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By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In what may be the last act of a political career spanning more than four decades, Jerry Brown will begin his fourth and final term as governor uniquely positioned to build his legacy as California’s longest-serving chief executive.

On Wednesday morning in the Capitol, he sketched out an agenda that casts him as both an expert technician, tweaking government to be more efficient and effective, and a big thinker, transforming the state’s infrastructure and combating climate change.

Much of his fourth term will be dedicated to unfinished business, such as pushing forward with the long-delayed $68 billion bullet train.

He’s also examining possible changes in his criminal justice policies, which have diverted low-level offenders to county jails rather than placing them in state prisons. And he wants stricter rules to make California more reliant on renewable energy sources, part of a broader effort to combat climate change.

At the same time, Brown pledged to keep a tight grip on the state’s finances, aided by voters’ passage Tuesday of Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment requiring money to be saved in a rainy-day fund.

“I’m going to try and do everything I can to keep the state in balance,” Brown said. “But I also want to build things.”

He added: “It is a balance between holding my foot on the brake while pushing my other foot on the accelerator. It’s definitely paradoxical.”

Brown will face a series of challenges as he presses forward.

There’s vocal opposition to a $25 billion proposal for massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a project the governor has pitched as crucial to the state’s water system.

The temporary tax hikes voters approved in 2012 are set to begin expiring in 2016, costing the state some of the income that helped erase perennial budget deficits. Democrats failed to win a two-thirds majority in the Legislature, which could make it tougher to push some proposals through.

And in Washington, Tuesday’s election left Republicans in complete control of Congress, imperiling efforts to secure more federal funding for the bullet train.

Nonetheless, Brown is in a stronger position than “any politician in the country,” said Barbara O’Connor, professor emeritus of political communication at California State University, Sacramento.

He won re-election with nearly 59 percent of the vote, and Californians overwhelmingly approved the two ballot measures he promoted: Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond, and Proposition 2, which in addition to the savings fund provides for debt repayment.

O’Connor, who worked in Brown’s administration during his first term in the 1970s, says she expects the governor to remain more focused than he was in the past.

“His old nature would’ve explored new ideas, new programs,” she said. “His new nature is much more disciplined. He has discrete goals that he’s been very public about and he will pursue them at the exclusion of extraneous stuff.”

Brown’s second term, from 1979 to 1983, was tumultuous. He mounted his second of three unsuccessful campaigns for president, and his relationships with California lawmakers deteriorated.

“I was carving out a path that was not sustainable,” Brown said Wednesday.

There were also significant problems he did not expect, a reminder that political fortunes can shift quickly. The state was wrestling with Proposition 13’s limits on property tax revenue and an insect infestation — the Mediterranean fruit fly, better known as the medfly — that devastated crops.

This time around, the governor has taken steps to ensure that political surprises don’t knock him off course. He still has a considerable war chest, which could be used for ballot-measure campaigns — a hedge against lame-duck “infirmities,” as he put it in a recent interview.

Brown also said he would try to carefully balance his relationships with members of his own party. The trick, he said, is to remain faithful to Democratic ideals without succumbing to budget deficits.

“Combining the hopes for what government can do with putting reins on what it should not do will define a lot of what I’m going to do in the next four years,” he said, “and will determine how successful I will be.”

He’ll be working with a new crop of top lawmakers, state Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). But Robin Swanson, a political consultant who previously worked for Assembly Democrats, said Brown had proved he could work with the Legislature.

“It’s nice to have somebody in the driver’s seat who knows the way,” she said.

Brown offered no indication that he would spend political capital for a full-frontal assault on controversial issues such as an overhaul of the state’s tax code or a revision of teacher tenure rules.

“I’m always open to changes, but I do recognize the political realities,” he said.

Brown also brushed off questions about how it felt to finish what may have been his last campaign. He is barred by term limits from serving another term as governor, and he has shot down speculation about running for mayor of Oakland again or mounting another presidential bid.

“I don’t like to think about my last campaign. I find it a depressing thought,” he said. “So I’m not.”

(Times staff writers Melanie Mason and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.)

Photo: Amy The Nurse via Flickr

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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