By David Siders
Published: Friday, Jun. 24, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

By the spring of 1981, Gov. Jerry Brown’s relationship with Democratic lawmakers had become so sour that the Senate leader ordered sergeants-at-arms to remove him from the chamber.

Brown left before an escort was required.

Thirty years later, Brown is back at the Capitol, and hostilities with members of his own party are flaring again.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said last week they were “dismayed” by Brown’s historic budget veto.

On Thursday, Steinberg was still in a combative mood.

“Is Plan A dead?” Steinberg said when asked about Brown’s budget plan. “I’ll leave it to the governor to announce the wake and the funeral services.”

Steinberg last week ordered the Senate to block confirmation of Brown’s appointees. Though milder than one alternative – rejecting them outright – the move was a reminder to give fellow Democrats “some respect,” former Senate President Pro Tem John Burton said.

Steinberg also is forcing Brown’s hand on a farm labor bill – one supported by Brown’s union allies but opposed by business interests that back his budget plan.

The measure, which Steinberg previously had avoided sending to the governor’s desk, was the subject of demonstrations every day this week outside the Capitol.

The legislation would make it easier for farmworkers to unionize and is politically difficult for Brown. He signed the historic farm labor relations law when he was governor before and had a personal relationship with Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader.

“It’s no fun to veto a budget of your own party,” Brown said in a speech to builders in San Francisco on Thursday.

“And you know, you have to stand with your friends, which I like to do. But we also have to stand with California and make sure we build for the future, and not just steal from it.”

Already frustrated that Brown did not tell them ahead of time that he would veto their budget, Democratic lawmakers seethed this week when state Controller John Chiang ruled Tuesday that their budget was unbalanced, blocking their pay.

Though Brown said little publicly about the decision, it provided him leverage in budget talks, and it was the swiftness of his veto of a budget he called unbalanced that likely pressed the issue.

“Somehow or other there was a breakdown in communication,” former Republican Assembly leader Bob Naylor said. “I thought that the leadership knew that he wanted a couple of weeks more to deal with the Republicans, and to try to put together a deal, and I don’t know if he reacted negatively to them sending the budget down.”

Naylor said “they’re all adults” and that the rift is unlikely to last.

Disagreements between governors and legislative leaders are not uncommon, and the tension is only likely to become significant if it “gets sort of beyond the skirmishing we’ve seen this week,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego.

The relationship is critical to Brown. It was just about three months ago that he relied heavily on Steinberg and Pérez to rally support for billions of dollars in spending cuts.

However Brown might resolve the state’s remaining $9.6 billion budget deficit, whether by striking a deal with Republicans on tax extensions or by demanding further cuts, he will depend on the Democratic leaders to sell the package to their members.

Trying to forestall an escalation, Brown met for about an hour with Senate Democrats and for more than two hours with Assembly Democrats on Tuesday. He spoke Tuesday night with Pérez at Esquire Grill, and Brown and Pérez met again on Wednesday.

The effect of Brown’s effort is unclear. Steinberg said his caucus had a “very important” and “very honest” conversation with Brown, but he still was pushing Brown to offer a specific budget alternative should talks with Republican lawmakers fail.

Brown said Thursday that he is still negotiating.

“I’m not giving up,” Brown told reporters after speaking at the Moscone Center. “I will keep working to get those tax extensions. And we will get them, one way or the other.”

Meanwhile, Brown has refrained from all but the gentlest responses to Steinberg, saying little publicly to further irritate his fellow Democrats.

“I praise the Democrats,” he said one day after vetoing their budget. “I know they have a little bit of heartburn because of the way things are turning out, but I have my path, and we’ll ultimately get to the promised land.”

Former Gov. Gray Davis, Brown’s former chief of staff, said there is “no question” Brown is more concerned about his relationship with the legislative leaders than when he was first governor. During his first two terms, Brown’s vetoes were overridden by the Legislature twice, something it has done only four times since 1946.

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