State Capitol

By Chris Megerian
August 30, 2014

It was past dark when a contingent of Republican senators filed into Gov. Jerry Brown’s Capitol office as the deadline loomed for a plan to overhaul California’s aging water system.

A final deal was still elusive, and the Democratic governor needed GOP votes. “We had most of our guys leaning ‘No,’ at that point,” recalled Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

For nearly an hour, the group pressed Brown on a stubborn sticking point in the negotiations: more borrowing for reservoirs in the bond measure they were trying to refine. “He talked to each one of us individually, and he let us all talk about as much as we wanted,” said Sen. Andy Vidak, a farmer from Hanford, in the parched Central Valley.

The next day, more reservoir funds were included in the $7.5-billion proposal — not as much as Republicans wanted, but enough to earn a unanimous “yes” vote from them in the Senate.

The measure, set to go to voters in November, was among several bipartisan deals forged after Brown’s party lost its supermajority in the Legislature. As lawmakers finished their work for the year in the early hours Saturday, a Capitol that not long ago was riven by partisan intransigence had become a place where Republicans and Democrats were doing business.

A few issues — driver’s licenses for migrants here illegally, a change in school funding — had some bipartisan support last year. But it wasn’t really needed; Democrats could pass the proposals on their own.

This year, however, after the suspension of three senators charged with crimes, Democrats needed Republican help not just on the bond measure but also on a ballot proposal to boost the state’s rainy-day fund, both measures requiring a two-thirds vote. And they got it.

Republicans also came aboard a long-term plan to patch a shortfall in the teacher pension system. And both parties got behind bigger tax breaks for Hollywood.

The cooperation stands in stark contrast to the continuing gridlock in Washington, where a divided Congress led to a government shutdown last year and has stalled major legislation on immigration.

It’s unclear how long the good feelings in Sacramento will last. But Brown frequently touts the bipartisan work as he seeks an unprecedented fourth term in the governor’s office.

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