A 2011 Special Election if Brown Wins?

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Photo: Getty Images

There are no scheduled statewide elections next year. But to hear Jerry Brown talk about what he'd do as governor, it sounds as though he's certainly contemplating one -- a special election to help solve the state's seemingly unending budget problems.

But would the voters want to trudge back to the polls, again, for the ninth year out of the last ten?

The possibility of a special election was something I had been hoping to ask Brown sometime soon, given his often repeated pledge to only raise taxes if the voters first gave their blessing. But the candidate put the idea on the table himself last week in an hour-long meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board, based on his pledge to -- if elected -- start working on the budget this fall, even before taking office in January.

"I'm committing to starting right away, and to get to a point of consensus, or if you can't, to take it to a vote of the people," Brown told the newspaper. "And I'm aiming for a consensus [inside the Capitol] somewhere around March. I think if I can get to March 15, I can call a special election, have a vote, to tee up some key decisions in time for the June 15 deadline. And I think that is the only path forward."

The June 15 deadline he mentions is, of course, the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to ratify a budget -- the deadline that's been blown in all but three of the last 25 years.

"I want to start it in November," said Brown on the budget negotiations. "Five days a week. If necessary, maybe six."

Brown's campaign spokesperson, Sterling Clifford, said in a telephone conversation that the once-and-maybe-future governor isn't actually promising a special election. "Jerry has thought about a lot of different things," he said. Rather, Clifford says the candidate is laying it out there as an option at the next governor's disposal.

Still, Brown himself seemed a little more definite in his chat with the Chronicle. "I think we have to go back to the people and make sure whatever we're doing is supported," he said.

The idea of a statewide special election raises a few points worth noting. Most obvious is the fact that the current governor and legislators did just that on May 19, 2009. And the voters said, quite resoundingly, no thanks to the proposals offered. That's not to say, of course, that the process couldn't have been handled better; lumping a tax increase into the same proposal as a budget spending limit, for example, pretty much guaranteed the failure of that election's signature proposal.

But there was also a sense that voters just didn't want to weigh in on any of it; in the end, only about one of every five California voters were persuaded to cast a ballot.

The election was also costly... a whopping $68 million. To date, that cost has not been covered by the state -- though it's in the pending budget proposals endorsed both by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.

But were Brown, as governor, to opt for a special election... it would seem as though past results would, in his mind, be irrelevant. "There is no way forward other than leadership and building consensus," he told the Chronicle's writers, implying that both have been in short supply so far.

Thanks to the Chron's crackerjack political writers for posting the full video of the Brown meeting online, which you can see below:

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Robb Scott

    Jerry Brown for Governor. It is going to be great to see California again the leading edge of growth and development for America under his leadership. What a great personal sacrifice to agree to come back now and lead the California-renewal project. This man certainly loves the state deeply. Way to go, Jerry Brown!