Like Daniel in the lions' den or Charlie Sheen in Detroit, Gov. Jerry Brown ventured into hostile territory Saturday—the Republican bastion of Los Alamitos—to rally support for a tax-hike extension to balance California's budget.
Given Orange County's tax-phobic nature, a more appropriate venue might have been Disneyland's Fantasyland. Instead, Brown opted for the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the California Cadet Corps.
Standing outside a doorway that features jumbo cannons as stair rails, the governor praised the 900 student cadets on hand, saying their spirit of discipline, sacrifice, leadership and selflessness was what California needs to tame its $26-billion deficit.
Brown wants voters to settle the stalemate between "no-new-taxes-ever" Republicans and tax-friendly Democrats. But he can't get the issue onto the ballot without support from a handful of GOP legislators. After failing to twist their arms during negotiations, Brown is now taking his case to the public, hoping voters will turn up the heat.
Los Alamitos, home to Republican state Sen. Tom Harman, a key budget player, was the second stop on Brown's tour.
"You've gotta wear people down," he explained after the event. "You have to go out to as many parts of California to create the mood, the momentum and the environment where people are ready to face the music."
It might not be an easy sell. Jesse Barajas of Perris, whose son marched in the cadet parade, seemed a tad skeptical after Brown's speech. "He's right that we need to raise money somehow," Barajas said. "But I don't know if raising taxes is the way to do it."
Barajas' wife, Sandra, said people feel squeezed by rising gas prices, making it tough to swallow a longer bump in DMV fees and state sales and income taxes.
In an interview on the eve of Brown's Orange County trip, Los Alamitos City Councilman Troy Edgar welcomed the governor's visit but not his message. Instead of tax extensions, Edgar said, "We want the state to do what [the rest of us] have to do, which is only spend what you make."
But Edgar acknowledged that schools could suffer from further budget cuts. “It gives us something to think about," he said. "The one thing we can agree on is that in Orange County our schools are really important.”
Against a backdrop of puffy clouds on Saturday, Brown watched cadets from around the state--including the Oakland Military Institute he founded as mayor of that city--march and perform drills.
The Cadet Corps, which teaches leadership and military basics to students, has been caught in California's budget crossfire, Lt. Col. Belinda Contreras said after the ceremony. Six years ago, it boasted 12,000 members, but today is half that size. Part of the problem, she said, is that school districts must supply the instructors who run each chapter, and such frills have been whacked.
Brown, who spent three years in the ROTC as a youth, called himself a big fan of the Cadet Corps. "Your organization is not as well-known as it should be," he told the crowd.
Dressed in a tan suit and brown loafers, the governor kept his speech to the cadets and their families serious and brief, but he turned more jovial chatting with the media afterward.
Getting Republican lawmakers to let voters decide a tax measure, he quipped, is like "asking the pope to let Catholics vote on abortion."
But Brown, perhaps mindful of the Cadet Corps motto, "Let us try," hasn't given up. And he hinted that a couple of GOP lawmakers now seem more open to a special election.
The governor also zinged Washington's last-minute deal to avert a federal government shutdown: "You're not the superpower of the world if you have to stay up half the night making a decision about a fraction of your budget."
When asked if his itinerary included any other Orange County stops, Brown replied, "Not unless we get a flat tire."