SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown may or may not get the budget he wants, but he appears just as determined to transform the tone of the Capitol.
Melding a populist flourish with an inside game of private conversations with scores of individuals and groups, Brown has taken great pains to improve the civility of the Capitol -- all with the ultimate goal of persuading legislators to take his lead on improving the state's fiscal health.
Symbolically, Brown's moves have been calibrated to the tough economic times.
Flying coach on Southwest Airlines -- sans entourage, or even his wife Anne Gust -- for a Los Angeles event last week, Brown told reporters that he wanted his staffers to remain at work at the Capitol. Besides, he said, "the people are good company."
Asked to explain how he can travel with no security detail or crowd of aides -- unheard of during Arnold Schwarzenegger's term -- Brown gave a glimpse of his guiding political principles.
"If you have too much of an entourage and a bubble, it begins to corrupt and contaminate your mind, so you think you're a big shot ... and slowly but surely, you get more distance from the people you're supposed to be serving. And that tends to disable you from representing them."
Brown ordered half of the state's employees to turn in their cell phones and directed all state departments to turn in non-essential vehicles and halt all new auto purchases with the goal of cutting the state's fleet in
And in his decision to rent a loft apartment blocks from the Capitol, Brown reprised the famous simplicity of his first two terms in office, an updated version of the Blue Plymouth and unfurnished apartment that symbolized his frugal spirit.
"All of this is back to the future because Jerry was both frugal and skilled at symbolic communication the first time he was governor," said Ethan Rarick, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies and author of a biography of Brown's father, former Gov. Edmund "Pat" Brown.
The austerity and personal touch has enamored Brown to even his fiercest political opponents in his first weeks as governor, though Republicans remain opposed to his budget plan because of the tax measures.
"Buying that ticket on Southwest reinforces he's not so full of himself," said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Murrieta. "It helps us to connect with him because he's not acting in an arrogant, unreachable manner. Most of us feel we could knock on the governor's door and have a reasonable chance of walking in and talking with him if we chose to.
"It is refreshing," Jeffries said. "I have to confess, I enjoy working in that kind of environment with the governor."
Brown has about a month left to get his budget approved so he can place on the June ballot an extension of temporary taxes on purchases, income and vehicles that would raise about $14 billion annually. He's also proposed $12.5 billion in cuts as part of his plan to solve the state's $26.6 billion deficit.
Brown's whirlwind personal lobbying campaign intensified last week with separate meetings with all four legislative caucuses and an address to hundreds of business leaders in Los Angeles.
Brown's seriousness of purpose has "released a lot of positive energy because when you're honest with people, they tend to respond back in good ways," said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. "And people are rolling up their sleeves because of it."
When they drop by his office, legislators and other visitors are offered a hard wooden bench at a picnic table that Brown says he likes his visitors to sit at.
"I want people when they come in my office to know they're on a hard surface," Brown told city officials last month. He later told reporters, "After awhile you want to leave, depending on the strength of your posterior."
Sutter, the Welsh corgi that Brown appears ready to officially anoint as the First Dog, is usually right there coaxing a pet. Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said he immediately bonded with the low-riding canine as he chatted with Brown at the picnic table.
Brown takes three-mile runs with Gust through Sacramento, and has stopped off at local diners and bars. Last week, he sat unbothered with Gust drinking a bourbon at the Torch Club, one of the bars that he used to "close down" in his younger gubernatorial days -- or so he claimed during the campaign.
It didn't seem to bother Brown that the leader of the band playing that night wouldn't play a Merle Haggard song Brown requested and called out to him, "don't raise my taxes," as reported by the Sacramento Bee. That couldn't compare to the partisan animosities and dysfunctions he's been trying to plow through.
The number of personal appearances, one-on-one meetings and accidental encounters with Brown are becoming legion, if not legendary.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles and members of his leadership team were having dinner at Morton's, a downtown steak house, when Perez decided on the spur of the moment to call Brown and ask him to join them.
"It was last minute, it wasn't planned or anything, and he came right over," said Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley.
Though the setting was casual, Brown used it as an intelligence gathering opportunity.
"He was asking 'who (among Republicans) should I talk to about the budget'," Hayashi said. "He approaches every conversation that I've been a part of as an opportunity to talk about the budget. I think he's earned the respect of both caucuses because he's so visible and engaged."
Last month, he attended, with a lone aide, the annual Democratic/Republican "Cordial Caucus," a low-profile get-together at Simon's, a small Chinese restaurant. And, after his State of the State speech, he and Gust appeared at the state Republican party's annual bash.
What most people appreciate about Brown is that he's trying to have an adult conversation with 38 million people, said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
"It shows regard and respect for the public," Simitian said. "I think he's very respectful of the voters. He's trusting that the voters will make smart choices if given the right information."
Brown, who had his own troubles working with legislators during his first terms as governor, hinted to reporters that the hubris of leaders has rarely paid off.
"I think there was a governor once who said it was his job to give the orders and the job for everyone else to follow," Brown said, referring to a famous quote of former Gov. Gray Davis. "Well, I want to avoid that. So, I'm trying to act in a spirit of collaboration."