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At GOP fundraiser, a desire to work with Jerry Brown

Some of the first baby steps toward a budget deal in California may have occurred late Wednesday evening within the dark-paneled walls of Sacramento's Morton’s Steakhouse, five blocks from the Capitol.

There, a group of Republicans, who have been the subject of blistering attacks from talk-radio hosts and others for even talking to Gov. Jerry Brown about raising taxes, hosted a coming-out party of sorts to embrace their outcast status among some GOP activists.

The event set out to mock the antics of radio personalities John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, whose KFI-AM (640) program has put the lawmakers’ “heads on a stick” for engaging with Brown. The targeted GOPers wore paper cutouts of their own heads taped to popsicle sticks, tucked in the breast pocket of their suits. The fundraiser was billed as a celebration of “leaders on a stick.”

“This is not a commitment to a vote or anything like that, but you just can’t say no all the time,” said Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-Yucaipa), one of the hosts, of the potential budget accord.

The event’s theme lured as many as 100 bipartisan attendees, including a raft of high-powered lobbyists, rank-and-file legislators of both parties, the two Democratic leaders in the Legislature, the governor and the first lady.

“We like the theme, yeah,” First Lady Anne Gust Brown said.

During earlier budget negotiations, Brown administration officials had chafed at Republicans’ inability to deal. They hoped Wednesday’s event would mark a turning point in talks that had been frozen  for weeks.

Reporters are rarely granted access to such private fundraisers, where lobbyists drop off big checks –-  the “suggested contribution” was $1,000 for each of the five GOP co-hosts –- for the chance to schmooze with elected officials. But co-host Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) invited in a Times reporter who had been lingering at the bar.

“We took all that mudslinging and turned it into a mud pie –- and had a party,” he said, showing off a lollipop, with the five Republicans’ faces embossed on it, that they were giving to attendees. 

Inside, a four-tier chocolate fountain overflowed. Sliced strawberries, bananas and cookies stood ready to be dipped, on sticks. Shrimp, cheese and scallops –- each served on sticks -– circulated. Red and white wine flowed freely.

Between glasses of white wine, Brown bantered and posed for pictures with the Republican hosts, Cook, Achadjian, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) and Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres).

Their voices and gestures grew as the evening wore on, amplified by the wine. Brown, who stayed with his wife for a full hour, at one point declared -- half-serious, half-hopeful -- that he saw “a few votes here.”

Significant policy differences still divide Brown from the GOP, on issues such as public pensions, a constitutional spending limit, redevelopment and corporate taxes. But at least for an evening, they appeared united in the goal of working to resolve those differences.

“As a group, we’re all trying to get to yes,”  Berryhill said of a potential budget deal.

Just before he left, Brown gently ordered his wife to “put some money in … $20 for the tip” on what someone else had just identified as a $5,000 tab.

“I believe everybody has to pitch in,” he said, alluding to his call for taxes in the budget. He jokingly promised to put in even more once GOP votes on his budget plan were forthcoming.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento

 
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