By David Siders
Published: Sunday, Jul. 24, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
With the state budget and a weeklong vacation behind him, Gov. Jerry Brown is back at work, his spokesman said Friday, “charged up and ready to go.”
On what, exactly, isn’t clear.
The Democratic governor focused the first six months of his administration almost exclusively on California’s budget crisis. If he has any legislative agenda beyond that – his spokesman, Gil Duran, said he does – he isn’t saying what it is.
“We don’t reveal our strategy in advance,” Duran said.
Brown’s campaign platform included water, education and green-energy plans, and he has mentioned interest in those areas occasionally since taking office.
But it was almost a month ago that Brown announced a budget deal, and he has hardly made a peep since.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Brown has “not really talked to him much” about any legislation he might push.
“I really don’t know what he intends to do in these areas,” Steinberg said. “I’m sort of of the old school that, you know, the Legislature passes the bills and a governor decides whether to sign them or not.”
The lack of public direction is unusual for a governor. Former Gov. Pete Wilson’s agenda included crime legislation and welfare reform. Former Gov. Gray Davis, who once said that the Legislature’s job was to implement his vision, pushed through a series of changes in education policy before the energy crisis and state budget consumed him.
“A governor really has to have a proactive agenda with the Legislature, or you are just constantly in a defensive mode,” said Garry South, who advised Davis. “If you don’t have a very aggressive, proactive legislative agenda, you’re just sitting there trying to deal with these bills coming at you like they’re being spewed by a tennis ball machine.”
Brown was criticized when he was last governor, from 1975 to 1983, for his frenzied interests, and in returning to the Capitol for a third term he was widely praised for his singular focus.
Nor is Brown likely finished for long with the budget. The pact he reached with legislative Democrats relies on uncertain tax revenue, and his attention will likely return to the budget by January, if not sooner. Furthermore, Brown is expected to campaign for an initiative on taxes in November 2012.
“There are an enormous number of things that a governor, if he so chooses, could begin to tackle, but until the long-term fiscal problems facing the state are resolved, it’s hard to focus on those other things,” said Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist.
Still, he said there is a “crying need” for Brown to start talking about other areas of concern.
“I’d say pick off two or three of these,” he said. “Begin to frame the discussion, and draw the Legislature in.”
Yet with the Legislature on recess until mid-August, it is unclear how much Brown could achieve before the end of his first year. Sragow and Steve Smith, of the California Labor Federation, said Brown may not move major legislation forward until 2012.
“There’s not a lot of time for that,” Smith said.
Smith said Brown is making a “pivot to jobs.” Brown is hosting a conference on renewable energy in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday. Smith said the conference is “the clearest indication that we’ve seen that he’s starting to put more focus” on green energy and the economy.
Brown said in his campaign that he would promote the development of 20,000 new megawatts of renewable energy by 2020, which he said could create at least 500,000 jobs.
In speeches this year, Brown has also mentioned two high-profile public works projects: A conveyance to move water through the Delta to Southern California, and the state’s beleaguered bid to build a high-speed rail system.
Brown has yet to involve himself publicly in the rail project, which is facing increasing scrutiny of its management and cost.
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