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Jerry Brown's first 100 days: 'If he can't make it, where else can we turn?'

Gov. Jerry Brown's budget-balancing efforts over the past 100 days have received praise from citizens and pundits, but he has failed to get Republican support for tax extensions.

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Brown has also posted YouTube videos where he talks directly to voters. “When the elected officials find themselves bogged down by deep differences which divide them, the only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance,” he says in a recent offering, sitting behind an oak desk with the California flag behind him.

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All of this is quite a different approach, say Professor Wheeland and others, than the comic-book and sometimes pushy techniques of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who left office in January with a rating lower than that of Gray Davis, the governor who Mr. Schwarzenegger replaced in a 2003 recall election. Schwarzenegger was often praised for his humor and charm but occasionally went too far, as when he called legislators “girlie men” and later found all four of his initiatives to reform California government rejected by voters.

L.A. Times columnist George Skelton, one of the state’s top two political writers, credits Brown with changing the tone of the debate: “Virtually everyone you talk to, at least privately, gives the guy credit for lifting the level of dialogue, especially concerning the easily politicized budget deficit. He’s doing his homework and speaking with knowledge. Staying away from hyperbole. Not talking down to people. Paying legislators respect.”

Analysts say Brown’s key hurdle at the moment is not of his doing, but reflects attitudes that have been around at least since his first two terms, from 1975-1983.

“The partisan gridlock for the necessary two-thirds vote necessary for ballot initiative placement is an old, unresolved issue,” says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “The governor should be commended for his focus on fiscal solvency, collaborative solutions and educating the public on these issues.”

Other analysts say California’s problems might just be systemic.

“If Brown fails, Californians might start despairing about state government, because we've tried everything,” says Professor Pitney. “We tried a colorless technocrat – Gray Davis – and threw him out of office in a recall. We tried a celebrity action hero – Arnold Schwarzenegger – and he left with an approval rating in the basement. Now we're trying a seasoned pol whom we've tried before. If he can't make it, where else can we turn? To a Martian?”

Others say entrenched problems are a sign of the political times, reflected everywhere from statehouses to Congress.

“Without compromise between parties that control different branches of government, how can government operate?” asks Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “Will Jerry Brown come up with the solution that will be copied at the federal level? All we can do is ‘stay tuned.’ ”

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