Gov. Jerry Brown
Paul Wellman (file)

The most important thing in Governor Jerry Brown’s speech over the weekend to the Democratic state convention was what he didn’t say.

Addressing 3,000 delegates at the San Diego Convention Center last Saturday, Brown took a pass on Topic A in state politics: his strategy to push through his November ballot measure to raise taxes and head off $4 billion in new cuts for public schools.

As a political matter, the governor’s problem is ensuring that his tax package is the only one on the ballot, at a time when liberal sponsors of two other initiatives are ignoring his pleas to drop theirs and back his.

Jerry Roberts

Steve Glazer, Brown’s top adviser, has denounced the competing campaigns as “a circular firing squad,” insisting that voters will reject all tax increases if more than one is before them. After weeks of pushing that argument through social media and brief comments in the press, however, Brown confounded expectations by failing to make the case publicly, at a high-profile forum of party activists whose support is key to his success, of why his plan should take precedence over the others.

“Look, we’ve got some issues,” Brown said haltingly, in his only reference to the conflict. “We’ve got a tax measure, we have a little, few issues there, and we’ll be talking about that from time to time.

“You’ll get your marching orders soon enough,” he added.

Cryptic and high-handed, the comment did little, either to dissuade those backing rival measures or to clarify matters for political reporters, who chased after him shouting questions as he fled the stage to a back exit of the hall.

WHAT’S IN PLAY: Brown’s plan would raise the sales tax and increase rates on those making more than $250,000 a year.

One of the other initiatives is backed by the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign, a coalition of liberal activists.

Known as the “millionaires’ tax,” it would raise rates by 3 percent for those making

$1 million a year and 5 percent for incomes over $2 million. Among those supporting it at the convention was Daraka Larimore-Hall, leader of Santa Barbara’s Democratic Central Committee, who dismissed a suggestion the group might pull back its proposal: “That’s not going to happen,” he said.

The second is sponsored by Molly Munger, a wealthy L.A. civil rights lawyer and daughter of tycoon Warren Buffet’s business partner, who would raise income taxes across the board for schools. Munger delivered a recent speech about it in Sacramento, rejecting Brown’s concerns.

“We think the governor doesn’t have as good of an idea this year as we do,” she said. “And that’s part of democracy, to put that out in the marketplace of ideas and let the voters decide.”

Brown has given no hint of how, or even whether, he will press his efforts to clear the ballot: As he headed out the door after his speech, he waved off reporters seeking information with one more enigmatic comment: “I think you guys have to take each speech one at a time.”

PEACEMAKER DAS: One of the convention’s big surprises was an announcement by Supervisor Steve Bennett that he is quitting the race in Ventura County’s new 26th Congressional District. The move leaves Democrats without a strong frontrunner, while both Republican State Senator Tony Strickland and GOP Supervisor Linda Parks are running strong in the open primary.

House Democrats hope to pick up as many as a half-dozen seats in California, so some party leaders are urging Rep. Brad Sherman to enter that race; Sherman, who has represented parts of Ventura in the past, is now locked in an expensive and increasingly bitter intraparty brawl with fellow Democratic incumbent Howard Berman in the San Fernando Valley’s 30th CD, where both landed under redistricting.

Among those worried about the internecine warfare is Assemblymember Das Williams, who spotted Sherman at the convention hotel Sunday morning. Williams buttonholed him on behalf of switching, telling Sherman he would “run strong” in the district, part of which Williams represents: “I really want you to be my congressman,” he said.

Sherman smiled but shook his head: “I’ll run strong — in the San Fernando Valley,” he said, resuming his stroll across the lobby, as Williams turned away. “I tried,” said Williams.


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