh corgi. The dog often is at the Capitol with the governor, and recently a short biography of the pooch was added to Brown’s official website. The dog’s religious views are listed as “Zen Jesuit although I am not burdened by dogma (but I do like dog bones).”

Brown twice ran for president during his previous terms as governor and said that this time in office, he doesn’t have such ambitions.

“I’m more focused on being governor and less on what might lie afterward,” said Brown, who added that he does not look out the windows of his office and envision another run for higher office.

“I look out these windows, and I just see the Capitol park,” Brown said.

His reviews for his first year have been mixed, though.

The political blog Calbuzz recently solicited year-end ratings of the governor from influential Republican and Democratic political consultants, and the governor received a score of 6.1 out of 10, with high and low marks from people of both persuasions.

But even some of Brown’s political opponents aren’t declaring his first year a failure.

“I give him an ‘incomplete,’ ” said Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County). “However, I’ll give him an A for having a great dog. I love Sutter.”

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