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Governor Shoo-In

Brown Makes It Official, GOP Front-Runner Stumbles on Guns, and Calderon Splits


Governor Pat Brown, the late father of the current holder of the post, used to joke with reporters who’d ask when he planned to announce his candidacy for office:

“When the snows fall in the Sierras,” the elder Brown would say.

Still, it probably was mere coincidence that Governor Jerry Brown chose to make his reelection bid official last week, on a day when California’s biggest winter storm in years dumped a couple of feet of new snow in the mountains.

Jerry Roberts

“I like the work,” Brown explained, after filing his declaration of candidacy, his rationale for another four years. “There’s a lot of stuff to do.”

Befitting a man who’s not expected to break a sweat in his race for an unprecedented fourth term, Brown a day earlier had casually strolled into the Alameda County registrar’s office to pull his papers, without a heads-up to the press, then made more history as the first governor to make such an announcement on Twitter: “Taking out papers to run for re-election” read his tweet, below a photo of the august occasion.

At a time when nearly six in 10 voters approve of his job performance, his reelection effort sits on $17 million, and the potential Republican challengers aren’t exactly Ronald Reagan. The 75-year-old Brown has the luxury of running a classic Rose Garden campaign, or whatever the California equivalent is (a Capitol Park strategy?) — and he’s already looking ahead to the next four years.

“I’ve had some success and I see great opportunities, even still, in building a high-speed rail, in taking care of our water needs, in fixing our unfunded pensions and actually making our prison realignment work and making a reality out of our returning power to local schools,” he said in a CBS network interview.

As for those still wondering if he plans to embark on a political fool’s errand, he repeated earlier statements ruling out another run for president.

“I am very excited about being governor,” Brown said. “I’m being successful, and I understand you’ve got to stick to things and work — not just day-by-day, but year-by-year. And that’s where my heart is, right here in California.”

SHOOTING HIMSELF IN THE FOOT: State Republican Chair Jim Brulte is a whip-smart political strategist and operative, a former successful legislator and lobbyist whose fundamental ideology is pragmatism.

So while he’d never admit it publicly, Brulte must be chewing his liver over the distinct possibility that right-wing Assemblymember Tim Donnelly will emerge as the GOP’s ticket-topper in 2014.

Donnelly is a Tea Party right-winger; a former Minuteman who joined armed militia patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border; stands foursquare against abortion rights for women and marriage for gays; and likes to employ apocalyptic rhetoric that makes hyperbole sound like pillow talk.

“I want my state back; I want my freedom back,” he likes to say, although it’s not entirely clear who’s taken it from him.

As a political matter, for party leaders, the Donnelly problem is that many of his views, particularly on social issues, are 180 degrees opposite of most Californians, and he embodies the reasons why the GOP brand has become so badly tarnished in the state, with less than one-in-three voters registered Republican.

But with the June 3 election just 92 days away, Donnelly is the current front-runner to finish second behind Brown in the top-two primary, winning the right to spend the summer and fall venting his spleen as California’s most visible Republican.

Donnelly last week offered a hint of the kind of entertainment value he might offer, at least for the state’s political press corps, when he pooh-poohed his violation of a probation agreement with the San Bernardino district attorney’s office by borrowing and firing a Glock pistol and two other weapons recently at a Santa Cruz County gun range.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, he is barred for three years from using firearms not registered to him, an order arising from a 2012 incident in which he was stopped from boarding an Ontario-to-Sacramento flight because of a loaded handgun in his carry-on.

With l’etat, c’est moi brazenness, he also shrugged off questions about why he had never registered that gun, as required by law: “I never got around to it.”

Well all righty, then.

MR. CASH AND CARRY: GOP voters seeking an alternative to Donnelly have a choice in Neel Kashkari, a smiley and chrome-domed investment banker, who campaigns as a moderate Republican — conservative on fiscal policies, liberal on social issues — who can appeal to independents and even some Democrats who’ve tired of Brown’s act.

His immediate problem, of course, is that running as a moderate Republican (particularly one whose claim to fame is having managed the government’s TARP bail-out program) is sort of like being an astronomer keynoting a Flat Earth Society convention.

Still, Kashkari has been working hard to shed his “unknown” label, traveling to every market of the state, courting — gasp! — newspaper editorial boards and engaging with grassroots groups of every size and stripe.

He’s also shown the potential ability to raise at least the table stakes it will require to mount a serious, if sacrificial, campaign against Brown, reporting more than $1 million in contributions in his most recent filing.

It was instructive, however, that Kashkari decided to pass on last weekend’s convention of the California Republican Assembly (CRA), the most conservative wing of the state GOP, which Ronald Reagan once dubbed “the conscience of the Republican Party.” Although it has lost huge influence in recent years, the CRA membership represents exactly the kind of activists and committed ideologues whose support is crucial in primary elections.

Meeting in Buena Park, the group overwhelmingly endorsed Donnelly, who told delegates they were “the foot soldiers of freedom.”

Backward march!

SCANDAL WATCH: State Senator Ron Calderon, who’s facing 400 years in federal prison after being indicted on bribery and other charges, has joined colleague Rod Wright — convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud — in taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the Legislature.

Putting aside the outrage to taxpayers of both continuing to receive $95,000 annual salaries for spending their days working on their legal defenses, their absence makes life more difficult for Senate President Darrell Steinberg, who has lost the crucial two-thirds margin he needs on fiscal issues.

Such high-minded policy questions need no longer concern Calderon, who has more personal problems, legal and otherwise, with which to contend.

Anyone who’s ever raised a teenager knows what a pain in the posterior it is nagging them to get a summer job. But hasn’t Calderon ever heard of kids waiting tables or stocking shelves on the night shift at CVS?

According to the feds’ indictment of him, most of the $100,000 Calderon accepted in bribes came through no-show and low-show jobs he arranged nominally for his two children from a Long Beach hospital operator and an undercover FBI agent posing as a movie producer with a hot girlfriend (also with the FBI).

You can’t you make this stuff up. Oh wait, they did.

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